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Why India Needs Open Data

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By Nayantara Nanda:

“We are now at a tipping point, where rather than being an add-on, data is becoming the new currency that is revolutionising life as we know it.” – Pramod Singh, Chief Analytics Officer at Yodlee.

Governments across the globe believe that making data more accessible can help bring about a positive social and economic transformation a little easier. This trend is not just limited to developed economies.

The Government of India is working towards making large data sets (that remain locked away in closed databases) publicly available. One of these open government data platforms in India is data.gov.in. It aims to make data sets more accessible and interactive, since they play a vital role in the decision-making ability of various organisations, especially those working in the development sector. In this day and age, it is essential to collect and analyse data to improve evidence-based policy-making and planning. Open data sets also help in identifying major data gaps in the development sector.

Neighbourhood and community groups need better information to serve two major purposes. The first is to manage their own programs and resources better – and the second is to participate more effectively in public debates about policies affecting their members. Thus, open data can lead to a more equitable and democratic distribution of information and knowledge.

Data democratisation is a means to ensure that data is freely available to undertake any successful intervention and/or draft policies. It allows information in a digital format to be accessible to the average end user. The goal is to have anybody use data at any time to make decisions with no barriers to access or understanding. When you allow any tier of your organisation to access data, it empowers individuals at all levels of ownership and responsibility to use the data in their decision making. Data democratisation also allows users to have access to data and use it to make data-driven decisions.

Thanks to the internet and the proliferation of innovative technologies, people can engage with data in multiple ways – not only as consumers of new types of information, but also as interpreters, analysers, and even producers of data.

We are living in a world increasingly driven by data. Big data is a term used to describe the large volumes of data that inundate organisations on a daily basis. It is not just the quantity of the data, but also what the organisation is doing with that data and the manner in which it is being analysed that matters when it comes to making better decisions.

For instance, by analysing big data in the education sector, educators armed with data-driven insights can identify at-risk students, make sure that the students are making adequate progress, and implement a better system for evaluation and for supporting teachers and principals. When big data is managed effectively, healthcare providers too can provide insights that improve patient care by maintaining patient records.

Provision of data also raises issues of confidentiality and transparency. How much of the data should be made available to the public? The age of big data is also the age of big data breaches. Data may fall into the wrong hands and be misused. Or there may be individuals who are unable to correctly interpret the data that is available. In addition, the more the number of users who have access to data, the larger is the data security risk attached to it, and more are the challenges to maintaining data integrity.

To ensure high-quality data for policy making, the data should be handled with utmost care. Conducting responsible and ethical research means that there is an obligation to consider how the data collection process impacts the respondents. It involves interviewing the most-vulnerable population in a region. Many a times, they are unaware of the reason why the research is being carried out. They are also unaware of the interventions that may be carried out in response to the study. To avoid such a situation, it is essential to inform the respondents the reason for carrying out the research and also obtain informed consent.

The data collected must be shared with the respondents so that they are able to bring about a change in their current practices, if need be. Therefore, the mindful dissemination of the research to the respondents is a must – if we are to promote accountability, build trust, and above all, practice ethical research.

In an environment where data is often missing or of a poor quality, we at Outline India specialise in obtaining and analysing high-quality data. Our tagline, ‘Social impact through Data’, reflects our efforts to procure reliable on-ground, high-quality data to arrive at evidence based, robust conclusions. We work to empower the respondents by making data collection meaningful for them.

The author is a researcher at Outline India. She has a Masters in Development Studies from Ambedkar University.

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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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