A ‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’ Approach to Digitise India

This is the longer version of an opinion piece published in Hindustan Times on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. This version has been published first on the Hindustan Times website.

The Digital India initiative takes an ambitious ‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’ approach to develop communication infrastructure, government information systems, and general capacity to digitise public life in India. I of course use ‘public life’ in the sense of the wide sphere of interactions between people and public institutions.

The ‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’ approach involves putting together Japanese shoes, British trousers, and a Russian cap to make an entertainer with a pure Indian heart. In this case, the analogy must not be understood as different components of the initiative coming from different countries, but as coming from different efforts to use digital technologies for governance in India.

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Open Data Intermediaries in Developing Countries: A Synthesis Report

The synthesis report on ‘open data intermediaries in developing countries‘ is now complete.

The study, undertaken by Francois van Schalkwyk, Michael ‘Miko’ Canares, and I, is based on cases extracted from 17 reports on open data activities in developing countries, produced as part of the ODDC network. We worked with a living definition (for the duration of the study) of ‘open data intermediaries’ to identify organisations from these 17 reports, understand their defining characteristics and activities, and refine the definition in the process.

In this study, we defined ‘open data intermediaries’ as an agent (i) positioned at some point in a data supply chain that incorporates an open dataset, (ii) positioned between two agents in the supply chain, and (iii) facilitates the use of open data that may
otherwise not have been the case
.

Below is an excerpt from the report. The full report can be accessed from Figshare or from Github.

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Mathematisation of the Urban and not Urbanisation of Mathematics: Smart Cities and the Primitive Accumulation of Data – Accepted Abstract

Many accounts of smart cities recognise the historical coincidence of cybernetic control and neoliberal capital. Even where it is machines which process the vast amounts of data produced by the city so much so that the ruling and managerial classes disappear from view, it is usually the logic of capital that steers the flows of data, people and things. Yet what other futures of the city may be possible within the smart city, what collective intelligence may it bring forth?

The Fibreculture Journal has accepted an abstract of mine for its upcoming issue on ‘Computing the City.’

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31/03/2015 // Asia Internet History, Connected World, and Technology Criticism

Transparency Grenade
Transparency Grenade by Julian Oliver

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Asia Internet History – Section Outlines

In the (draft) Foreword to the Asia Internet History – Third Decade (2000-2010) Prof. David J. Farber writes:

One of the early attempts to extend the reach of the Internet to Asia was via the “Johnny Appleseed” approach. That is a set of people responded to queries by people in Asian countries asking how they could connect with the growing Internet by offering to supply tapes to key people in the requesting countries, often by physically going with the tapes, as well as providing access points to the USA Internet. The people that we, I was one of the seeders, worked, with became the leaders in their nation and founded the initial national networks that blossomed with time and often formed the basis of commercial Internets.

The traditions that these network frontier pioneers established lead to the eventual spread of the benefits of Internet access to not only their nations but became models for the spread to the rest of Asia…

It is my distinct honour to contribute to the pioneering series titled Asia Internet History, edited by Dr. Kilnam Chon, by foregrounding a range of other individuals and organisations that often worked outside but in engagement with the national governments, and technical and academic institutions that govern the connecting tapes of the Internet, to ensure mass access to and effective usages of Internet in Asia.

The two sections, to be authored me, provides an overview of ‘civil society organisations’ working across Asian countries that have played a critical role in the shaping of policy-making and discourse around Internet governance during 2000-2010, and then undertakes a closer look at the organisations working in India and their interventions at national, regional, and global levels.

Please read the draft outlines of the overview section and the section on Indian organisations, and share your comments. The comments can be posted on the GitHub page where the outlines are hosted, on this page, or over email: sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.

Cross-posted from: http://cis-india.org/raw/civil-society-organisations-and-internet-governance-in-asia-and-india-outlines

Poster for Sarai and Stickers for CIS

Recently, I had the pleasure of designing the poster for a workshop organised by The Sarai Programme, and also a set of stickers for the Researchers at Work (RAW) programme at the Centre for Internet and Society, which I am now associated with.

The video workshop at Sarai explored on the forms, consumptions, and circulations of video materials over the last three-four decades, with a specific focus on negotiations and continuations between analog and digital video technologies. The poster had to speak to these topics, and also (slightly) embody a film poster aesthetic. I decided to work with an image of a USB drive that looks like a VHS cassette, and organise the text around it.

Here is the final poster.

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Opening Government Data through Mediation

In early 2012, Government of India approved the first policy in the country governing proactive disclosure of government data, and especially of born-digital and digitised data. This National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) extends the mandate of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to establish policy and administrative support to enable informed citizenship, better decision-making and heightened transparency and accountability.

As part of Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries research network managed by the World Wide Web Foundation and supported by the International Development Research Centre, Canada, I undertook a study of the roles, practices and strategies of (potential) data intermediary organisations in India.

