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Unlocking Data for Social Good – Why We Invested in India Urban Data Exchange

25th February 2021
Unlocking Data for Social Good – Why We Invested in India Urban Data Exchange
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Government institutions, private sector organizations, and individuals are generating tremendous volumes of data. This includes data from government records (demographic, tax, service delivery), IoT sensors (static and real-time transit datasets), citizen-generated data from social networks, and “digital exhaust” of private companies (location data from Uber). World over, public and private organizations have leveraged data to unlock tremendous social value – 

  • After an outbreak of Ebola in Lagos, government agencies collaborated with private telecommunications companies and healthcare organizations to share data on infected patients and trace those who had come into contact with them. This effort helped contain Ebola in Nigeria.
  • In India, Ola Mobility Institute is supporting the Government of Telangana to reduce accidents due to potholes, monitor the quality of road construction, and prioritize road repair budget by helping them map road conditions through their network of vehicles.

While it is evident that addressing several of society’s greatest challenges — from public health to transportation — requires better access to and use of data, there are two important barriers to realizing the social value of data – 

  • Fragmented Data: Datasets are created, stored, and managed in silos. This makes it challenging for data users to discover data and for data providers to recognize the social value of the data they generate. Further, these datasets are not standardized, making it hard to link datasets with each other to build a holistic understanding.
  • Privacy and Security Concerns: Real risks related to privacy, security, and loss of control of the data stops organizations from sharing data. Further, these organizations often do not have the capabilities to share data in a controlled and secure manner. There are limited legal, regulatory, and policy frameworks to guide the collection, sharing, and usage of data.

The India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX) is an initiative set up at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to address the twin problems of fragmented datasets and weak data stewardship in the context of India’s 4,000 + cities. It will work with the mission to unlock the massive untapped social value of data, and will use a mix of technology, policy research, use case demonstrations, and community building to further its mission: 

  • Data Exchange Platform: The initiative will develop and deploy a data exchange platform that will act as an intermediary for sharing of datasets in a standardized format across government departments, private organizations, and research institutions. This will make the stock of available data supply transparent, including an inventory of what data exists that can match multiple demands. 
  • Data Stewardship Models: The initiative will define, test, and advance fit-for-purpose data stewardship models (data collaboratives, data stores, data trusts, etc.) that can help utilize “data for social value” with appropriate safeguards.
  • Ecosystem Strengthening: The initiative will evangelize the platform with data providers, data users, the developer community, and the government to get additional users on both supply and demand sides. Further, it will collaborate and co-create the tech and governance infrastructure, and build capacity and awareness.

We believe that by developing appropriate technology, policy, and data stewardship infrastructure and demonstrating its value through real-life civic tech applications, IISc will be able to drive the usage of data for policymaking, catalyze Gov Tech and Civic Tech innovation, and advance the body of knowledge and implementation of appropriate technical and governance safeguards for defining good data stewardship.