Data related to the water sector although available online was very scattered and inaccessible and did not reveal much on its own when India Water Portal (IWP), Arghyam started the data project with the aim of providing better ways of accessing and representing data related to the water sector. The process led to some interesting learnings, revelations and very positive outcomes.
We started by launching the Datafinder and were happy to see that there was in fact a good amount of data online that people could access. We went about the process of aggregating that data, mostly from government sources, in pdfs, and html tables. We thought that this was the best list we could get.
The IWP Data Project's goal was to provide the water sector with better ways to access data and demonstrate by providing good examples of what data could do when made available. We went about doing the arduous task of convertng pdf tables to excel, scraping data from websites, and in general asking people to submit data.
While we were going through this effort on the civil society side, the Government of India too, went about a drastic change in how it looked at or viewed data and also provided data.
- Starting with the Planning Commission working group for the 12th Year Plan, a paper dedicated to improving water data was written and largely accepted.
- The Water Resource Information System was launched by ISRO with the mandate of mapping water data and providing a place for monitoring and planning for the Central Water Commission and the public.
- The central government passed a National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) that promoted internal government sharing of data and the open sharing of data with the public.
- The open government data portal Data.gov.in was launched by the NIC.
- The Ministry of Water Resources created its own data dissemination policy
It was clear that the government was thinking what IWP was also thinking, that there had to a more open and accessible data culture. The work that the government did to put in place infrastructure and reach out to citizens to understand how people used data was refreshing.
- WRIS wrote a guest post on IWP to launch their site.
- Data.gov.in proactively asked the public to request data and promoted data driven ideas for governance. This synergy was not lost and we tried to participate in this changing culture when we could.
- We asked Data.gov.in for water and sanitation related data, and currently there are over 700 water and sanitation related data sets from several central ministries and states, including census household tables.
- We also collaborated with them and Delhi University on creating water related apps. We presented our tools at NIC conferences.
- We replied to the data dissemination policy with what we thought was a better way of going about sharing information. This response has been attached to this blogpost.
While issues still exist in relation to access to data, it is good that the government has become more positive and welcoming in engaging with this issue. This was also apparent when we collaborated with Aidan Cronin from UNICEF to write a paper on Monitoring and evaluation of water and sanitation project.
While it is easy to say that there are still many issues with access to water information in India, we have built solid bridges that have culminated with our collaborating with Aidan Cronin from UNICEF to write a status and advocacy paper on Monitoring and Evaluation of water and sanitation projects.
There is much more to do, but now that there are more avenues to participate, it need not be such an arduous process. I look forward to more engagement and efforts from the water sector data community to further improve access and quality of data.