The National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy Project Management Unit (NDSAP-PMU) at the National Informatics Centre (NIC) organised the second workshop for Data Controllers from various ministries on 4th April 2013.

Data Controllers are persons responsible in each Central Government agency for preparing and managing datasets from the respective agency to be shared through the portal. S/he is also acts as the point of contact between the agency concerned and the NDSAP-PMU team at NIC.

While the workshop focused on knowledge exchange, discussing and identifying best practices for sharing data through the portal, and some troubleshooting and process clarifications, the final session of the workshop was assigned as a ‘community interaction’ session. At first, NDSAP-PMU selectively invited individuals involved in open data communities and/or associated with the data industry and academia. Later, participation in the interaction was opened up to all interested people.

Besides officials of various government agencies (such as NIC, Planning Commission, Defense Research and Development Organisation, Border Security Force, Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Ministry of Urban Development), represented non-government bodies included NASSCOM, IBM Research, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Sharda University, O.P Jindal University, Centre for Internet and Society, Cyber Media Research, DataQuest, Indian Express and Akvo. A number of independent programmers and data enthusiasts were also present.

The interaction session was moderated by Ms. Neeta Verma, Head of the NDSAP-PMU team and Ms. Alka Mishra and Mr. D.P. Misra, members of the NDSAP-PMU team.

The session began with a brief presentation on the existing datasets on the portal and an introduction to the processes of ranking existing datasets, on-site visualisation and multi-format exporting of the datasets, and requesting further datasets from different departments. The discussion immediately began around issues of updating, modifying and augmenting the existing datasets. Concerns were raised regarding the storage of older versions of the same dataset on the portal, whether updated statistics should be put in to the same data files or be shared as new files, etc. It seemed that the Data Controllers are keen to understand effective solutions to these problems and are open to discuss the issues with the various users of the data.

As a question was raised regarding the slow growth of the number of datasets on the portal, it was mentioned that NIC has put in significant effort to ensure even the slow growth, especially by working closely with various departments to clean up their datasets to make them shareable. Further, NIC is aware of the slow growth and has in fact consciously moved slowly to populate the data portal to ensure that capacities for preparing government data to be shared publicly are established across agencies (including NIC). The NDSAP-PMU team feels that the best way to energise proactive data publication by different departments would be by demonstrating various use cases of such opened up data.

Unlike the Right to Information Act, NDSAP is not a statutory directive and hence cannot be implemented by the force of punitive measures. The policy functions by making explicit the benefits of open government data for the citizens as well as for intra-governmental data sharing. It was emphasised that the non-governmental sector, from private data analytics firms to advocacy organisations, has a great role to play in creatin on-the-ground examples of effective solutions based on government data available from the portal.

Several Data Controllers expressed that this initiative is quite a novelty among other data-related initiatives of the Government of India. Hence they are sometimes unsure about carrying out the necessary work, such as identifying high-priority datasets for proactive publication, or establishing a agency-wide process to anonymize datasets and to check whether they can be shared publicly. NIC said that it would continue to engage with such issues as they emerge and support Data Controllers acorss agencies.

Biplab Dasgupta of IBM Research made a small presentation about the possibilities of creating economic value and induce innovation through government data analytics. Sudarshan Rodriguez of TISS emphasised that the data portal should open up Indian government data to facilitate multi-perspective analysis, collaborative research, and transparency in governmental actions.

At the end, the NDSAP-PMU team was asked what the government (or Planning Commission and National Innovation Council) are expecting from the (then) upcoming 12th Plan Hackathon. In response, the team clarified that it is an explorative initiative from the government with a call to produce innovative and heterodox interpretations and representations of the actions being proposed in the 12th Five Year Plan and the statistical evidences behind them.

Note: Re-posted from Sumandro's blog.