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Knowledge Creation to Diffusion: The Conflict in India

Guest - February 28, 2014 in Open Access, Open Research, Open Science

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This is a guest post by Ranjit Goswami, Dean (Academics) and (Officiating) Director of Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Nagpur, India. Ranjit also volunteers as one of the Indian Country Editors for the Open Data Census.

Developing nations, more so India, increasingly face a challenge in prioritizing its goals. One thing that increasingly becomes relevant in this context, in the present age of open knowledge, is the relevance of subscription-journals in dissipation and diffusion of knowledge in a developing society. Young Aaron Swartz from Harvard had made an effort to change it, that did cost him his life; most developed nations have realized research funded by tax-payers money should be made freely available to tax-payers, but awareness on these issues are at quite pathetic levels in India – both at policy level and among members of academic community.

Before one looks at the problem, a contextual understanding is needed. Today, a lot of research is done globally, including some of it in India, and its importance in transforming nations and society is increasingly getting its due recognition across nations. Quantum of original application oriented research, applicable specifically to the developing world, is a small part of overall global research. Some of it is done locally in India too, in spite of two obvious constraints developing nations face: (1) lack of funds, and (2) lack of capability and/or capacity.

Tax-funded research should be freely available

This article argues that research outcomes, done in India with Indian tax-payers money, are to be freely available to all Indians, for better diffusion. Unfortunately, the present practice is quite opposite.

The lack of diffusion of knowledge becomes evident in absence of any planned efforts, to make the research done in local context available in open platforms. Here when one looks at the academic community in India, due to the older mindset where research score and importance is given only for publishing research papers in journals, often even in journals of questionable quality, faculty members are encouraged to publish in subscription-journals. Open access journals are considered untouchables. Faculty members mostly do not keep a version of the publication to be freely accessible – be it in their own institute’s website, or in other formats online. More than 99% of Indian higher educational institutes do not have any open-access research content in their websites.

Simultaneously, a lot of academic scams get reported, more from India, as measuring research contribution is a difficult task. Faculty members often fall prey to short-cuts of institute’s research policy, in this age of mushrooming journals.

Facing academic challenges

India, in its journey to be an to an open knowledge society, faces diverse academic challenges. Experienced faculty members feel, that making their course outlines available in the public domain would lead to others copying from it; whereas younger faculty members see subscription journal publishing as the only way to build a CV. The common ill-founded perception is that top journals would not accept your paper if you make a version of it freely available. All of above act counter-productive to knowledge diffusion in a poor country like India. The Government of India has often talked about open course materials, but in most government funded higher educational institutes, one seldom sees even a course outline in public domain, let alone research output. Question therefore is: For public funded universities and institutes, why should any Indian user have to cough up large sums of money again to access their research output? And it is an open truth that – barring a very few universities and institutes – most Indian colleges, universities and research organizations or even practitioners cannot afford the money required to pay for subscribing most well-known journal databases, or afford individual articles therein.

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It would not be wrong to say that out of thirty-thousand plus higher educational institutes, not even one per cent has a library access comparable to institutes in developed nations. And academic research output, more in social science areas, need not be used only for academic purposes. Practitioners – farmers, practicing doctors, would-be entrepreneurs, professional managers and many others may benefit from access to this research, but unfortunately almost none of them would be ready or able to shell out $20+ for a few pages by viewing only the abstract, in a country where around 70% of people live below $2 a day income levels.

Ranking is given higher priority than societal benefit

Academic contribution in public domain through open and useful knowledge, therefore, is a neglected area in India. Although, over the last few years, we have seen OECD nations, including China, increasingly encouraging open-access publishing by academic community; in India – in its obsession with university ranks where most institutes fare poorly, we are on reverse gear. Director of one of India’s best institutes have suggested why such obsessions are ill-founded, but the perceptions to practices are quite opposite.

It is, therefore, not rare to see a researcher getting additional monetary rewards for publishing in top-category subscription journals, with no attempt whatsoever – be it from researcher, institute or policy-makers – to make a copy of that research available online, free of cost. Irony is, that additional reward money again comes from taxpayers.

Unfortunately, existing age-old policies to practices are appreciated by media and policy-makers alike, as the nation desperately wants to show to the world that the nation publishes in subscription journals. Point here is: nothing wrong with producing in journals, encourage it even more for top journals, but also make a copy freely available online to any of the billion-plus Indians who may need that paper.

Incentives to produce usable research

In case of India, more in its publicly funded academic to research institutes, we have neither been able to produce many top category subscription-journal papers, nor have we been able to make whatever research output we generate freely available online. On quality of management research, The Economist, in a recent article stated that faculty members worldwide ‘have too little incentive to produce usable research. Oceans of papers with little genuine insight are published in obscure periodicals that no manager would ever dream of reading.’ This perfectly fits in India too. It is high time we look at real impact of management and social science research, rather than the journal impact factors. Real impact is bigger when papers are openly accessible.

Developing and resource deficit nations like India, who need open access the most, thereby further lose out in present knowledge economy. It is time that Government and academic community recognize the problem, and ensure locally done research is not merely published for academic referencing, but made available for use to any other researcher or practitioner in India, free of cost.

Knowledge creation is important. Equally important is diffusion of that knowledge. In India, efforts to resources have been deployed on knowledge creation, without integrative thinking on its diffusion. In the age of Internet and open access, this needs to change.

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Prof. Ranjit Goswami is Dean (Academics) and (Officiating) Director of Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Nagpur – a leading private B-School in India. IMT also has campuses in Ghaziabad, Dubai and Hyderabad. He is on twitter @RanjiGoswami

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 – 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.

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