Governmental Transparency and e-Governance

My favorite part of day 1 of ILF was a session on e-governance featuring R Chandrashekhar and John Suffolk. Suffolk is the CIO of the UK government and Chandrashekhar is the secretary of India’s Ministry of Communications and IT. Both men have received a lot of recognition for changing how their respective governments use technology to provide services.

John Suffolk / Source: CIO

Suffolk spearheaded, a major step in governmental transparency that launched a few weeks ago. Suffolk mentioned this TechCrunch article on how deeper government transparency can be a catalyst for innovation. The article gives a few examples of how individuals, organizations, and companies have used the information in to curate extremely specific subsets of data:

So far over 2,400 developers have registered to test the site and provide feedback, [and] 10 applications have been created. These include PlanningAlerts, a free service that emails you if someone has put in a planning application to build near your house (although to be fair it launched before the government’s move). FillThatHole lets people report potholes and other road hazards across the UK, using location data from the Office for National Statistics.

According to Suffolk, this type of user innovation is why it’s crucial for governments to start providing their data in an open, usable format: these services are too granular for a government ever to be able to provide all of them itself.

R Chandrashekhar / Source: MediaNama

In Chandrashekhar’s portion of the discussion, he explained that India is providing more and more of its services over the Internet, but implicit in this shift is that the government must facilitate Internet access for a substantial portion of its population. In India’s effort to provide more services online, they’ve helped build access points in thousands of villages. That’s extremely exciting to anyone who cares about rural education. As governments bring Internet access to more underserved populations, numerous doors open for social enterprises and NGOs to help those citizens educate themselves.

In both cases — Suffolk’s open data and Chandrashekhar’s access points — the government’s primary contribution is putting infrastructures in place upon which others can build. The impetus for building new services and opportunities on top of that groundwork lies not only with the government, but also with social entrepreneurs and NGOs.

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