Digital technologies can add power to the right to information movement by making information easily, quickly and cheaply accessible. But for online data to be effective, government websites have to be suitably designed.
The 8 principles
A good starting point for the design principles is a set of eight far-reaching principles developed by Sunlight Foundation. These are:
Complete: All public data are made available. Public data are data that are not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations.
Primary: Data are collected at the source, with the finest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.
Timely: Data are made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.
Accessible: Data are available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes.
Machine processable: Data are reasonably structured to allow automated processing.
Non-discriminatory: Data are available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.
Non-proprietary: Data are available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
License-free: Data are not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be allowed.
Beyond 8 Principles
These principles can have radical implications for how we use governmental data in India. But to make websites an effective tool for right to information, we have to supplement these with a few other principles:
Authenticity: Information should be automatically certified like any document made available through a formal request, so government is legally accountable to stand by information provided.
Digitising at source: Some reasonably well designed websites contain little or no information in them since a lot information is not digitised. Digitising information at source and integrating it systematically will avoid duplication and ensure completeness of information. This needs reliable systems, infrastructure at the grassroots and a suitable legal framework.
Efficient data systems: Information should not be duplicated, and should be gathered at source in a convenient format.
Digitising all basic information: Maps, census data, village infrastructure, etc. are used in a lot of analysis. Making this information available will increase the ways in which we can use such data dramatically. In other words, having access to such databases along with the programme data would be powerful.
I will illustrate the implications of these principles with concrete examples in a series of posts. Watch this space. In the meanwhile, you can find my collection of links on open data here.