Published on Digital Development

Taking Open Data to the next level to deliver solutions for inclusive rural growth

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“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.
On the morning of September 4, 2014, I was sitting in a packed conference room for a workshop with high-level government officials, members of the project implementation unit, civil society organizations, academics, IT firms, and media. We were all blown away by the opening speech delivered by the Honorable KT Rama Rao, Minister of IT and Rural Development for the Government of Telangana, one of India’s 29 states. This opening speech set the tone for the workshop on Open Data Solutions for Rural Development and Inclusive Growth.
KT Rama Rao at workshop on Open Data Solutions for Rural Development and Inclusive Growth

In fact, Minister Rao’s remarks were so powerful that they threw my own presentation off track. I was set to give a talk on citizen engagement through Open Data for more accountability and participation, as part of the World Bank team later that morning. One of my colleagues, who was sitting right next to me, murmured jokingly “Saki, I don’t think you need to present this morning!” I presented that morning anyways but, frankly speaking, I could not agree more with my colleague!
At this workshop, it was very clear that the governments of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are serious and ready to take Open Data to the next level by developing Open Data solutions for inclusive rural growth and achieving tangible development outcomes by utilizing such solutions. Over the course of the workshop, the World Bank collaborated with government officials, development practitioners, subject-matter experts, entrepreneurs, technology companies and research institutions to:
  • Share knowledge of good practices (both from India and around the world), successful Open Data-driven solutions and lessons learned; and
  • Discuss and brainstorm possible Open Data-driven solutions that may address high-priority challenges in inclusive rural development.
Open Data-driven rural development solutions are emerging in India. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture hosts a “Farmers’ Portal” that provides a large amount of relevant information to farmers, and “Stellapps” supports dairy farmers, cooperatives and private dairies through data analytics. While these solutions are powerful, we still see some gaps in addressing critical rural development and livelihood challenges, which Open Data solutions must contribute addressing. In this sense, both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have advanced a unique ecosystem and environment that may allow Open Data solutions to flourish, with the collaboration of IT companies and entrepreneurs.
Throughout the workshop, the group surfaced some Open Data solution areas for three main inclusive rural development components: (1) value chain, (2) human development, and (3) entitlements and social development. While we still are at the very early stages in identifying possible solutions with government counterparts, some sample solutions emerged from the workshop and follow-up discussions, including:
  • Farmer advisory application — providing farmers advice about range of issues related to cropping, harvesting and market access
  • Market linkage application — helping farmers access price analysis data and other market information
  • Geodata baseline for last-mile service delivery and convergence – collecting geo-location data for service delivery touch points by the project as mapping and analytics platform
  • Community toilet information — mapping the location and usage patterns of community toilets to address sanitation and infrastructure issues
  • Visual analytics engine – developing an analytic engine to answer simple questions, such as “what is the quality of maternal health outcomes by center and what are the patterns and reasons behind this result?”
  • User feedback interface on services delivered by the project — creating a platform for citizens to view service information at the village level (e.g. what services, where, and how) and allow them to rate and/or provide feedback on services provided, allow service users to rate the quality of services being delivered on the ground
For some suggested and identified solutions, we know we are being rather ambitious. That being said, one of our priority principles is to introduce new ideas to two Indian states that have already been tried elsewhere for learning and fostering an Open Data ecosystem for solutions and partnerships. Instead of starting everything from scratch, we would like to build on the strength of projects’ existing ICT infrastructure. This journey, therefore, is more like a marathon, with milestones in designing, implementing and scaling Open Data solutions, on top of improving Open Data practices. Solutions developed will be woven into the DNA of inclusive rural development activities.
One of the milestones of this workshop was participants’ overwhelming support not only for Open Data, but also Open Data-driven development solutions.
Taking this Open Data-enabled transparency to the next level to address priority rural development challenges (including more productive agriculture, better market linkages, better maternal and child health, improved sanitation, and service delivery) was one of the goals of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In fact, during our visit to this part of India, we found that much of the project data in both states are being made open to the public already. Now, together with both governments, we are coordinating to come up with ways to enhance their Open Data practices, as well as applicable, deliverable and scalable Open Data solutions to inclusive rural development.
Stay tuned for more stories and future updates on our exciting Open Data solution journey, and please feel free to ask questions or offer your own insights. 


Saki Kumagai

Social Development Specialist

Oleg Petrov

Senior Digital Development Specialist, World Bank

Roger Burks

Online Communications Officer

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