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Open Steps: 3 months documenting Open Knowledge in India

Guest - December 12, 2013 in Featured Project, Meetups, OKF India

This is a guest blog post from Open Steps, an initiative by two young Berliners Alex (a software developer from Spain) and Margo (a graduate in European politics from France) who decided to leave their daily lives and travel around the world for one year to meet people and organizations working actively in open knowledge related projects, documenting them on their website.

Three months have already gone since we wrote the first report about our journey here on the Open Knowledge Foundation blog, sharing our experiences discovering and documenting Open Knowledge projects. After Europe, we travelled along the indian sub-continent, gathering impressions that we would now like to share with you through this article.

A big country full of active individuals and initiatives

India is a huge and heterogeneous country, strongly marked by the cultural, economical and social differences between its 28 states. This was the main challenge we had to face while exploring the existence of Open Government initiatives, the use of Open Data in different fields and the level of awareness about Open Cultures in general. After these three months, in which we have visited both northern and southern regions, we are impressed by the amount and quality of projects and individuals we have met.

The first proof of the momentum the Open Data movement is currently experiencing, is the presence of the national Open Data platform. Created in 2012, it hosts an increasing number of relevant datasets and is being currently improved with new features as API access, support for regional data and new on-site visualisations. As we could experience during our event in Delhi, where we had the opportunity to discuss with one of the developers behind the platform, the use of this data is being encouraged through App Challenges and regularly organised Hackathons. The existence of such a platform is a consequence of India’s participation within the Open Government initiative. Along this topic, we can also remark that although not yet taking part in the Open Government Partnership, a similar initiative we cover, India has already shown its commitment and has been listed as one of the eligible countries 2013 and could apply for it.

Our first workshop took place in Mumbai, where we were introduced to some members of the Datameet group. This small community of like-minded individuals, open-source supporters and data-activists is the second point we would like to underline here. This public online forum is the place you want to address if you are willing to stay up-to-date in all things open happening in India. Its members collaborate together in different projects, organise monthly events and stay connected across the huge country. And fact is, that we have met Datameet members on every event we have organised!

Data-activism and problem solving made in India

By running this project, we are learning new things everyday. One of the topics we have had the opportunity to explore more in detail is data-activism. Many groups we have met in India are using data as a tool for intelligent, resource-conscious and effective problem-solving at local level. Organisations such as Transparent Chennai and Karnataka Learning Partnership, who both helped us running our event, are remarkable examples of non-profit initiatives addressing social issues in their cities, Chennai and Bangalore respectively. Also, we discovered the Tactical Technologies Collective, a Berlin-based company with office in the Karnataka’s metropole which advises NGOs, journalists and activists on the smart use of data and technologies for advocacy.

In addition, we experienced on first hand that the public administration is beginning to be aware of the benefits of Open Data. We took part in one of the meetings of the Open Government Committee at Karnataka Highway Improvement Project (KSHIP). There, we could give our input on which tools and strategies they could profit from to achieve their goal: realising their data to the public domain, encouraging citizen-participation and improving the decision-making process regarding the state’s road infrastructures.

Open Access, sharing knowledge in academics

Along our journey, we have met various kinds of organisations. But it was in Vadodara, Gujarat, where we had the chance to witness the use of open principles in the context of a university. We visited the Smt. Hansa Metha Library and spoke with its director about the Open Knowledge Gateway, an online hub they initiated where researchers and students can access publications, documentation and further information for free.

We could also discuss about Open Access in our meeting in Delhi, where the Open Access Week took place last October, organised in cooperation with UNESCO and the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). This shows that the interest towards making academic information available for everyone is growing in India and universities are already committed to accelerate innovation this way.

North vs South: Is there any difference?

As a matter of fact, southern indian regions are, in general, economically more developed than their northern neighbours. We experienced that in the South, Kerala’s administration promotes the development of Open Source software. Also, IT-metropoles such as Bangalore and Hyderabad, are the perfect setting for initiatives which use technology and data with the aim to improve society, always supporting the idea that knowledge should be available for everyone.

Nevertheless, as the Datameet group reveals, there are activists all over India. At the end, the motivation of these individuals and organisations is what makes the difference, and we could find them both in North and South.

