For a developing country like India, evidence-based planning of urban services is essential to eliminate chances of errors. However, the lack of readily available information leads to incorrect prioritisation, resource allocation and unplanned development. Although the Right to Information Act, 2005 has helped to some extent, shortcomings such as the long-drawn-out process of filling right-to-informatoin application and lack of awareness regarding its various formats indicate that securing accurate data continues to be a huge challenge. This calls for a more citizen-centric data application. To address these issues, an open government data (OGD) platform has been launched. It provides access to real-time and historic data, which can be utilised to make improvements in citizen services like water supply, sewage treatment, city roads, etc. It can also play a major role in upholding the principles of transparency and accountability for organisations.
Introduction to OGD
The National Informatics Centre in association with the US government launched an OGD platform in 2012. The platform aims at facilitating open and easy access to government-owned data. The data can be used by many stakeholders, such as citizens, urban local bodies (ULBs), ministries, departments and states.
Key features of the OGD platform
The OGD platform houses multiple features that cater to all the stakeholders:
- It provides access to updated data sets, apps and catalogues published by various departments, ministries and states in a readable format.
- The citizens/community can submit suggestions for any data requirement. Further clarification or information on the released resources can be sought directly from the chief data officer of the portal.
- It offers the facility of creating data visualisations using maps, tables, charts, etc. through its visualisation platform.
- Queries with respect to a data set can be raised. These queries will be addressed through the application programming interface (API), which provides a two-way communication channel between the user and the administrator.
- A separate community portal has been launched to discuss and contribute valuable insights about the published data. This can be done through blogs, infographics and visualisations.
- Another portal, “Events”, can be used to manage workshops, hackathons, and the challenges organised by organisations.
- OGD also has a software-as-a-service (SaaS) portal for states and other organisations to create their own open data site.
The platform has four major modules which help improve its functionality. These are:
- Data management system (DMS) – It is the back end module for contributing data catalogues and applications by authorised users. The data is made available on the front-end website after a due approval process through a defined workflow.
- Content management system – Content is managed and updated through this module, besides other functionalities of the portal.
- Visitor relationship management – Through this module, viewer feedback and suggestions are collated and disseminated to stakeholders.
- Communities – This module facilitates interaction and knowledge sharing. The platform brings together different sets of users to share and discuss insights.
- One of the most important benefits of the OGD platform is that it has resulted in greater transparency of governance by providing access to data.
- Through the content management module, the content and applications are periodically updated. This helps in binding trust of the user.
- By acting as a common knowledge sharing platform for communities, it provides information about diverse sectors. Further, citizens with specific interests are encouraged to share their knowledge, leading to greater insights.
- It encourages participation of a large population, which helps in the development and modification of the features with visualisations, APIs and alerts.
- The application’s user-friendly interface with dynamic/pull down menus, search option and catalogues makes it easy to use.
- The data sets available on the OGD platform are exportable and can be downloaded.
- Direct contact with the chief data officer for queries enables better discovery and usage of government datasets.
- An update alert service can be subscribed to, for getting information about updated catalogues.
- The viewer feedback gets collated and is easily disseminated to stakeholders.
- People can rate the resources (data sets/apps) on a scale of five, based on three aspects – quality, accessibility and usability. This creates room for further improvement.
OGD for ULBs
ULBs process and generate a large amount of data in their day-to-day functioning. For instance, data with respect to water supplied, existing water charges, birth/death registration, etc. is generated. However, it is not being put to effective use, so the potential remains unutilised. The OGD platform can help add value to the raw data. It has a mechanism to convert raw data into insights and visualisations, thereby reducing the burden of finding information and eliminating the time taken to respond to RTI applications.
The Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) have launched their open data sites on the SaaS model of the OGD platform. SMC’s portal currently lists 11 catalogues containing data sets and statistics. It provides data on the drainage and storm drainage systems of SMC, weather station information, solid waste management initiatives, property tax and recovery count, and about various citizen facilities available in Surat, among others.
The open data store of PMC has 168 high-value data sets pertaining to different departments. These include the sewerage department data containing lists of service-level benchmarks, sewerage treatment plant projects executed, statistics and solid waste management reports, among others. The website has a total of 205 users and witnesses an average of 48 downloads per day.
The way forward
Even though the platform offers numerous benefits, its uptake has been slow. So far, only Sikkim, Tamil Nadu and Odisha have launched the portal. Besides, SMC and PMC are the only ULBs to have taken the initiative. There is a need to engage with various departments and other ULBs to help them understand the potential of the OGD platform. To this end, regular workshops or seminars can be organised. Engagement with various stakeholders including civil society, academic and research communities, developers, journalists and other groups has to be ensured to sensitise the departments about the platform. Further, most departments fear the misuse of their valuable data. An open data use licence thus can be considered as a preventive measure. Greater adoption of the OGD platform is necessary as it will help in achieving effective governance.