The Government of India has recently announced the Digital India program, which aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. In addition, the Government has an ambitious plan to upgrade 100 cities into Smart Cities by 2014, and the Swachh Bharata Abhiyan national initiative is focusing on a green and clean India by 2019.
The emphasis of all these programs is on leveraging the innovative potential of ICT, mobile and new media Technologies to achieve these visionary activities. In addition, the Neeti Ayog (Erstwhile Planning Commission) is working on a framework to set up a state-of-the-art data mining center and develop ICT tools that can help make use of Open Data for national planning purposes.
Teams from World Bank’s Transport & ICT and Urban Development teams are closely partnering with the Government of India (both at the federal and state levels) to help achieve these goals. The World Bank plans to be the key knowledge partner in both the Smart Cities project and the Open Data initiative. Bank specialists have been actively supporting these activities through knowledge events and workshops that are focused on sharing global best practices and technology trends.
Recently I attended an India Open Data Community meeting organised by the World Bank in New Delhi that brought together government officials, academics, corporates, developers and a few development sector professionals to discuss social and economic Open Data opportunities in India and the emerging partnerships forming around them.
Organized at the highly regarded Indian Institute of Technology, the meeting was focused on three key areas; experiences of institutions using open data around the world, how organisations need to prepare to tap into the growing potential of Open Data, and how to build and strengthen the community of data users and providers. The aim was to help assess the challenges and opportunities for extracting and using open government data in India, and to then communicate these at a subsequent National Conference on Open Data and Open API.
India – Open Data opportunity
One of the key speakers at the meeting was Professor Jeanne Holm, a senior Open Data consultant at the World Bank and former evangelist for Data.gov in the US. In a brief presentation, she summarized the key reasons for governments’ willingness to open their data. These include improved internal efficiency and effectiveness, transparency, innovation, economic growth and better communication with citizens and other stakeholders.
She highlighted some key observations about the opportunities for Open Data in India: the availability of a vast resource of data; a stable, open source platform for open government data; rich technological expertise and knowledge; and opportunities to design specific data sciences programmes in educational institutions. A rapidly growing community of open data enthusiasts in India, DataMeet, is also shaping the discourse on data and its civic uses and exploring engagement opportunities with a wide spectrum of Open Data users.
The post-2015 development agenda is being shaped as we speak. The United Nations recently released a report that synthesizes the full range of inputs received from various stakeholders. These inputs, among which the ones from the World Bank Group, are a substantive contribution to the intergovernmental negotiations in the lead up to the September 2015 Summit that will officially launch the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.
However, the problem becomes a little more manageable if we reflect on the means towards the goals. Not all of the goals are unrelated. Measures towards some targets can open up new ways to achieve others.
Consider, for example, target 16.9: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. These are actually two different, though related, targets as explained in the recent working paper by the Center for Global Development. Regardless the modalities to achieve it, the recognition of legal identity – together with its associated rights – is becoming a priority for governments around the world. Although there is no one model for providing legal identity, this SDG would urge states to ensure that all have free or low-cost access to widely accepted, robust identity credentials.
With legal identity – including name, nationality and recognized family relationships – one of the basic human rights set out in the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be achieved and target 16.9 can stand on its own merits.
All around the world, governments are recognizing the value and potential of Open Data. This is clear from the G8’s adoption of an Open Data Charter in June 2013 (with the G20 likely to follow suit), the growing number of countries adopting Open Data initiatives, and the 64 countries that have committed to Open Government Partnership action plans (most of which focus on Open Data). Kyrgyzstan has taken the first steps down this path.
The Kyrgyz Government has been implementing the Open Government Policy and has already undertaken several measures, such as creating official web portals for state bodies including Open Budget, Electronic Procurement, Foreign Aid and many others. Through these websites, citizens can find information about public services and activities offered by government ministries and other state agencies.
In 2013, based on a comprehensive analysis of Kyrgyz public information resources and in consideration of plans for leveraging ICT for good governance and sustainable development, the government designed an e-Government program and corresponding Action Plan for 2014-2017 with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This program was approved by the Kyrgyz government on November 10, 2014.
In addition, this year the UNDP provided support to set up an online network for the Prime Minister’s online community liaison offices. This network has 63 connection points nationwide and supplements the Kyrgyz government’s official website by strengthening relations between the government and civil society by informing citizens about ongoing reforms, as well as and challenges that have been resolved for the country’s communities and citizens. This is one of the existing examples of Kyrgyz government utilizing its openness for greater citizen engagement.
It is always exciting to learn from innovators. With its vibrant and competitive ICT sector, Internet penetration levels among the highest in the world and advanced ICT infrastructure, Singapore is a global information-communication hub and leader in ICT-enabled solutions.
The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), together with other agencies are working towards Singapore’s vision to becoming the world’s first smart nation. That’s why World Bank Group colleagues were eager to hear from Mr. Chan Cheow Hoe – IDA’s Government Chief Information Officer (CIO) – and his team during their visit to World Bank on September 24, 2014, about their vision of a “smart nation”.
Mr. Chan opened the conversation by offering his understanding of the basics: what is “innovation”? Innovation, according to him, is a means to very concrete ends: solving people’s problems. When pursuing innovation in certain areas of life, we should first ask ourselves “what problems are we going to solve?” The answer to this question should guide our search for technologically enabled solutions.
