Data.gov.in just launched its beta version. With 13 datasets already online and downloadable it is a good start. Granted not everything is working smoothly but given how new it is I’m feeling pretty good about the effort.
Like all things everywhere it never really is about intentions or really first steps but implementation and continued support. This is where the difficultly will lie with the Indian Government’s IT department the National Informatics Centre. They will be running the site and implementing the portal and I hope also can be an intermediary between citizens and the ministries that are providing the data.
Unlike data.gov or data.gov.uk, the data does not have to stay on data.gov.in, according the governing policy the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy. The individual Ministry has control of the data and can still charge, not make data downloadable, and also restrict data and not tell you why. Also incredibly valuable datasets like the Census and the National Sample Survey (official link not working) will not be available for download.
I wanted to take this opportunity to also reiterate why this is important and what open data can mean to a country like India. While the report CIS did on Open Government goes into more detail, briefly I feel that open data/government will not be a silver bullet. While corruption and non responsive government can be somewhat solved there are procedures and problems with citizen participation that have to tackled in innovative ways that will require open data and government.
For instance, votes in Parliament are not recorded. I will repeat most votes in the Indian national Parliament is a voice vote. All policies were decided by a perception of the yea or the nay. Accountability tying elected officials to voting is virtually impossible. Open data won’t solve that problem.
At a certain point you hit that wall where transparency of the problems have to go into the bureaucracy and come back out with a solution. And so far how to achieve that has eluded any open data and accountability project here. The black box remains.
However! The power of open data allows for people on the outside to at least know something is wrong in that box. Data is a powerful tool and an amazing leverage point.
India I believe will be a democracy built on a billion solutions, the government of this country won’t be able to solve everything but by opening up and letting people contribute in any way they can.
Today is not a slam dunk, an epic victory, or a revolution. It is a small step toward moving forward, to involving a few more people into problem solving and that will hopefully move in the direction of more inclusiveness.