open data


A team of GIS experts at LIRNEasia is building an open re-demarcation tool to encourage trust in the process of electoral reforms.
Two ongoing projects at LIRNEasia seek to open up government data. The first is the inclusive information societies project. The second seeks to present electoral delimitation data to stakeholders in manipulable form to facilitate informed discussion. Human Capital Research Team Leader Sujata Gamage presents the big picture in a column in FT: Open data or more specifically Open Government Data (OGD) is a concept which is complementary to the Right to Information (RTI) concept. While RTI is reactive, legalistic, adversarial and costly, OGD is proactive, technical, collaborative and less costly in the long term.
Helani Galpaya, CEO of LIRNEasia presented ongoing work on “Open Data & Agriculture” at the “Workshop on data system processing”, held at Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute (HARTI) on 29th January 2016. The meeting, chaired by the Minister of Agriculture, Hon Duminda Dissanayake, was organized under the National Food Security Program. The main objective of the discussion was to bring stakeholders with interest on providing ICT based solutions to Agriculture into a common platform and to avoid possible duplications of work. LIRNEasia was invited to present their work along with Department of Agriculture, the Coordinating Secretariat for Science Technology and Innovation (COSTI), University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC), Dr. Athula Ginige-University of Western Australia, GIS solutions (PVT) Ltd, Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), Salasine Organization and Agricultural & Agrarian Insurance Board.
This past Thursday (15th October 2015) I was invited to give my comments at event, alliteratively titled “An open dialogue on open data.” The dialogue was organized by InterNews and Transparency International and held at the Sri Lanka Press Institute in Colombo. I was part of a panel that included Nalaka Gunawardene and Sanjana Hattotuwa. I was asked to speak on the challenges and issues of Big and Open Data which itself is a bit of a misnomer in Sri Lanka, since there are currently no datasets in Sri Lanka that can be considered (or even amenable to be considered) as both “big” and “open”. As a preamble to my comments I used some brief slides to highlight LIRNEasia’s ongoing big data research that LIRNEasia is is conducting, leveraging mobile network big data to produce insights for developmental policy.
Late May in Ottawa, I was among those interviewed for an article about big data. Similarly, private telecom companies’ data on mobile phone traffic has become a crucial resource for researchers at the Sri Lanka-based think tank LIRNEasia, a long-time IDRC research partner. Using phone data that tracks traffic flows can be a low-cost means of helping governments decide where to invest in road and public transport upgrades, says LIRNEasia chair Rohan Samarajiva. Since mobile phones are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka and phone traffic data is anonymous, studies are less likely to be biased in favour of the rich, he says. “We see that a mobile phone travels down a highway at a certain speed, but whether it’s rich or poor, travelling in a car or bus or motorbike — we don’t know.
The full webcast of the Shades of Open session which dealt with whether data held by private entities should be open is available here. At the session moderated by Stefaan Verhulst, I framed the issues within the context of principal-agent theory and competition and illustrated my arguments from our experience in working with mobile network big data. I went first, so my opening presentation is at 4:26. The second intervention is at around 26:00.
When the President of the Treasury Board of Canada comes to a conference and delivers a serious speech you know that the government takes the subject seriously. And the effort IDRC out into its organization showed it was a high priority for them too. It was a long way to go to speak for 15 minutes, but luckily the listening was perhaps even better than the speaking part. To paraphrase one of Moliere’s characters for more than seven years we had been doing openness without knowing it. It was good to have that understanding reinforced.
I’m scheduled to talk about how data that is in the hands of private entities at the Open Data Conference in Ottawa May 28-29. While this next generation of “open data” is slowly emerging, key questions and persistent obstacles need to be considered. What sort of incentives lead businesses and nonprofits to decide to share their data assets? How can potential users of the data help allay concerns about privacy and competitive risks, and how should such users be chosen? What sorts of legal and technical frameworks — be they APIs, data pools, or research partnerships — are best suited to maximizing the public value of private data?
I was listening to a presentation on Work-related Use and Positive Livelihood Outcomes among Mobile Phone Users in Asia by Komathi Ale*, Uni. of Southern California, at ICTD 2015 in Singapore. I was pleased to see some of our publications being cited, but that was just the beginning. After the literature review, the author announced that the entire paper was based on the LIRNEasia teleuse@BOP data set that was publicly available. We have made all datasets open since the beginning of the teleuse@BOP work.
This debate about access to data about railway delays in Britain has interesting implications in other fields such as electricity. She told me part of the problem is when public services are provided by the private sector; such firms claim that selling data is a revenue stream for them, and ask for public-funded subsidies to make it open. For example, the state-owned Ordnance Survey mapping company has made much of its data open, but takes a £10 million annual subsidy to do so, according to The Indepen​dent. “It’s particularly frustrating when organisations aren’t making much money from it,” Tennison added, noting that the costs of selling data—including lawyers for licensing and enforcing terms—often outstrip any revenue. Tennison hopes that’s not the case.
Ayesha Zainudeen, Senior Research Manager at LIRNEasia, spoke at the recent expert meeting of the UNESCAP in Colombo. Below is a long quote. There is more at FT. Other than voice, it’s mostly SMS use, along with missed calling. Voice connectivity is almost ubiquitous.
There was a small but high profile Government Transformation Forum organized in Kovalam, Kerala, Feb 5-6, 2012. The Kerala Chief Minister and the Minister in charge of IT made appearances and the high-profile MP of the area, Dr Shashi Tharoor, delivered the keynote address and showed deep engagement. I chaired the session on international and Indian best practices and made a presentation based primarily on the experiences of designing e Sri Lanka back in 2002-03 and LIRNEasia research. My key message was that there were no best practices that could be imported to Kerala. What were best were what fit the specific circumstances.
I was privileged to listen to a presentation by Dr C Mohan on IBM’s collective wisdom on technology trends yesterday at the inaugural session of WSO2Con 2011. There were many, many fascinating nuggets, but what particularly struck me was the prediction of the importance of big public data sets. The very first post I made in 2011 was on this subject. We have open data sets, but they are just there. How can we make them more usable and truly open?
LIRNEasia has always been about more than ICTs; it has been about hope in the heart and money in the pocket. Our current focus on the role of knowledge in agriculture value chains will further remove the ICT veil. In this light, I was pleased to read an affirmation of our thinking and approach by the world’s premier repository of knowledge on development, the World Bank: We see a similar trend in the global development landscape, with developing countries assuming important roles alongside traditional development partners. These new partners are contributing not only aid, but more importantly are becoming major trading partners and sources of investment and knowledge. Their experiences matter.