The study explores not the outcomes of the NDSAP or the Open Government Data Platform of India as such, but the existing practices of accessing and using government data in India to understand what challenges this Policy and its implementations should respond to, and what available opportunities can be mobilised towards an effective open data agenda.

The study is now completed and all the materials associated with it — project report, blog posts, academic papers, and other resources — can be accessed through the project site: http://ajantriks.github.io/oddc/.

Alternatively, you can directly download the Executive Summary or the project report.

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Access and Use of Government Data by Research and Advocacy Organisations in India: A Survey of (Potential) Open Data Ecosystem

I am presenting a paper titled ‘Access and Use of Government Data by Research and Advocacy Organisations in India: A Survey of (Potential) Open Data Ecosystem’ at the Eighth International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance (ICEGOV), being organised in Guimaraes, Portugal, during October 27-30, 2014.

Abstract

The paper presents findings from a recently competed study of the practices of accessing and using government data by selected (non-governmental and non-commercial) research and advocacy organisations in India. The study takes place in the context of the Government of India adopting an open government data policy and launching an open data portal in 2012. Although, most of the organisations interacted with in this study are yet to begin substantial usage of the open data portal, they have a longer history of working with national-scale government data. The study explores the data practices of these organisations so as to evaluate the possibilities and challenges for them to act as ‘open data intermediaries’ – that is organisations that mediate access and use of open data by other organisations. The findings of the study provide a cross-sectoral view of the current situation of accessing and using government data in India, and briefly reflects on the future strategies towards a robust open data ecosystem in India.

The pre-publication version of the paper can be accessed here.

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A World that Counts – First Public Draft of Report by IEAG on Data Revolution – Submitted Comments

The Independent Expert Advisory Group on ‘data revolution for sustainable development’ set up by the United Nations, and led by Claire Melamed, published the first public draft of their report on October 24, 2014. The PDF version of the report can be accessed here.

Various potential criticisms of the draft report aside, it surely marks a splendid beginning. Though sometimes unevenly, it crucially includes explicit acknowledgements of (1) the reality of an unfolding ‘data revolution’ almost without public regulation, and enforcement of ‘data rights’ of individuals, (2) the inadequacy of the actually existing ‘data revolution’ to achieve sustainable development for all, (3) the importance of re-imagining National Statistical Organisations as a nodal agency in directing ‘data revolution for sustainable development,’ (4) the need to adopt open data principles and practices, and (5) the critical necessity of international and national principles and policies to govern ‘data rights’ of individuals. Of course this is a very selective list of a great range of themes covered in the draft report.

Below are the comments submitted by me in response to the first public draft report. The relevant sections of the report are in bold followed by my comments.

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An Open Data Agenda for Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

This is the text of a submission note prepared by me in response to the call from the Independent Expert Advisory Group on ‘data revolution and sustainable development’ of United Nations. It includes contributions from Tim Davies, Zacharia Chiliswa, and Gisele S. Craveiro.

It was submitted earlier today. The submitted document can be accessed here (PDF).

1. An Open Data Agenda for Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

Data revolution’ has been one of the most remarkable categories of imagination and exploration to emerge from the report of the United Nation’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda [1]. The identification of availability of data on the global status of human development as a key problem area is not surprising given the experiences of measuring, monitoring and implement the Millennium Development Goals. Nonetheless, the recommendation by the High Level Panel for massive restructuring of infrastructures for generating global, reliable, comparable, and timely data is significant.

A brief note prepared by the High Level Panel explains that the ‘data revolution’ has two key objectives: ‘1) the integration of statistics into public and private sector decision making; and 2) building trust between society and state through transparency and accountability’ [2]. The note also lists nine strategic interventions required to achieve these objectives. Only one of which, however, addresses the second main objective.

This submission suggests that an accountable and transparent revolution of global collection and utilisation of data for sustainable development must embrace openness as a fundamental pre-condition of the data concerned. In other words, a data revolution for sustainable development must be based upon global collection, usage, and publication of open data (relevant for purposes of sustainable development).

The Independent Expert Advisory Group on ‘data revolution for sustainable development’ (henceforth, IEAG) has already addressed the question of open data through defining one of its consultation areas around the concept of ‘Accessible Data,’ which comprises of topics related to open data, accountability, and data literacy. This submission, however, proposes that open data must be considered as a cross-cutting principle and instrument of ensuring transparency, trust and security spanning all the constituent areas of the ‘data revolution’ — measuring of sustainable development goals, innovation through big data and new technologies, and addressing system challenges throughout the data landscape.

To reiterate, this submission finds the decision of the IEAG to dedicate an entire consultation area to ‘Accessible Data’ most encouraging and praiseworthy. However, it is necessary to simultaneously ensure that the concern for and transformative potential of open data is not contained within one consultation area within, but is discussed and deployed across the various aspects of the ‘data revolution.’

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