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 surley marks a splendid beginning. Though sometimes unevently, 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 reimagining National Statistical Organisations as a nodal agency in directing ‘data revolution for sustainabale 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 is 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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‘Data Revolution’ – Background Readings

With the policy period of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) coming to an end in 2015, United Nations instituted a High Level Panel to advise on the framing of the discussion on post-2015 global development framework and the design of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Panel submitted its report in May 2013.

The report highlights five transformative shifts as core foci of the post-2015 development agenda, and identifies ‘data revolution’ as a necessary and fundamental component of operationalising such an agenda. This identification is directly compelled by the experiences of measuring, monitoring and implement the MDGs. To quote from a brief note on ‘data revolution’ published by the Panel:

Sadly, the availability quality and accessibility of the data we have today just aren’t good enough. Too often, development efforts are hampered by a lack of the most basic data about the social and economic circumstances in which people live. This requires a commitment to changing the way we collect and share data, both from the bottom up and the top down… The availability of information has improved during the implementation of the MDGs, but much better data are necessary. We have yet to establish an accurate picture of how many people are living in extreme poverty today; without that, it is very hard to work out the best ways to move that number to zero by 2030.

While the challenge of absent and unreliable of global development data is a very critical one, the question here is if ‘data revolution’ is being conceptualised robustly enough to address it. The same note explains:

At its heart, the data revolution comprises two main objectives: 1) the integration of statistics into public and private sector decision making; 2) building trust between society and state through transparency and accountability.

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Tweets from the Round Table on ‘Inclusion in the Network Society’

IT for Change and IDRC, Canada, organised a round table last week to map the emerging and critical research questions around the issue of ‘inclusion in the network society.’ The discussions were expansive, intense, contested, and very enriching.

Mark Graham - Inclusion in the Network SocietySource: Mark Graham.

I did some vigorous and inspired tweeting throughtout the round table. As Tim Davies has already comprehensively collected all the tweets from the round table, I am sharing below only few of my tweets (and conversations) that I feel capture the essential questions coming out of the three days.

But first I quick word cloud of most repeated words from all the tweets coming out of the round table (during September 29 to October 01) with the hashtag #networkinclusion:

Round Table on Network Inclusion - Tweets - All

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Mapping Workshop – Resources

This is a list of mapping resources gathered during a workshop at NID, Paldi, in August 2014.

Readings

John Krygier & Denis Wood – Ce n’est pas le monde (This is not the world).

Jeremy W. Crampton & John Krygier – An Introduction to Critical Cartography.

Denis Wood & John Krygier – Cartography: Critical Cartography

John Krygier – Map Art Exhibitions 2010-11 & Map Art Exhibitions 2012-13.

Christian Nold (ed.) – Emotional Cartography – Technologies of the Self

Counter Cartographies Collective – Blog, Maps, Papers, and Presentations.

Denis Wood – Interview – Mapping Marginality.

Alexis Madrigal – How Google Builds Its Maps – and What It Means for the Future of Everything.

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Information, Infrastructure, Inclusion: Research Notes on Materiality of Electronic Governance in India

IT for Change and International Development Research Centre, Canada, are organising a Round Table on ‘Inclusion in the Network Society‘ in September-October this year. I am honoured to take part in the Round Table and present a paper that comes out of my ongoing research on electronic governance and the Aadhaar project. Below is an excerpt from the submitted extended abstract of the paper:

The discussion of the Aadhaar project and the conceptualisation of inclusion through intertwined terminologies of ‘access’ and ‘delivery’ call for a political economic appreciation of this model of electronic, or networked, governance. These terms – access and delivery – stand for an ideological collapsing of the agencies that provide welfare-services and uphold human rights, and the diverging modalities of relationships between those who access services and those who deliver them. This conceptual blurring of governmental, semi-governmental and private providers of welfare and infrastructural services deeply undermine the available and effective modes of demanding of services and rights by the citizens. The universalising infrastructures of networked governance, such as those (claimed to be) enabled by Aadhaar project, are developing the material basis for seamless information sharing between various agencies, public and private, that will deliver such services. The ‘architecture of participation’ (to borrow a phrase from Tim O’Reilly) in such networks simultaneously determine the spaces of exclusion in the networked society. This paper highlights the need of reading the politics of inclusion/exclusion in the networked societies through its very material basis – the infrastructures of information gathering, archiving, analysing, and sharing.