A “smart” nation is one whose government employs innovative technologies to effectively respond to its peoples’ needs, improving their social and economic prospects. It does so inclusively, so that all sub-segments of the population benefit. This citizen-centric approach is the key to understanding governance in a smart nation; unlike business entities, the government cannot choose its customers and must serve all citizens. In doing so, the government has to deal with diverse subjects and issues, which adds complexity to the task. For this reason, the government should have a long term view and plan.
“Smart” is in. So is digital. According to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, “digital innovation has leveled the playing field, making it easy for anyone from anywhere can compete in the global economy. Today, ideas do not have borders and therefore countries cannot be landlocked.”
Earlier this month, the Government of Rwanda convened a “Smart Rwanda Days” conference, bringing together participants from seven countries. During the two-day event, attendees were asked to “take the pulse” of digital development across Africa – as well as within their own countries – and then set concrete roles and responsibilities for current members of the Smart Africa alliance (Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Gabon). The event was co-sponsored by the International Telecommunications Union, the African Union and several private-sector companies.
The Smart Rwanda Master Plan (SRMP), developed by the government in consultation with representatives of civil society and private sector, in February 2014, calls for better services to citizens through e-government and ICT education at all levels. The Plan includes a specific focuses on broadband networks and tertiary education, as well as fostering investments, innovation and creative local content to strengthen ICT. “Africa is on unstoppable move forward that tremendous progress is being made, but also the room for increasing speed and impact is limitless,” said Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwanda’s Minister for Youth and ICT.
“It is not data [that] makes you powerful; it is how you use it. That is exactly what our government has set out to do…data empowers not only the holder of it, but also the people who receive it and are empowered by using it.” – Minister KT Rama Rao
Over the past several years, I have attended many Open Data-related events in Washington, DC and elsewhere. But as far as I remember, no one has addressed the opportunities and potentials of Open Data for greater government accountability, citizen engagement, empowerment of the poor, and inclusive rural growth as speakers and presenters did in early September in Hyderabad, India.
Being transparent — through Open Data in this context — is an achievement itself. Transparency has been at the center of attention of the Open Data movement for some time. However, as many of us know, being open is a means to an end — the more important questions are what to open, as well as for what purpose, for whom and how.
“There is almost nothing that government can or should do alone,” said one of the panelists at a recent global webinar on the future of digital government.
This was just one of the many signals of the disruptive and creative impact that digital platforms, dynamic connections and cross-sector co-design and participation are having on the role and practice of governments. While some are resisting, the outcomes that many predicted in the early days of e-government are now possible through “silo-busting,” merged back-office infrastructures and focused collaborative relationships with civil society, businesses, citizens and communities. To some degree, this reflects Professor Carlotta Perez’s creative construction phase of a revolution (also described in this paper) and reinforces two critical success factors: execution and deployment capabilities.
An unprecedented number of individuals and organizations are finding ways to explore, interpret and use Open Data. Public agencies are hosting Open Data events such as meetups, hackathons and data dives. The potential of these initiatives is great, including support for economic development (McKinsey, 2013), anti-corruption (European Public Sector Information Platform, 2014) and accountability (Open Government Partnership, 2012). But is Open Data’s full potential being realized?
A news item from Computer Weekly casts doubt. A recent report notes that, in the United Kingdom (UK), poor data quality is hindering the government’s Open Data program. The report goes on to explain that – in an effort to make the public sector more transparent and accountable – UK public bodies have been publishing spending records every month since November 2010. The authors of the report, who conducted an analysis of 50 spending-related data releases by the Cabinet Office since May 2010, found that that the data was of such poor quality that using it would require advanced computer skills.
Far from being a one-off problem, research suggests that this issue is ubiquitous and endemic. Some estimates indicate that as much as 80 percent of the time and cost of an analytics project is attributable to the need to clean up “dirty data” (Dasu and Johnson, 2003).
In addition to data quality issues, data provenance can be difficult to determine. Knowing where data originates and by what means it has been disclosed is key to being able to trust data. If end users do not trust data, they are unlikely to believe they can rely upon the information for accountability purposes. Establishing data provenance does not “spring full blown from the head of Zeus.” It entails a good deal of effort undertaking such activities as enriching data with metadata – data about data – such as the date of creation, the creator of the data, who has had access to the data over time and ensuring that both data and metadata remain unalterable.
Nations cannot be competitive, innovate and generate tomorrow’s jobs without technology and digitally literate citizens. Similarly, organizations like the World Bank cannot achieve their objectives without fully utilizing the power and potential of technology. Here at the World Bank, we’re striving to reduce the extreme poverty rate to no more than three percent and boost income growth of the world's poorest 40 percent by 2030. These goals cannot be achieved without fully embracing the transformative powers of technology and innovation.
Nigeria is home to Africa’s largest population (approximately 174.5 million) and the continent’s biggest economy (more than $500 billion in annual GDP). It is also the center for a wide range of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) activities, from policy to practice – many of which are supported by the World Bank.
Since the establishment of the Ministry of Communication Technology in 2011, the Nigerian government has made notable progress in advancing its ICT agenda. The government has catalyzed significant efforts in the area of policy and regulation, with an ICT Policy developed in 2012, a National Broadband Development Plan developed in 2013 and an e-Government Strategy now in the works.