We leave India with the feeling that we could keep researching further interesting projects for months. Actually, due to our tight schedule, we could not cover every project we happened to discover. There was a great interest in Open Steps and we were warm welcomed by all of our collaborators, even we have been contacted by many people we could not meet at the end. Hereby, we would like to thank all these remarkable persons who made our stay in India such an enriching experience.

But the journey continues. Open Steps is touring Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong and Japan) for the next two months. We will announce our schedule soon and would like to make a call for interesting Open Knowledge related projects we should get to know and document there, if you happen to run or know one, please drop us a line! Thanks!

OKFN India Trip – the Roundup

Lucy Chambers - September 18, 2012 in Events, OKF India, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Open Spending, Talks

This is the final post in the Open Data in India series. Our visit to India wasn’t just about meetups… the following post deals with the individuals and organisations that Lucy and Laura met whilst in India, the questions they were asked and the projects they were introduced to. It is cross-posted on the OKFN India Blog.

We had so many fantastic conversations about open data whilst we were in India. Some of these have already featured on our blogs, some are still to come. We thought however that it could be useful to do a quick recap. Below, you can find a list of some of the interesting organisations we came across, loosely categorised into ‘Data Collectors and Users’, ‘Data Journalism and Literacy’, ‘Policy’, and ‘Techies & Networks’. There are also a few suggestions of people to follow on Twitter (NB: by no means complete!), and a quick summary of the latest government initiatives and developments relating to open data.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to everyone who does open data in India, but we hope it does include some of the key players… Have we missed someone? Let us know!.

Data Collectors and Users

Akshara (Bangalore)

The Akshara Foundation is a Bangalore-based Public Charitable Trust with the mission to ensure that every child is in school and learning well. Established in the year 2000, Akshara Foundation has a range of programmes that provide multiple solutions for universalizing elementary education. Gautam John from the Karnataka Learning Partnership joined us for the Open Data meetup in Bangalore.

Twitter

India Water Portal (Bangalore)

The India Water Portal – supported by Arghyam – is an open, inclusive, web-based platform for sharing water management knowledge amongst practitioners and the general public. In Bangalore, we visited the IWP offices where we met both Deepak Menon and Nisha Thompson. Nisha is also the coordinator of the active Datameet group – more on them below! The India Water Portal have created the DataFinder, which now contains almost 200 sources of water-related data in a searchable database.

Twitter

Janaagraha (Bangalore)

Janaagraha is a non-profit organisation based in Bangalore, India. It works with citizens and the government to improve the quality of life in Indian cities and towns. We first came across them through their project I Paid a Bribe. Unfortunately, we didn’t get chance to meet them this time round, but hope to meet them next time.

Twitter

NextDrop (Hubli)

Whilst visiting the India Water Portal, we began to discuss whether technology could actually improve the day to day lives of citizens. NextDrop was suggested as a simple but powerful example of one way in which it can.

In some areas of India, piped water is available for only a few hours at a time once or twice a week, and residents have no way of knowing when that will be. NextDrop solves this problem by using basic mobile phones to collect real time water delivery information from water operators in the field. They then distribute this information to the people who need it: city residents and engineers in the water utility. The services help urban residents save time and reduce the daily stress of uncertain water, while enabling utilities to become more efficient and more transparent.

Next Drop was also the winner of a Knight News Challenge award in 2011.

Twitter

Transparent Chennai (Chennai)

In Chennai, we took part in Transparent Chennai’s Open Data Camp, organised by Nithya Raman, Srinidhi SampathKumar and team. Transparent Chennai aggregates, creates and disseminates data and research about civic issues in Chennai, including those issues that particularly affect the poor and the marginalised. Transparent Chennai’s work is unique because they actually create maps and data to help people to understand the issues facing city residents. Using their Build a Map tool, users can also select layers of features to create their own interactive city map. The team are doing some fantastic work, and are actively seeking ways to openly license the data they collect.

Twitter

Data Journalism & Literacy

IndiaSpend (Mumbai)

Billing itself as ‘India’s first Data Journalism Initiative’, the Spending & Policy Research Foundation’s objective is to work with Government, public policy enthusiasts and media to foster data-led discussion and analysis. They try not to offer any opinions on a subject, instead allowing the data to speak for itself.

