Open Data For Civic Entrepreneurship

Over the last few months, CivicLabs, a member of the Vihara Innovation Network, has noted a growing category of entrepreneurs using mobile, social and data technologies to create digital public services that tie together citizen and government perspectives. A significant component of these solutions relies on data, small, big and open. As the open data movement expands in India, some questions become increasingly important to ask. How do open data platforms see the role of entrepreneurs in creating new digital public services? What are some of the areas of application of data sets available on open data platforms? How might one bring a fellowship program to aspiring entrepreneurs to make effective use of open government data?

To explore answers to these questions, the Vihara Innovation Network in collaboration with Data Meet organized a dialogue with data.gov.in on Open Data for Civic Entrepreneurship the on the 7th of April. Alka Mishra, Senior Technical Director OGPL (Open Government Platform) along with DP Mishra, Scientist at OGPL, as well as others from their team took us through the history of data.gov.in and their experience interacting with the entrepreneur community. This was followed by an open discussion on the challenges and future of open data enabled entrepreneurship.


In her brief presentation, Alka Mishra, gave us an overview of the history of data.gov.in. An announcement made by President Obama and Prime Minister Shri Mahmohan Singh during Indo-US Open Government Dialogue in 2010, led to the joint development of the Open Government Platform in 2011. In the following year, as a response to a growing demand for the availability of data collected using public funds, in order to enable rational debate and better decision making, increase transparency and use for meeting civil society and government needs, the Government of India launched the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) in 2012. data.gov.in, the Open Government Data India portal, is intended to be used by the Government of India to publish datasets, documents, services, tools and applications collected by them for public use. Today the portal works by getting ministries/departments/states on board to nominate Data Controllers, creating an NDSAP cell that assists in the compilation, collation, conversion and publishing of data on OGDI platform, ensuring data quality, accessibility and standardization of the data and lastly, engaging with the larger community, in order to understand how to utilize this data in the best possible way. She concluded with an overview of the various events they have hosted to engage with the developer, design and entrepreneur communities. These include the 12th Five Year Plan Hackathon co-hosted with the Planning Commission, In Pursuit of an Idea, co-hosted with Delhi University and Code for Honor Contest 2014, co-hosted by Microsoft, amongst many others.

D.P. Misra went on to showcase specific examples of applications that had been made through the various events hosted and co-hosted by data.gov.in. These included Let’s Carpool, a carpooling app that matches users based on their transit routes; Help My City, an app for crowdsourced audits on city infrastructure; Know Your Representative is an app that tracks the attendance of Members of Parliament; My Water, My City and Alerts for Piped Water, both addressing water concerns of the city. Perhaps the most successful app emerging from these events has been Mandi Trades, created and implemented by Appface Technologies Pvt Ltd, Bangalore.

In going on to talk about the drawbacks and limitations of interacting with the entrepreneurs, designers and planners through these events, Alka Mishra pointed to the biggest challenge being one of continued engagement. The 12th Five Year Plan Hackathon, for example, was driven by the Planning Commission, and therefore was relatively long lived. This was unlike the hackathons co-hosted by Delhi University and Microsoft, that both ran for short periods of time and did not therefore have the most powerful outcomes.

Along with the limitations of community engagement, OGDI continues to face challenges with bringing all Ministries, Departments and States on board. To expedite this process, DP Misra stressed that government engagement isn’t possible without the efforts and demands of entrepreneurs and civil society involvement. Guneet Narula, from Data Meet, added that civil society engagement and entrepreneurship wasn’t just limited to technology and apps, but there was a lot one could accomplish with design, visualizations and data journalism.

Apart from the sustained engagement, incubation and mentorship required for entrepreneurs working with open data, and through open data hackathons, recent conversations with Data Meet, as well as representatives of the Delhi State government, has also suggested the need for careful curation and articulation of challenges that are most in need of solutions, followed by a release of necessary data sets. This process would ensure to a greater extent that solutions emerging from open data hackathons for example, are solving real and pressing needs, and therefore have greater impact. CivicLabs focus over the next few months is to be able to define this process and greater detail and work closely to realize it.

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