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An advanced citizenship is vital for e-Governance: WB economist

11 December 2012

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Tracey Lane, Senior Economist at the World Bank was involved in the Bank’s Open Data initiative. In an interview with OneWorld South Asia at the sidelines of the Conference on Governance and Public Service Transformation held by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) in Dhaka, she spoke about the challenges in bringing about transparency through sharing information.

OneWorld South Asia: For a region like South Asia, what do you think will be a pre-requisite for a successful e-Governance project which is focusing on accountability and service delivery?

Tracey Lane: Firstly, A technologically and relatively advanced citizenship. They need to have access to a mobile phone and be able to have some level of technology that enables both giving and receiving information. Secondly, in countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan there is a Right to Information. It is already enshrined in the legal fabric and citizens can access this. These are the two basic fundamental pillars that are in place in the region.

OWSA: The Government of India started its own open data initiative. What could be the possible challenges in the regular updating of this data?

TL: This is a big challenge. The management information systems that lead to the generation of this data have often not been automated themselves. Therefore there is a significant time lag. If you are collecting large information on paper especially for a country like India, and then processing it, you will only be able to put out data one year late. Secondly, the way this data will be organized. You have data sets from the same ministry that will have different spellings of the same geographic place. Therefore, you cannot match one to the other, especially when you get down to the finer level of towns and villages. Technologically once you have a good system in a ministry, having an API to direct you to the open government portal should be possible, so that this information once uploaded on your server, is replicated and uploaded on the open data side. So technically that is possible.

OWSA: When it comes to automating a process, immediately a lot of subjectivity goes away and studies show a resistance to this removal of discretion. How do you deal with a challenge like that?

TL: The release of regular information to the public has several arguments for doing it. One is a rights based argument, particularly for data that is collected for them. You spend millions on a census and don’t tell the citizens what is on the information.There are economic arguments as well. In the case of Kenya, public information uploaded online was downloaded by private sector firms who created business opportunities with that data, provided new services and created new jobs. Creating jobs is another argument that can be marshalled. Creating efficiency within the public sector. We are all faced with very constrained fiscal envelopes and tax revenues are very limited and you need to make your rupee go further. If you can make an efficiency argument, that’s a step further. It’s also about the evidence base for policy making. You can have a culture by which you say ‘We create policy based on evidence, analysis and data and we don’t mind who does that analysis’. The public sector has a hard time attracting good quality economists and statisticians but if you put the information out there you effectively contract out for free that analysis to the academic and think tanks who are going to do that analysis and write those reports for you and help in creating a more efficient and more effective government.

Lastly, there is the fear that putting information out will cause harm and this often ends up outweighing the positives. That’s the challenge.

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