Why India Needs Open Data

Posted by OutlineIndia in Society
September 15, 2017

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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