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Open Data – Chennai

This is part 2 of 5 of the Open Data India Series. You can read the first post ‘Open Data – Bangalore’ on the OKFN blog.

Chennai, formerly Madras, is only a short train ride away from Bangalore. Laura and I hadn’t been intending on travelling to Chennai on this trip, but a mail from Nithya Raman from Transparent Chennai on learning that we would be in India at the time of their Open Data Camp promised that, ‘the enthusiasm of my team to learn would make you glad you came’. That sounded like a tempting offer, so Laura and I packed our bags and headed down the hill to the coast to lead a workshop on open data, and what we had learnt from the previous two weeks in Bangalore…

Transparent Chennai & the Workshop

Transparent Chennai collects, creates, and disseminates maps, data, and research to support citizen advocacy, largely focussing on issues related to the urban poor. They were the first NGO on the trip to ask us how to open up data which they had got originally from governments through right to information requests and added value to, so that other people could benefit from their work. Via their website, you can build your own maps of Chennai with layers ranging from flyovers and special road projects, census data by Ward, slum information from the Slum Clearance Board and location of public toilets from data which they have meticulously compiled from various sources with their tiny, 6-person team. (More information on the data and the map layers).

The Transparent Chennai team had put together a lively workshop with topics ranging from What is data? through Open Data and picking the correct visualisation for your data, to live mapping sessions. Sessions were delivered to an audience made up largely of NGOs, many of whom had travelled from far and wide to be there.

Questions and debate flowed about where the boundaries should be drawn with what should be made open, licensing and even how and when to use specific services, such as OpenCorporates. We hope these discussion will continue.

For the benefit of those in the workshop, here is our presentation and some of the links we mentioned in answer to the questions:

  • OpenDefinition.org – the Open Definition, the underlying principle behind everything that we do.
  • DataHub.io – we mentioned when explaining how we ourselves show the steps when working with data, to ensure that anyone can track and replicate our working.
  • Licensing questions. We were delighted to hear that some of the NGOs present in the workshop were considering openly licensing some of the data they had collected themselves and wanted to know which licence to pick. There are still lots of grey areas to iron out where derivative works from government data is concerned; for example, Transparent Chennai were not sure whether they could release government datasets to which they had added geographic markers under an open licence. For this type of question, our recommendation would be to drop the community of experts and lawyers a message via the Open Definition discussion list.

Oh, and yes, we were glad we came (very!). Thank you Nithya for the invite, and we look forward to hearing a lot more from Transparent Chennai!

Next stop in the Open Data in India series – Mumbai.

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