Twitter

MediaNama (Delhi)

MediaNama covers Digital and Media business in India, providing news, opinion and analysis on new launches, Mergers & Acquisitions, Venture Capital Funding, Industry Research, Joint Ventures and other business developments related to Internet and Mobile communities. They could also be described as a data journalism initiative, having experimented with different styles of visualisation. We met them at the Fifth Elephant conference and had a great conversation about how readers in India interpret visualisations, and whether they are worth the time that is invested into them.

Twitter

Tactical Tech (Bangalore)

The Open Knowledge Foundation has already worked closely with some of Tactical Tech’s European team, most recently on the School of Data, so it was wonderful to catch up on the work they have been doing in Bangalore. Over our very first ‘proper curry’ (eaten off a coconut leaf!), we learned about their huge array of projects, which include data literacy tools such as Drawing by Numbers, the Sex Workers’ Advocacy project, and many more.

Twitter

Visual Data India (Online / Mumbai)

We met @prolificd in Mumbai who introduced us to the Visual Data India project. All manner of interesting visualisations live here, including some great narratives on the philosophy behind visualisation. The Farmer Suicides visualisation caught our eye, and the accompanying walk through demonstrates how different the same data can appear when it is combined and visualised through different lenses.

Twitter

Policy

Accountability Initiative, India (Delhi)

Laina Emmanuel and team joined us for the Delhi Meetup. Accountability India perform key research on public service delivery in India through their PAISA programme, making “practical, scalable, people-friendly tools and us[ing] these tools to collect data”. They also allow people to download their datasets, and contextualise the information contributing visualisations. Their website is also a great resource for those working in the accountability sphere, including latest articles on topics such as Right to Information (see below) and other Policy Briefs.

Facebook

Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (Delhi)

We met the team from CBGA for what we thought would be a short interview with their executive director, Subrat Das, as research for the Civil Society & Technology Project that Lucy is working on. We ended up having a fantastic impromtu workshop/discussion with the whole CBGA team on what Open Data is, and what it means for India and their work.

CBGA’s work promotes transparent, participatory and accountable governance, and a people-centred perspective to the policies shaping up the government budgets. CBGA’s research on public policies and budgets, over the last eight years, has focused on the priorities underlying budgets, quality of government interventions in the social sector, responsiveness of budgets to disadvantaged sections of population (e.g. religious minorities, scheduled castes, gender budgeting) and structural issues in India’s fiscal federalism.

Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (Bangalore)

We met up with CBPS for an interview about how they get, work with and present government financial information. CBPS conduct research and evaluation in the areas of policy, budget, governance and public service delivery as well giving training in this area.

Centre for Internet and Society (Bangalore)

Definitely one of the hubs at the intersection of technology and policy. We were invited for an afternoon to talk to the team and to give a short talk on Data Journalism and what that means for Open Government in India. The Centre for Internet and Society performs multidisciplinary research to explore, understand, and affect the shape and form of the internet – looking at issues such as accessibility, access to knowledge, openness and internet governance.

Twitter

Centre for Public Policy (Bangalore)

We swung by CPP to talk to Sridhar Pabbisetty about the Open Governance India portal, which collates data about India from a variety of sources such as the World Bank and presents it through graphs and charts. CPP performs research, teaching, training and capacity building and works on improving development outcomes across the region. While we were there, we also got the opportunity to sit in on some of the lectures, including a Political Marketing class for the female leaders of tomorrow and a fascinating talk on gay rights in India, encouraging members to rethink cultural stereotypes.

National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (Delhi)

NIPFP were kind enough to give us a home for the Delhi meetup. They are a centre for advanced applied research in public finance and public policy. Established in 1976 as an autonomous society, the main aim of the institute is to contribute to policy making in spheres relating to public economics.

Parliamentary Legislative Research (Delhi)

Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to meet these folks in person, but they look like they are doing some great work. PRS claims to be the only organisation in the country that tracks the functioning of Parliament. PRS provides a comprehensive and credible resource base to access Parliament-specific data, background information and analysis of key issues.

