Utilizing data for better governance


Data is everywhere. We have witnessed an outburst of data along with the advancement in technology. One would definitely sink deep into the storming whirlpool of data. Not only the enormity of data is a major concern, but also preserving and safeguarding it. The leaking of Aadhaar and Facebook data has showed us the bitter side of the ever-evolving technology.

Owing to a constant pressure from activists for a transparent networking, the Government has finally come on to the terms of putting the data in public domain. In 2009, the President expressed interest in a public data policy to put data related and non-strategic matters in public domain. However, the Government has launched an open data website [data.gov.in] in 2012, under the Open Data initiative. Around 12,000 data sets such as population census, water and sanitation, and health and family welfare have been uploaded on the portal by 85 government agencies in India.

Global Open Data Index, which is published annually by Open Knowledge Network, ranks India as 32nd out of 94 countries. As per the index, the Indian Government has 13 per cent of data sets that are fully open. Data sets on weather forecast, election results, locations, land ownership and government spending falls at the lowest scale with zero percent data available in public domain, while data sets of the government budget and air quality meet the parameters completely on which the countries are ranked.

In India, there are certain issues on the available data, which is majorly scattered and raw. This results in delay and inefficiency. For every location, data is mapped in different geographic boundaries. This results in unification of data by the ministries close to impossible. Mainly for record keeping purpose, the data stored with the government department is on paper, which is primitive and unstructured. Since it is not digitised, not much usable information can be derived from it.

It is always good governance that is associated with open data or big data. If data is analysed properly, it can aid governance in the areas of policy reform, healthcare, public sector, etc. A rightful execution and use of data will only occur after government policies are well assessed and reviewed. Data organisations work towards transparent and efficient governance and analyse the implementation and effects of a policy based on data obtained from the government. Once this data is put in public domain, it can help the policy to be examined and introduced with relevant changes. Healthcare organisations would largely benefit from this, where the digitised data can be combined with a repository of the patient’s profile on health and illness. Not only this, but also the analysis of data related to a patient can help in disease detection and treatment.

The Government of India started using IT to deliver quality information in rural healthcare. The idea initially was to remove duplicate entries from the registers and further develop it into a database. Through a common delivery outlet, all the public services will be made accessible.

It is the need of the hour for real-time data intelligence infrastructure to be well developed. A system, which feeds on real-time data, is required to analyse the patterns and trends. These patterns and trends can be fruitful to track loopholes in policies and every other decision. Only if a transparent structure is followed, will the government be able to deal with real-time data. And real-time openness is not achievable if officials keep on altering data.

Though the field of data science and analysis is still developing in India, certain initiatives are already riding the bandwagon. An open data start-up, Factly aims to make public data meaningful. In order to analyse a range of issues with the motive of fostering better governance, transparency and accountability in the government, they utilise data which is already available in public domain or simply gather data using the Right to Information (RTI).

Rakesh Dubbudu, Founder and Transparency Campaigner, Factly, believes that data can help a lot in governance. “Data can tell what happened wrong and what should be the focus. Good governance is all about using the resources for the right cause and ensuring that money from the government reaches the right set of people. The question is, what kind of data and who is going to use it,” he adds.

Under the Open Data policy, Dubbudu is also working with the Government of Telangana. “The government has started opening up data but we lack a data culture. Real-time data is obviously very helpful but that remains with the state government. Once the State of Telangana is successful in opening up data and actually solving problems, in being useful to various stakeholders, the idea is to document the process and share it with whoever needs it,” says Dubbudu.

Another data initiative working towards good governance is Socialcops. They have come up with DISHA dashboard to reduce data redundancy and increase data usability, where 42 flagships schemes across 20 ministries of the government are combined. This allows MPs, MLAs and state representatives to track the schemes’ performance.