By Alok Gupta
A NASSCOM report states that the value of integrated data in key sectors in India is worth nearly $500 billion. The strengthening of data sharing policy can unlock data potential, which can abet in achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of a $5 trillion economy by 2025.
Data is the new gold or oil that can help power economies to innovate, progress, and grow the gross national GDPs. Just like the gold or oil needs to be mined or extracted, sharing quality data is key to reap its benefits. India is home to around 1.3 Billion people and a large government ecosystem, which provides numerous benefits to these people and generates a vast amount of data. However, the large amount of data is siloed across Government entities that act as a stumbling block in providing benefits to society efficiently. A NASSCOM report states that the value of integrated data in key sectors in India is worth nearly $500 billion. The strengthening of data sharing policy can unlock data potential, which can abet in achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of a $5 trillion economy by 2025.
In February 2012, the Union Cabinet approved the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) to promote data sharing and access to government data for national planning and development. It applies to all shareable non-sensitive data generated using public funds by central government agencies and departments.
There have been substantial steps taken under this policy, but the implementation has lagged behind and even after nine years, the stated objectives are far from being achieved. There have been multiple reasons for it, and the first one stems from the fact that two entities are managing it – the Department of Science and Technology is the Nodal Department for NDSAP. The implementation responsibility rests with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, which is responsible for certain key Acts that impact data. Other reasons include the ambiguity around dataset classification, low data quality, lack of capacity and skills to create, manage and use high-quality datasets and no effective government-to-government data sharing mechanism. Absence of an effective oversight mechanism to monitor NDSAP implementation, no coordinated data-sharing efforts across Ministries, and lack of appeal mechanism for dataset requests not being responded compounds to the challenges of promoting an open data ecosystem.
India can learn a lot from some of the progressive steps taken by the USA, Australia, the UK and the European Union to address these key challenges. To start with, the Government can mandate each Government entity to maintain a comprehensive data inventory of all data assets created, controlled, and maintained by the agency, including those not yet shared. All datasets must be considered open by default unless included in the negative list. Datasets that have significant community-wide benefits should be designated as important datasets and should be aggregated and linked across government entities and prioritised for wider sharing and release. Government entities should immediately release high-value datasets classified based on socio-economic value and importance to India’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy.
It should develop a clear decision-making framework to guide government agencies on dataset classification and privacy-preserving data sharing. To enable government-to-government data sharing, it should establish a searchable data inventory of all datasets available across government departments with clear metadata and data dictionaries and the creation of both a technical sharing mechanism and a standard procedure to request and receive data. To improve data quality, uniform data standards and metadata schema should be universally adopted, and annual data audits should be mandated to ensure data quality and integrity. The current open data portal may be reviewed to enhance the platform’s usability. Capacity building is an important aspect, and every official of the NDSAP Cell established under the policy should mandatorily undergo training every six months. A cadre of data fellows must be deployed across Ministries/Departments to support data processing and release of standards-compliant data.
To effectively monitor data sharing policy implementation, a Chief Data Officers Council should be created where the Chief Data Officer of every Government entity is a member. On the lines of the National Digital Payments Mission, a National Open Data Mission can be constituted to provide an oversight mechanism that shall ensure the implementation and monitoring of the NDSAP mandate. Similarly, a Project Management Unit can be appointed to coordinate data sharing measures and facilitate implementation and monitoring. A unified tracking dashboard for monitoring data sharing activities across Government entities should be created. The number of datasets shared, high-value data sets, frequency of updates etc., should be tracked. The provision of an appellate body to facilitate the addressal of appeals to resolve inter-ministerial and public data-sharing challenges can further help the process of data sharing.
Government ecosystem data, when shared appropriately, can unlock huge benefits to the society and economy. The oil can make it more efficient, especially with the help of emerging technologies, that can lead the country to the path of being ‘gold’ again.
Source: ET CIO