Twitter

Techies and Networks

HasGeek

A network of geeks which was behind the Fifth Elephant Conference we attended. They host events from large conferences to small geekups and hackdays, and aim to provide a discussion space for geeks.

Datameet

This is a very active online group of data enthusiasts. The topic is ‘data’ in general, rather than specifically open data, but open data and transparency crop up frequently as issues. The group also meet in person – in fact, we co-organised the OpenData Bangalore Meetup with them.

OKFN-in

The OKFN India group. Just getting started, this group is not as large as the Datameet Group yet, but focuses specifically on Open Data.

International

Many people across the world will have heard of Internet Archive and Wikimedia, but its well worth pinging their local networks if you are travelling somewhere new. We met Wikimedians in almost every city we visited, and had some excellent conversations with the Internet Archive guys who we met in Bangalore. Definitely networks to bear in mind!

A few people you might want to follow on Twitter

  • Gkjohn – Based in Bangalore. Former lawyer, now working with the Karnataka Learning Partnership.
  • Jackerhack – Founder of @hasgeek.
  • Netra – Appears to know everyone in the tech sphere in Mumbai! She was very helpful in helping us to organise the Mumbai meetup.
  • Nixxin – We met him in Delhi. The Founder and Editor of MediaNama.
  • Pranesh_Prakash – Policy director at CIS in Bangalore.
  • Prolificd – We met him in Mumbai. Linked to the Visual India project.

An Overview of recent government updates

RTI

As the Right to Information is such a hot topic, we thought it might be useful to pull together some of the links we found regarding RTI. It is worth noting that we first heard about the site which offers online filing of Right to Information right at the end of our journey – suggesting that it may not be that well-known.

More information

Below are some useful links for those who would like to find out more on open data in India

Have we missed someone? Who should we look out for on our next trip? Please do let us know via the India Mailing List.

Open Data – Delhi

Laura Newman - August 31, 2012 in Meetups, OKF India, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups

This is post 4 of 5 in the Open Data India series, following Lucy and Laura’s visit to India to learn about the challenges and opportunities for open data. Read previous posts from Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai.

Our final stop in India was Delhi. Several people had told us that Delhi was the ‘policy capital’ of India, which seemed a fitting finale to our journey. By the time we arrived, we were excited and intrigued about who the meet-up would draw.

Our meet-up was held at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP). Entering a room full of microphones was daunting for a moment! But the warmth of the group shone through, and soon everyone was participating freely in the intense discussion that characterised all of our Indian meet-ups.

The group was perhaps the most diverse that we encountered. It included Wikimedians, academics, people from NIC, NIPFP and ICAR, as well as someone from the FOSS community, members of Accountability India, open access advocates and others. We were also pleased that the gender balance was much more equal in Delhi!

The Discussion

The suggestion of holding a meetup had been bubbling under the surface of the Delhi NGO scene for quite a while. Agendas had been drafted but the meetups had never taken place. Building on the discussions in Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai, we were asked whether the purpose of the meeting could be to try and find ‘solutions’ to some of India’s issues surrounding open data.

Encouraging the group first to highlight the problems they had encountered, we promised to share our experiences and how we had seen similar issues tackled in other places. So what were the issues?

  • Lack of clarity about whether data released in response to an RTI request can be republished, and how it can be used. A new dimension explored at this meet-up was the possibility that private or personal information may sometimes be released in response to an RTI filing. There was no definitive conclusion as to whether this could happen or what would happen if that were then shared further, but it provoked some interesting discussion.

  • Standards of Data reliability. Many of the people in the room were researchers by profession and used to collecting their own data. They posed the question, “How can we be sure that data released openly is reliable?”. A discussion followed about how the quality of open data could be ensured, particularly when data was often remixed and re-used. The group started elucidating a vision for some kind of recognition system, traceable trackbacks/referencing, and ‘quality assurance stars’ for data released openly.

  • Resistance to the concept of sharing data, even within NGOs. Many people feel a sense of ownership over data they have collected themselves. Some resent the idea that others could benefit from their work, and there is also resistance to sharing data for fear that the researcher’s name could be associated with inaccurate conclusions. Some of the NGOs even encountered resistance when trying to share their own data! People viewed this ‘generosity’ with suspicion, and feared a hidden agenda.

