Open Sesame: Making Sense of the Open Data Revolution for India

Like the Arab Spring of 2010 and multiple other movements, there is a silent revolution underway in the form of “Open Data Movement” which is creating a lot of data and revealing insights that are changing the way in which we are living.

In the United Kingdom, the website findthebest.com uses government data in its UK Car Fuel Economy and Emission Data App that helps car buyers compare features such as fuel economy based on their type of commute. By making these data available to enterprising companies and individuals, UK government has spurred private-sector innovation and increasing transparency — two of the most important goals of any open-data initiative.

In the United States of America, Zillow, the fast-growing online real estate marketplace, wouldn’t have existed without open data. More specifically, it probably couldn’t exist without online public data relating to real estate sales information. The country has more than 3,000 counties, each with its own registry of deeds where routine but vital data are recorded on every transaction involving the sale of homes, businesses, and land and these information has moved online and its value has increased, making it possible for the firms.

Outside these examples, there are numerous use-cases where open data has shown its potential. Specifically, Open data movement can be used to:

  • Foster economic growth and job creation
  • Improve efficiency and coverage of public services
  • Increase transparency, accountability and citizen participation
  • Facilitate better information sharing within government

This silent movement of “Open data governance“ started in December 2007 when a group of Open data pioneers gathered in Sebastopol, CA. In that meeting, the team penned a set of eight open government data principles and that triggered a new silent revolution towards data democratization. The eight simple principles of open data — data should be complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine- processable, nondiscriminatory, nonproprietary and license-free.

Seven years since the meeting, governments around the world have adopted open data initiatives and platforms that empower people to mine the information to provide actionable insights. In January 2009, US President Barack Obama issued a memorandum on transparency and open government. In May 2009, the government released 47 datasets and later that government issued a final draft of its federal Open Government directive that had its first orders including a 45 deadline to open previously unreleased data to the public.

Though there has been a lot happening around the Open data, but that is still not enough. Research shows that much more remains to be done to unlock the open data as a sustainable development accelerator. Only a small portion of countries have provided open and free online access to critical data such as public spending, health, education, maps or census data and the others have not.

In October 2012, India started its “Open Government data” journey by opening up Government owned shareable data in Machine-readable formats for the usage of the general public. India’s journey in the Open data has to be appreciated but to create a sustainable impact, a lot has to be done.

A report from OpenDataBarometer shows that India is performing (Overall Rank : 38, Overall Score : 34/100 Readiness Score : 48/100, Implementation Score : 38/100, Impact :14/100, YOY Change : +1 ) way better than many developing countries when it comes to Open Data but, there is a scope for us to improve. India has entered the mainstream of open data but unless we open up all the critical data, we cannot be truly 100% open when it comes to data.

Therefore, an ideal strategy of an agency that plans to leverage the open data would have the following:

  • Support open data through the use of legal framework
  • Provide data for free
  • Create data inventories for the data resources & documentation around the data
  • Prioritize datasets that users want
  • Create feedback channels from users to agency & address quality issues in the dataset
  • Provide granular data without risking the privacy rights

To conclude, Open data can definitely create a sustainable economic opportunity for all of us. But, for that to happen institutions should view open data as something much more than an experiment with a long-term strategy for implementation.