In the next few hours, the Union Minister for Communications & IT, Kapil Sibal, is expected to announce the launch of open government platform, in the presence of some representatives from the US government. This will be the first major announcement after the cabinet approved the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) 2012 last month.
The idea of open governance, spearheaded by the US, under then then Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, has been gaining popularity the world over. The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative that aims to “secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.”
The Open Government Partnership as a global partnership is not too old and started just about six months back. Formally launched on 20 September 2011, with an initial declarationby eight countries—Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States—the partnership now has 53 member countries, including the original eight.
With its time-honored policy of under-commitment, India is yet to formally join the partnership but is working with the US government to work on open access to data. To become a member of OGP, participating countries must embrace a high-level Open Government Declaration; deliver a country action plan “developed with public consultation”; and commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward.
It may be noted here that publishing data collected by government is just one—though, at present, arguably the most important—aspect of the move towards this openness.
While the actual beginning of the move towards open government began with President Obama signing the Memorandum of Transparency and Open Government on Day One of assuming office, it was with the appointment of Vivek Kundra as the Federal CIO that the real momentum started. Barely two months after his appointment in March 2009, Kundra launched Data.g0v platform (in May), for providing public access to raw datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government in order to enable public participation and private sector innovation. It drew from the DC Data Catalog launched by Kundra when he was CTO of Washington, D.C., where he published vast amounts of datasets for public use.
Though open government is a broader objective and is not just about releasing raw government data, this was nevertheless considered a major step, as the public availability of these datasets would not only help in transparency and openness, it also would allow anyone who wishes to do so—companies, individuals, NGOs—to create innovative applications using these data. And it actually did.
But when Kundra announced his resignation in June last year, there was a lot of apprehension whether the open government movement will lose its momentum. Many believed Kundra’s resignation was because of a drastic cut in funding for the e-government initiatives that he had undertaken. In a column titled, The Death of Open Government, in Washington Post, renowned technologist, academician and commentator was drastic in his observation.
But, with Kundra gone, I am not optimistic about the program. Whenever a program loses its key evangelist, it normally dies. The Open Government Initiative is likely to suffer a slow, inevitable death.
But nevertheless the progress continued.
And when there is something around IT, can India be kept out of it? When the US government started to look at open sourcing the data.gov platform, India—the land of techies—was of course, the first stop. And this began around August, even before the Open Government Partnership was announced. India was not to be a member of that; it still isn’t. But when it comes to tech work, the world’s most business savvy nation, surely knew where to turn to.
In December, it was publicly announced that India and US were working together to create a platform, called data.gov- in-a-box, an open source platform that would help governments globally to produce their own version of data.gov. This is what the data.gov site said at that time.
Among the actions in the U.S. National Action Plan announced by President Obama is an effort under the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue to produce “Data.gov-in-a-Box,” an open source version of the United States’ Data.gov data portal and India’s India.gov.in document portal. The U.S. and India are working together to produce an open source version available for implementation by countries globally, encouraging governments around the world to stand up open data sites that promote transparency, improve citizen engagement, and engage application developers in continuously improving these efforts. Technical teams from the governments of the U.S. and India have been working together since August of this year, with a planned launch of a complete open source product (which is now called the Open Government Platform (OGPL) to reflect its broad scope) in early 2012.
Today is that day, when that formal announcement about that platform is likely to happen by the Indian IT minister.
All the best for the journey together of two great nations, which are not just the most influential democracies in the world but are also the most competent when it comes to IT. And nothing marries democracy and technology like this initiative does. It takes the tool to be transparent on a platter to the governments around the world.
Additional Note: This should also convince critics of outsourcing to India (many within the Obama administration itself) that companies that seek Indian help in IT do not do that just because it is low cost.