Stories shared

The Wikimedia community in particular had much to contribute based on their own experiences. They shared anecdotes about how politically charged certain topics could become in India – e.g. when a map incorrectly displayed the national borders around India provoked tensions with neighbouring countries. They also detailed some of the more unusual dilemmas they had encountered. What, for example, is the copyright situation if you take a picture of a monument in the street?

There was also some interesting discussion about whether data had a ‘release’ period, where, like a work of art or literature, it would pass into the public domain. We speculated that that would depend on contractual agreements and the nature of the data concerned, but if you can shed any more light on the situation regarding this in India (or elsewhere), please do get in touch!

Conversations still to be had…

The discussion left us with many threads to follow up as topics for the next meetup, which we hope Chirag and team will be organising in a couple of months. Keen to get things moving quickly, various options for the next meeting were floated. These included formulating a list of demands from CSOs towards government, discussing open data standards, understanding copyright (formulating a list of questions and attempting to get them answered), dealing with authenticity of data, an introduction to open data in an Indian context and the benefits of open data for education and research.

We touched on many of these topics briefly, but two hours was just not long enough to cover them all. Although the conversation was still flowing, we did eventually have to let people get home!

It would be great to hear of this group meeting again to explore some of these areas further. Do join the India mailing list to stay in touch.

… And one more meet-up!

We had scheduled the ‘official’ Delhi meet-up on a Thursday evening, but a mid-week meet-up – particularly on the eve of Krishna Janmashtami! – didn’t work for everyone. Some people who had been unable to attend the meet-up told us that they were free over the weekend, so Lucy and I decided to hold an informal ‘open table’ at the United Coffee House on Saturday afternoon.

Chatting over a plate of Dilli chaat (sadly not actually bought on the street!), we heard much to excite us about the future of open data in India. There were ideas for an ‘Open Access Week’, plans to start collecting the data submitted in response to RTI requests, questions about promoting data journalism and plenty of enthusiasm, inspiration and fresh ideas. Watching new friends swap numbers after the meeting, we were sorry to be leaving the community that had so warmly welcomed us – but we hope that the conversations will continue both online with us and offline without us.

In the next post, Lucy and I will showcase some of the organisations that we met whilst in India, and explore some of the open data projects that we witnessed.

Open Data – Mumbai

Laura Newman - August 28, 2012 in Meetups, OKF India, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups

This is post 3 of 5 of the Open Data India series, following Lucy and Laura’s visit to learn about the challenges and opportunities for open data. Read previous posts from Bangalore and Chennai on the main blog.

After joining forces with the DataMeet group in Bangalore and Transparent Chennai’s open data workshop, we were prepared for the challenge of ‘going it alone’ when we decided to arrange an open data meet-up in Mumbai.

Seriously soggy!

In India however we quickly discovered the beauty of the data community, whose extensive networks mean you’re never really alone – even as a newcomer to the city.

 

Thanks to @prolificd and @Netra, we had an excellent venue for the Mumbai meet-up. The Pinstorm offices have hosted Wikimedia gatherings in the past, and are a great space for fresh thinking and debate. The real challenge proved to be getting around Mumbai itself. As we soon grasped, Mumbai is an enormous city, and suffers from heavy traffic and – as we witnessed! – torrential monsoon rains. Probably for a combination of these reasons, our Mumbai meet-up drew the smallest crowd of the trip and was a very cosy affair.

 
 

The Discussion

Despite (or perhaps because of!) the select group, the evening was productive. Conversation was wide-ranging, and included:

YourTopia India

The original YourTopia calculates which European country best aligns with your values, by allowing you to weight the relative importance of different indicators. An Italian version – YourTopia Italy – has since been created, which compares regions of Italy. Pranav Sidhwani is now working to produce something similar for the different states of India.

Pranav pointed out the wider value of YourTopia. Not only is it a valuable tool in and of itself, but it requires several key datasets including e.g. health, education and employment data to be collected. The act of gathering these data sets is a major first step for open data in India. All data gathered will be stored on the Datahub.

  • To get involved with the YourTopia India project, sign up to the YourTopia list.

