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January 23, 2014 by

One of the basic premises of Transparent Chennai’s work is that data and information is needed to improve urban governance in Chennai. The ODDC project is one project in which we look at the state of existing municipal data and identify ways to unlock its true potential. In the course of our research, we have observed several problems with the way government data is stored and shared with citizens. First, municipal datasets in India, especially those having to do with the poor and their access to basic services, are of poor quality or are completely missing. Second, municipal data is stored poorly, in unusable formats and often accessible to the public only through cumbersome Right to Information (RTI) requests. As a result, poor citizens are unable to participate either in planning processes or in the monitoring of service providers. Third, officials admit to being overwhelmed by RTI requests for government data. Last, agencies responsible for service provision find it time-consuming and politically difficult to get information from one another – even information that could help them to do their work better.

The role of a data intermediary is important, especially in contexts where governments are either unwilling or incapable of providing data that match open data standards, to improve citizens’ access to better and more data. Our research and experience illustrates this statement.

Access data from government and provide no-cost access to citizens
One of the most important aspects of our work is to obtain data from various government departments and agencies and share them with citizens. The Corporation of Chennai (CoC), the local government, is yet to disclose its data proactively but Transparent Chennai, and other organisations and individuals, has been able to access data through RTI requests. It has also been able to access government data through formal and informal requests to officials, often leveraging relationships it has established in the course of its research. Transparent Chennai makes much of the data available for download on its website, and also conducts several public events to disseminate this data and information to citizens. The aim of enabling access to data by citizens is to keep them informed of the functioning of the government, thereby reducing the barriers to their participation in policy and decision making.

Improve the quality of government data
The poor quality of government data limits its usefulness. Transparent Chennai has obtained data that do not have geospatial information, timelines, and administrative and sectoral boundaries, all of which have proved to be barriers to their use. Consequently, Transparent Chennai has collected different datasets with each of these aspects and processed them to improve their quality. For instance, it obtained lists of public toilets and mapped their physical locations. Its researchers also collected data on whether these toilets were functional according to some simple parameters: whether there was water, lights, doors and if they were clean. It then made interactive maps which overlay administrative boundaries with a layer of the location of public toilets and information on whether they are usable.

Invest in capacity to use data
Transparent Chennai also works with citizens and government officials to improve their capacity to use data. Recently, it worked closely with CoC officials planning for new public toilets to help them collect geospatial data and use it along with data on availability of land, and water and sewerage connections to identify feasible locations for the proposed toilets. Transparent Chennai created a mobile application that simplified the process of collecting data and used CartoDB, an open source tool, to visualise it. The data, maps and methodology were useful for the tender we helped write, and provided simple practical tools that the city’s de facto planners can use to improve project creation and implementation.

Often policy and decision makers do not have access to high quality data; often they do not have the time to digest the information. Correspondingly, citizens often do not have access to government data nor to avenues to participate in governance. As a data intermediary, Transparent Chennai adopts a range of strategies to meet these data needs and to create forums for data-driven interaction between different stakeholders.

Written by Satyarupa Shekhar, researcher, Transparent Chennai

November 23, 2013

When I last posted, I mentioned I was involved in the formal process of filing documents under the Right to Information Act (RTIs). It has been a mere two weeks since then and the RTIs have started trickling in. I … Continue reading

November 21, 2013 by

As per the Corporation of Chennai, the city produces 5000 metric tonnes of garbage every day. They know this because as each compactor or garbage truck enters the dumpsites at Perungudi or Kodungaiyur, they are weighed using weighbridges. Beyond this … Continue reading

November 16, 2013

I have been interning with Transparent Chennai for only one week now, and have already been introduced to the hurdles and hassles that accompany obtaining data in Chennai. The project I am working on entails understanding the Corporation of Chennai’s … Continue reading

November 14, 2013 by ,

On the morning of August 14th, 2013, 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., in a small marriage hall near the Thiruvanmiyur temple tank under a large banner that read “Chennai Corporation waste pickers meeting for demands/entitlements,” the first official meeting of … Continue reading

October 24, 2013 by

The slums team at Transparent Chennai is supporting the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) in preparing a report for the State Planning Commission to assess the impact of all kinds of interventions into slums in the city. The goal … Continue reading

October 17, 2013 by

Over 75% of funds provided to the city of Chennai under the JnNURM’s “Basic Services for the Urban Poor” component went towards constructing houses in Perumbakkam, a resettlement colony on the outskirts of the city located near the existing resettlement … Continue reading

October 9, 2013 by

Since April 2013, we have conducted public meetings in Kalyanapuram slum in Ward 57 where the residents and councillor have met to discuss the problems with civic services ailing the slum. The foundation for the discussions was the data on … Continue reading

October 1, 2013 by

The recent housing policy Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) envisions slum free cities by 2020. The policy requires that all the slums in a city be surveyed and mapped, before plans are made for the development of these slums. Enough has … Continue reading

September 26, 2013 by

In a recent blog, Ranjeet Joseph had described the efforts the Walkability team is making to create awareness about an inclusive street design, which is gender sensitive and where pedestrians, street vendors and other users share the space equitably. Vendors … Continue reading