Over the last few years JSM has been closely following the open data movement. Thus far we’ve never played an active role in it, we’ve only used open data sources when clients of ours needed them for deciding on certain issues. However, the impact that open data was and is creating has always intrigued and excited us.
The first time we really got involved in open data was when we were working with the National Informatics Center (NIC) in India on the www.data.gov.in initiative. That intervention helped us gain a much better and clearer understanding of the value and challenges of open data. You can read some of our take-aways in the two articles below on iGovernment and DNA, penned by our colleague Shyamanuja.
The four big observations that prompted JSM to start out on a long-term open data project are as follows:
- Most open data projects have more or less remained in the realm of making data open, meaning making it available. The really tricky and difficult tasks like visualization, data packaging in ready-to-use formats and sorting out complex legal issues haven’t really figured on the agenda.
- Apart from various governmental open data projects, most open data projects have primarily remained the individual efforts of enthusiasts and data science practitioners. At best they’ve been a few good friends working together on an interesting and sometimes important problem and have yet to grab ‘mainstream’ attention, at least in India.
- Open data projects are barely sustainable. Many individuals invest a lot of time and effort but at the end of the day they can lack the resources needed for the long haul. Very often it happens that one individual lacks all the required skills so it’s no wonder that projects frequently fold.
- Open data is too often seen as a playground for big companies and not as a serious business proposition.
Our moment of revelation came when we participated in the MIT Kumbhathon at Nashik in June 2015. For the first time we got a glimpse of what the entire concept and ecosystem of “open” is all about. What one of our consultants, Ulrike Reinhard, calls open sandbox projects. Our particular sandbox was the Kumbha Mela. Together with a team of people we first met at the Kumbhathon, we all signed up to one common goal – to show the change in environmental data that occurs when suddenly the city of Nashik pops-up to 10x times its usual population. To this end we assembled an open source hardware box with various sensors make real-time measurement of the environmental status (including such factors as dust SPM2.5, gases like oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ammonia, methane, and butane etc., UV, noise, temperature, pressure and humidity). We made it available in ready-to download, easy-to-use open data packages. Seamlessly. The same concept is now getting ready for roll-out in Delhi.
So now we are getting serious about it we decided to go one step further and set up a legal framework, the
India Open Data Association (IODA, pronounced as YODA).
The Indian Open Data Association is a cross-sectoral platform for promoting and supporting open data initiatives. It’s an association of various Indian companies, enthusiasts, research institutes and academic departments, all with a keen interest in putting open data in the mainstream. All members agree on the need for:
- effective networking,
- mobilising funds and manpower for projects,
- improving capacities
- and developing best practices.
IODA will function as an aggregator of past open data projects and as a marketplace for future ones. It will facilitate various stakeholders to find suitable partners and host the data (along with documentation) produced by such projects in return. IODA is being set up to actively seek, encourage, and support open data projects by connecting collectors of data with potential users and funders, and vice versa. Additionally, it aims to provide management support whenever needed.
IODO is open for everyone. Any data published on our platform needs to fulfill the following requirements:
- all personally identifiable information is removed so data is anonymised,
- all appropriate documentation, along with that of the collection process, is shared, and
- open standards and open licenses are used.
The founding partners of IODA, which is a not-for-profit company, include many individual open data champions and people associated with the Centre for Internet and Society, the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance (CCMG) at Jamia Millia Islamia University, the Center for Marketing in Emerging Economies (CMEE) at IIM Lucknow and JSM. We are now at the final stage of putting the finishing touches to the legal paperwork and bringing the larger community on board as members. The platform will go live with a few showcase exhibits in the first quarter of 2016.