Licensing

As in Bangalore, the group identified a real problem with a lack of explicit licensing. If material isn’t licensed – whether openly or otherwise – there is serious ambiguity over how it can be used.

In Mumbai, we were offered an interesting perspective on the origins of this issue. It was suggested that culturally, copyright has a different history in India [1]. Arguably, the ongoing legacy of this is that people are less likely to consider issues of licensing when publishing or re-using data. Anecdotally, it has been organisations such as Wikimedia who have objected to the re-use of unlicensed material in India.

Whatever the history, it remains clear that encouraging people to apply a license – any license – is one of the key changes that will allow re-users to work appropriately and confidently with data.

Understanding Data

As in Bangalore, the group affirmed that many people struggled to interpret basic visualisations such as bar charts and line graphs. However, it was drawn to our attention that under the IT@School initiative, Kerala has seen the world’s largest simultaneous deployment of FOSS based ICT education. I hadn’t come across this project before, and am interested to explore further how early exposure to FOSS software and familiarity with ICT will impact upon this generation.

Other topics of conversation at the meet-up included the potential and challenges of open data for cultural heritage, GLAM, science, agriculture, and even for understanding the impact of planetary motion on agricultural outputs. There was much to discuss!

Useful Links

As always, we were introduced to several interesting databases, projects and websites at the meet-up. Here are just a few of the initiatives which were discussed.

  • Visualdata.in – @prolificd’s project, which builds visualisations based on publicly available data sets.
  • MOPSI – Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation – a useful site home to a significant amount of data, although in my recent exploration, I struggled to find any information on licensing.
  • Parliamentary Legislative Research – presents analyses of data related to parliament; allows you to track bills, to view key statistics on parliament, to track the attendance of your MP etc. Deploys a non-commercial license; I struggled to find raw data on the site.

Wishlist

Much as in Bangalore, the wishlist included:

  • More data, and better availability of data that has already been collected
  • More data in a machine-readable format
  • Better tools for people who want to work with data
  • More uniformity around the data – what is collected, where it is gathered

All in all it was a great evening. Although the group was small, it was wonderful to meet excellent OKFN volunteers such as Pranav in person, to link up with the Wikimedia community, and to chat to others with a potential interest in open data.
To keep this discussion going, please sign up to the India mailing list.

[1] For a brief overview of the history of copyright in India, see .

Open Data – Chennai

Lucy Chambers - August 23, 2012 in Events, OKF India, Open Knowledge Definition, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Open Spending, School of Data, Workshop

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.

Open Data – Bangalore

Lucy Chambers - August 21, 2012 in OKF India, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Open Spending, School of Data

Laura and Lucy from the OKFN team recently travelled to India to learn where the challenges and opportunities for open data in India lay. This is part 1 of 5 of the Open Data India Series.

The Bangalore data scene is huge. A bustling IT and data mining industry means that you are never far away from the nearest data miner or analyst, and at the Fifth Elephant Conference, the data crowd prowled for the best tips, biggest data and newest discoveries. The Fifth Elephant was our first port of call and Laura Newman and I were there to conduct workshops on the School of Data and OpenSpending

The workshops were at capacity and a learning experience for both teacher and students, with some really interesting questions being asked. In the School of Data, Laura gave a first taste of what was in store in the School of Data, which is due to launch this autumn. The workshop ‘challenge’ involved reverse engineering a Guardian article on the World’s Worst Carbon Emitters, which shows India scoring pretty badly if looked at as a country, but pretty well if looked at on a per capita basis. After some discussion of cleaning, manipulating and analysis techniques, participants were encouraged to find their own stories in data. A few surprises were in store; despite being quite a technical audience, many had little or no experience with spreadsheet programmes, and were very interested to learn what they could do with them. At the end of the class, a few even stole away into a corner to carry on experimenting. Extra credit due to these two…

Next up, the OpenSpending workshop produced a flurry of great questions, “How much does OpenSpending know about your data? Does it have a concept of what is revenue and what is spending?”, “Can you compare real vs planned expenditure?”, “Are there any time-series visualisations?”, and also a flurry of volunteers, wanting to know how they could get involved. A discussion on how important it is to show your working, a tutorial on Google Refine for cleaning messy spending data appeared well-received and one nail-biting live demonstration on a flaky internet connection later, we had a high-level visualisation of the general shape of the Indian Expenditure Budget showing how much money in 2012 is planned to go on on debt servicing vs planned and non-plan expenditure…

See the data we used and how we wrangled it for these visualisations on the Datahub.

