July 2013

Open Data for Better Governance

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Neeta Verma
Deputy Director General,
National Informatics Centre (NIC),
Government of India

Please provide us with an overview of the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy. What kind of benefits can this policy bring
to the common citizens of the country?
The Government of India notified the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) 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, DeitY have been assigned the responsibility of implementing this policy in India. The main objective of this policy is to allow access to government owned shareable 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 of India.Government Ministries & Departments have already nominated Data Controllers to lead their Open Data initiative. NIC has set up an open government data platform.


Data Portal India has been set up at http://data.gov.in to provide single point access to all the datasets published by different government departments in open format. It also provides a ‘Search & Discovery’ mechanism for instant access to desired datasets. Data Portal has a rich component of citizen engagement. Besides enabling citizens to express their need for specific datasets, it also allows them to rate the quality of datasets and seek clarification or information from respective Data Controllers. Neeta Verma, in conversation with Nayana Singh & Kartik Sharma


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. Datasets thus 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 organisations,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 steps are being taken to ensure that the data that is being made available will be properly used?
First of all, you need to understand the concept of open data. 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 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 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?
As already mentioned 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 organising 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 beneficiaries of this open government data is not just the public, it is also the various government departments. It is quite often for one government department to require 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.

Tell us about the technology that you are 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 Visualisation 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. OGPL also has a dashboard module to facilitate programme management and reporting on different dimensions of Open data initiative. State of the art Open Source Technologies are being used to develop as well as host and manage such a platform.

Data Portal India

The Data Portal India is an Open Source platform using Drupal. It has 4 (four) major modules,as detailed below, implemented on a single Drupal instance – an Open Source based Content Framework Solution:

• Data Management System (DMS) – Backend Module for contributing datasets/apps by authorised users from Ministry/Departments/Organisations of the Government through a predefined workflow in the standard metadata format.
• Content Management System (CMS) – Module for managing and updating various functionalities and content of the Data Portal India by the System Administrator of the Portal.
• Visitor Relationship Management (VRM) – Module for collating and disseminating the feedback/suggestions from the stake holders on datasets and applications. Feedbacks/suggestions could be shared through feedback form, suggest datasets/apps and contact us.
• Communities – Module which brings together different sets of people sharing the same interest, belonging to the same sector or having interest for the same datasets. This module facilitates a platform for interaction and knowledge sharing.

According to you, what are the potential benefits of the Open Government data initiative?
One of the most quoted benefits of OGD is 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, customising applications, and providing feedback to enhance the quality 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

Community Engagement

A We constantly engage with community through online & offline events. Some of the events were subject specifc while others are generic as open data community building efforts.

12 Plan Hackathon

In association with Planning Commission & National Innovation Council, a two days hackathon was organised for 12th Five year Plan. The event was spread across 11 different premier institutions across the country. We had an overwhelming response with around 1000 participants and 217 submissions, in different categories of Apps, Short films and visualisations. Winners of this hackathon can be accessed on data portal.

In Pursuit of an ‘Idea’

University of Delhi and National informatics Centre (NIC) are collaborating to create an ecosystem, where in Government, Students and Citizens at large are participating. In Pursuit of an‘Idea’,is an event where DU students are working with idea owner and mentors to create applications and visualisations based on datasets available from data. gov.in as part of the their Summer training programme. Broadly the themes under which the applications are getting developed are Trade, Agriculture, Post, Environment, Water, Sanitation and Health.

Community Meetings

Conducting and participating community meetings are important part of the community building exercise. NDSAP PMU team regularly participate in such meetings. We also conduct open house meetings with developer community, civil society members, open data enthusiasts in order to get first hand input on different dimensions of open government data.

Online collaboration

Data.gov.in has forums and links to twitter and facebook links which helps us interact with the portal users. With the next release of OGPL, Developers will be able to use API provided by us to consume data in their applications. This will help them not to download the datasets and use it from our website itself. Also we will be having a signup campaign to the beta release of platform.

What is your vision for creating datasets that are easily usable by the general public?
One can create variety of visualisations across government datasets for better understanding by various stakeholders such as citizens, civil societies, interest groups etc. Datasets could be integrated with geo spatial data to create mashups to help government departments in better planning and decision making. Mashups could be further combined 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 could be made available for simple mobile phones for wider reach across all strata of citizens. This would also help citizen engagement & community collaboration in the process of governance. One can also combine the datasets released from different govt departments to develop innovative and new set of services for the citizens. There is huge component of innovation here. Existing services can be customised or localised with to local content to increase their usability by citizens,enhance user experience.

Once all departments start contributing their datasets in open format, the Data Repository will become huge. How will you manage to save this data? Will you be using technologies like cloud computing?
Through 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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