Why Open Government Data Makes Sense for India

Neeta Verma, Deputy Director General, NIC, GOI talks about Data Portal India and the benefits that it bring to the people of the country

Tell us about the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy and the benefits this bring to the common citizens of the country?
The National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) has been notified by the Government of India in March 2012. As per this policy, all Government Ministries and Departments are supposed to proactively release their data in open format. The policy was initiated by DST while NIC (National Informatics Centre) and DeitY (Department of Electronics and IT) have been assigned the responsibility of implementing this policy inIndia. The main objective of this policy is to allow access to Government owned sharable data in machine readable form through a network, across the country in a proactive and periodically updatable manner, within the framework of various related policies, acts and rules of Government ofIndia. Government Ministries & Departments have already nominated Data Controllers to lead their Open Data initiative. NIC has set up an open government data platform.

What kind of technology are you using in data. gov.in website?
The website, data.gov.in, is built using Open Source Technologies. In fact, complete project of development of open data platform is managed using open source technology. Complete source code of Open Government Platform (OGPL) is available in open for anyone to download. Over and above, the basic modules for dataset management, catalogues as well as public portal, it has exclusive modules for dataset format conversion. We have also built Visualization Engine over the open data Platform to enable users to explore the data sets through its visual representation in charts, graphs & maps for easy comprehension. Also, OGPL has a dashboard module to facilitate programme management and reporting on different dimensions of Open data initiative. Stateof- the-art open source technologies are being used to develop as well as host and manage such a platform. 

What all steps are you taking to ensure the data being made available under the open data policy will be properly used?
You see, when the data is machine readable, and is free to use, reuse and redistribute, it is called open data. If the open data is coming from government departments, then it is called open government data. This data is free from licensing, so anyone can reuse or redistribute it. In every government department, senior level executive has been nominated as data managers. Data managers identify, publish and manage the data sets from respective department. At NIC, we are engaging with various departments and help them understand potential of pen data. We are regularly organising workshops, seminars to sensitize, the departments about open data as well as processes to publish their datasets in Open format. We also handhold departments in their endeavour to publish data in open wherever necessary. 

What are you doing to ensure that there is good usage of the datasets by the government and the citizens?
We are engaging with various departments to help them understand potential of open data. We are regularly organising workshops, seminars to sensitise, the departments about open data as well as processes to publish their datasets in open format. We are also engaging with various stakeholders of open data viz. civil society, academic and research community, developers, journalists, and other groups to explore innovative applications of Open Data in Indian Context. Besides organizing periodic in person meetings, conferences with community, we have also opened up number of channels on our open data platform to engage with community online. The The beneficiaries of this open government data is not just the public, it is also the various government departments. It is  uite often for one government department to re uire the data that has been collected by some other government department for planning, policy formulation purposes. The open data policy makes it easier for government departments to share data with each other.

What are the main benefits of the Open Data Platform that NIC has developed?
Open Data Platform set up by NIC can be accessed at data.gov.in. This platform enables all government departments to contribute their datasets in open format. Thus, datasets are contributed are processed through a predefined workflow system for approval for publishing on the data portal. Citizens can access open data platform to browse, and search for the data that is relevant to their needs and can also download the datasets. Not only citizens, civil society, academia, research organizations, journalists and many others who need data for variety of purposes are the potential users of this platform. Community module is another important dimension of this open data platform. It enables potential users of datasets to explore & discuss datasets online. Essentially, the platform has been designed to facilitate a lot of citizen engagement as well as participation.  

What are the potential benefits of the Open Government data initiative?
The biggest benefit of the OGD is the increase in transparency of governmental functioning. Citizen Engagement is another important dimension of open government data. Citizens are now able to access the raw government data behind the pre-packaged reports from various e-Governance applications. Rather than being merely “read-only” users, citizens can now participate in collaborative access to government data, including “mashing up” distributed government data from different departments and organisations, discovering interesting patterns, customizing applications, and providing feedback to enhance the  uality of published government data. For governments, the costs of providing information is reduced when the data is released through these OGD portals as opposed to rendered into reports or applications.  

There is talk of creating large number of data that are easily usable by the general public. Tell us about it.
Today, it is possible for us to create variety of visualisations across government datasets for better understanding by various stakeholders such as citizens, civil societies, interest groups etc. Datasets can be integrated with geo spatial data to create mashups that can help government departments in better planning and decision making. It is possible to combine the mashups with live pictures for better understanding of development schemes, social audit of welfare schemes.Lot of innovative apps could be developed around these mashups to facilitate effective planning and implementation of government programme. These apps can be made available for simple mobile phones for wider reach across all strata of citizens. Existing services can be customised or localised with to local content to increase their usability by citizens, enhance user experience.  

The Data Repository of information from various government departments will become huge. How do you ensure that this data is saved in a secure environment?
In our framework of open government data, departments have the choice of uploading datasets to data portal repository or simply hyper linking to a location on their website. However, by uploading datasets in data portal repository, they get special services such as permanent URL, online visualisation etc. In either case, we do not foresee any challenge of storing these datasets. We at NIC, have large number of datasets across country. Almost all government websites portals are hosted out of NIC data centres. Further, open data platform is built on highly scalable architecture at all layers of IT. Cloud Computing services are being made available in our data centres. They shall be utilised as and when necessary 

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