Open Data Meets the Datameeters

On from those who mine big data to those who struggle to get access to the majority of the datasets which they need in order to be able to do their jobs. We came to India with the mission of finding out what the local challenges are in getting, working with, sharing and publishing data, and this first group gave us some great insights into that. We had no idea how many people we were expecting, but we settled in the courtyard as the first few arrived, a journalist from Citizen Matters magazine, the team behind Babajob.com who had been running some data analysis on job demand and supply, programmers, designers and data enthusiasts… and then they came in droves! We moved into a meeting room at Java, which was soon packed full.

With more people of a corporate background than many of the Open Data Meetups we have had here in the UK, big data and data which was key for analysis was a hot topic, but then conversation turned to what the issues facing open data in India were. Here are a couple of thoughts from the group members:

  • Key problems include knowing who to approach to get data. Often, you need to have a personal connection in order to get hold of the relevant data. You also have to tread carefully with data once you have it, so as to preserve relationships for the future.
  • Most people want to collect data themselves rather than trusting ‘second hand’ data collected by the government. (Someone threw out the question to the room, “Which data do you trust more, government or crowdsourced?” the response echoed round the room: “crowdsourced!”.)
  • Too few people actually analyse data. In many cases, once people have got hold of the data they don’t know what to do with it.
  • Very unclear what the legal/copyright situation is with data that has been obtained from an RTI (Right To Information request). We heard this refrain of uncertainty over and over again at the various meet ups. To the best of the group’s knowledge, no-one had ever been charged for releasing data that was given to them in response to an RTI request. However, anecdotally one person had been requested to cease analyses on government data – and did stop.

The conclusion of the evening was a discussion around what the key datasets were and what people wanted to see released. The old reliable post-it notes came pouring in and here’s what people wanted:

Government data/ legal

  • Municipality budget data (held by BBMP)
  • Data regarding performance of government schemes (Planning Commission of India)
  • Data about whistleblowers, follow-up action, people involved, data by state
  • Data on where taxes are spent
  • Detailed data about MPs (no more details provided)
  • Macro-economic data
  • Numbers / Ports of entry of refugees / migrants / aliens (given that India shares open borders with two countries)
  • Judgements and orders of lower courts
  • Legislation and amendments

Transport data

  • Railway ticket movement data – are trains really sold out when they say they are? (Indian Railways)
  • Bangalore transit data. Where are the bus stops? Where are the timetables? – questions which are often local knowledge in India and passed on by word of mouth. The ambitious even ask for real time location data for buses.

Water data

  • Data on ground water

Land/Geography

  • Urban land usage
  • Land ownership, sale, transfer and litigation in progress
  • Access to geodata/ shapefiles/ area-based maps
  • Amount of forest cover (from the Forest Survey of India – 2 votes)
  • Infrastructure database

Census Data

  • Data from 2011

Education & Schools

  • Education Department Data, on the level of training held by teachers (MHRD)

Cultural

  • All historical tests owned by the Archaeological Survey of India

Weather data

  • Long term, high resolution, daily climate data in real time

Other

  • Nobel Prize nominations
  • Automobile cost data & how much duty paid (Excise & Custom)
  • List of blocked websites
  • Anonymised aggregate cell phone locations over time

It would be great to see another meetup on open data in Bangalore as the topic gets its roots established, getting deeper into the subject, getting policymakers involved, perhaps building on this list of requests.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to the Datameet group for allowing us to theme one of their meetups around open data. They are a huge and very active group of Data Science enthusiasts in India which meet online (and organise their offline meetings) via a Google Group. Membership spans many diverse communities connected by a common interest in data. Some of the members of the datameet group have also been driving discussion on the OKFN India mailing list, where talk is specifically about open data. We’d also like to thank Aditya Hari, who volunteered to find us a venue, and to the fantastic venue, Jaaga, themselves, who let us invade the wonderful courtyard cafe and the atmospheric orange room.

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