The Many Lives of Open Data

Open Data Day | 2021

Arpit Arora
7 min readMar 6, 2021


It’s Open Data Day !

On 6th March, 2021, CivicDataLab along with organisations from around the world is celebrating Open Data Day! (1) On this day, all over the world, there are local events where people come together to use open data in their communities. At CivicDataLab, Open data is a key thread that weaves through every initiative we engage in. From Justice Hub, to Open Budgets India, to Open City our work in these spaces involves creation, curation and adoption of open data practices.

Today, we want to use this opportunity to talk about some of these key initiatives we have been a part of over the last few years, what are the benefits of open data, and how we are encouraging the adoption of open data policies in governments, businesses and civil societies. And if you are hearing about open data for the first time, don’t fret, you can be a part of the movement too!

In the true spirit of the movement, all the created by CivicDataLab are open for everyone to use and re-use. Including this blog! Let’s get started..

What is Open Data ?

Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.

It is datasets, documents, services, tools and applications intended for public use published in open formats. The data in open formats is meant to increase transparency in the functioning of any administrative body and also open avenues for many more innovative uses to drive further research and civic engagement.

There are some key features that make any data open:

  • Availability and access: the data must be available as a whole and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet. The data must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form.
  • Reuse and redistribution: the data must be provided under terms that permit reuse and redistribution including the intermixing with other datasets. The data must be machine-readable.
  • Universal participation: everyone must be able to use, reuse and redistribute — there should be no discrimination against fields of endeavour or against persons or groups. For example, ‘non-commercial’ restrictions that would prevent ‘commercial’ use, or restrictions of use for certain purposes (e.g. only in education), are not allowed.

And there can be many kinds of open data, Cultural, Scientific, Financial, Statistical, Weather, Environmental and beyond! It becomes critical to have open data that fulfills these criteria enabling interoperability of various datasets. Interoperability is important because it allows us to bring together various components essential to building large, complex systems and understanding the ecosystem better.

Why Open Data ?

Open data, especially open government data, is a tremendous resource of information to understand the performance of a state on numerous humanitarian indicators. Governments around the world and in India collect significant information in this respect, in terms of both quantity and centrality of the data. There are also many different groups of people and organisations who can benefit from the availability of open data, including the government itself. And in most cases government data is public by law, therefore could be made open and available for others to use.

Having government data in the open benefits in the following ways:

  • Transparency and Accountability in state governance
  • Measuring policy impact and services delivery effectiveness
  • New knowledge from combined data sources and patterns
  • Using the information to drive civic engagement in the country

For eg. Every year the Government of India releases the Union Budget, and one of the components that budget is allocation towards Centrally Sponsored Schemes. One such scheme is Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, to address school education holistically without segmentation from pre-nursery to Class 12. The allocation from the centre is distributed to states and then utilised at a district, block and panchayat level to improve the state of education in their area. How will the amount be utilised? What facilities are available in the schools and anganwadis? How are the children performing against learning outcomes? Open data can potentially help bridge the gap from planning, to service delivery, to impact. It can enable citizens to participate in the process of allocation and dissemination of funds to service delivery that serve the needs of the local community.

Open data are the building blocks of open knowledge. Open knowledge is what open data becomes when it’s useful, usable and used. (2)

Where does India stand in terms of Open Data?

The search for a good open dataset in India has always been a mixed bag. India has a national open government data (OGD) platform,, which is used by various government departments to publish their data sets. It is intended to increase transparency and keep government data in the public domain to further innovation. Though the OGD platform has hundreds of data sets, many of them are incomplete and rarely updated. More recently, for the first time in the decade, the Ministry of Finance did not publish the data related to Union Budget 2021–22 on in open formats. This comes at a concerning time when timeliness and trustworthiness of India’s fiscal data remains a big question across the globe.

Over the years, there have been several efforts to open up the data in the country. The National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) , empowered by the Section 4(2) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, came into existence in 2012 is one such effort. The NDSAP requires all non-personal, non-sensitive data produced using public funds by the central, state, and local governments, and their departments. It covers data in all formats, digital, analog, machine, and human-readable formats. The NDSAP promises to adhere to the principles of open data: openness, transparency, quality, privacy, and machine readability.

Though the OGD platform works under the provisions of the NDSAP, it has not been able to publish enough government data from numerous data rich departments. Globally, while there has been a shift towards open data policies, some Government of India’s departments have gone the opposite way. They have decided to stop putting out data in the public domain. (3)

According to the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Global Open Data Index, (4) India ranks 32 position on the index with a 47% score. The index rates India extremely poorly on data categories like Weather Forecast, Election Results, Locations, Government Spending and Land Ownership in terms of openness. The country ranked 1st is Taiwan with a 90% score.

Fig. from: Global Open Data Index, Open Knowledge Foundation

Open Data @ CDL

Open data is at the core of a lot of initiatives we engage in at CivicDataLab. Through these initiatives, we also advocate and support the adoption of open data policies in governments, businesses and civil societies.

Public Finance

Making India’s Budgets open, usable and easy to comprehend.

Law and Justice

Empowering data-driven justice by making legal & justice data open, accessible & actionable.

Better Cities

Enable data driven decision making to bring transparency into urban local governance.

The Way Forward

Fig From: The Sustainable Development Report

Open data that can take many lives of its own, it is an untapped potential waiting to be realised in public information. Information that can be used to solve numerous humanitarian challenges we are facing as a country. For that potential to be realized, public data needs to be open data.

In the coming years, CivicDataLab is planning to extend on its existing work and dive deeper into the following areas:

Do you have any dataset you would like to see out in the open? Would you like to open up any dataset that you possess? Write to us at to work with us and make India’s data more open.

And lastly, if you have data that has the potential to improve the civic discourse in your community, open it !

A big thank you to

and for reviewing the blog and for publishing it.