Read the full abstract at the Round Table website.

Submission of Comments for the DBT-DST Open Access Policy Draft, July 25, 2014

Below is the text of the letter submitted in response to invitation of comments for the first draft of the DBT-DST Open Access Policy published by the Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Science and Technology. It was submitted on July 25, 2014.

This is to heartily congratulate the wonderful initiative by the Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Science and Technology to prepare the Policy on Open and Unrestricted Access to DBT/DST Funded Research.

Responding to the call for comments, please let me suggest three potential additions to the draft Policy document:

1. Metadata Standards

The Policy takes a very commendable position by allowing a researcher to deposit the full-text of the paper and metadata to either the Institutional Repository or to the Central Repository (to be set up by DBT-DST). While the draft document does mention that the IR should implement an ‘interoperable’ data standard, it will perhaps be useful to explicitly demand that the IRs should implement an internationally-accepted open standard for storing and exposing the metadata associated with each submission. This will facilitate automated querying and reading of metadata from the various IRs, and may eventually allow for a central archive of research publication metadata gathered from all the different IRs, making discovery of knowledge much easier.

2. Secondary Materials

Along with the full-text of the paper and metadata, various secondary materials associated with the research – such as datasets, (excerpts from) transcribed interviews, code snippets used to generate published findings, high-resolution version of maps and images, etc. – are often critical to fully appreciate, evaluate, and/or reproduce the research. It will be very useful if the Policy recommends (of course not as an optional component and not a compulsory one) that researchers / research teams submit any possible secondary material associated with the paper concerned to the Repository.

3. Model for Public-Funded Research in Other Disciplines

Being a social science researcher myself, I feel that this Policy is of great value not only within scientific and technological disciplines but also for those outside it. Though this Policy addresses only research being supported (fully or partially) by the DBT and/or the DST, it will be a big help for researchers from other disciplines if the Policy mentions that the model of open and unrestricted access to public-funded research formulated in this document can possibly be considered by other research-funding bodies of the Government (such as the University Grants Commission). This can surely be worded only as a suggested possibility and nothing more than that. Even such a suggestion can be used by researchers from other disciplines to demand a similar policy from the relevant funding
organisations.

Word Clouds of #ODDC Tweets, July 2014

The ‘Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries‘ research network gathered in Berlin last week (July 14-15) to have internal and public research sharing meetings. Various members of the network also took part in the Open Knowledge Festival (July 16-17), followed by the Open Development Working Group meeting (July 18). Below are the word clouds of the term #ODDC during these two sets of events.

Please note that various common words, like data, open data, ODDC, OKFest, OKFest2014, etc., and Twitter handles have been removed while creating the word clouds. The diagrams are created using Wordle.

ODDC Network Meeting, July 14-15, 840 Tweets

Word Cloud of #ODDC Tweets, July 14-15, 2014See the full-size image.

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ODDC Network Meeting and New Paper on ‘Open Data Intermediaries’ in India

All the researchers associated with the ‘Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries’ research network recently gathered in Berlin, during July 14-15, to share the findings from their multi-faceted studies of challenges and opportunities and forms of open data practices across the various countries. Apart from the internal discussions and sharings, there was a public event on Tuesday, July 15, afternoon, and several sessions at the Open Knowledge Festival 2014 also included researchers from the ODDC network sharing their experiences and insights.

Below are the poster and slides from my study, which were displayed and presented at these events.

Opening Government Data through Mediation - Research Poster - Small

View the poster in larger size.

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