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Crack team cleans up data, reveals city

Group of data enthusiasts and citizen activists are trying to make government data more accessible.

Published: 26th June 2017 09:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th June 2017 09:01 AM   |  A+A-

(Clockwise from top right) Thejesh GN and Nisha Thomson with other volunteers at a recent meet

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Early on Saturday morning, over cups of coffee, a group of Bengalureans met at a cafe on Church Street to discuss something one wouldn’t expect people to on a weekend.   

This group of citizens were brought together by OpenCity.in, a repository of city-related public data from government sources, which have been collected through RTIs or open data processes. This portal includes data of all kinds, from BMTC to BESCOM information, and helps citizens understand what is happening in their city and locality.

The portal was started by volunteers from Data Meet,  a community of data enthusiasts who believe data can serve a civic purpose, and Oorvani Foundation, an independent, non-profit newsroom that focuses specifically on data, governance and citizen empowerment. Headed by Thejesh GN, Nisha Thompson and Meera K, the group meets once a month, and invites interested people via social media posts and emails.

Building a community

Thejesh, who is an engineer by profession, says that the main focus of these monthly meet ups are for community building. “All the information is already out there. On the various government websites. But this information isn’t accessible or easy to navigate through. What we do is that we clean up this information and put it out in a manner that is more user-friendly. We also take the scans of various documents uploaded on government websites, which are poor in quality, and put them up on our portal,” says Thejesh.

Open City now has data from three different cities – Bengaluru, Chennai and Hubli-Dharwad. Thejesh says that the demand from the public was the reason they now do work on other cities as well. “The idea behind our meet-ups is not to discuss things, anyone can do that at any point. We actually sit and do serious work,”  he says, while taking a brief moment to look away from his laptop.

Meera, who works with the Oorvani Foundation, says that while doing this work, they have also noticed errors and discrepancies in the government data out there. “We have noticed that sometimes, the data that’s out there is false,” says Meera, while patiently training a new intern at the Foundation.  

Fixing sloppy data

Thejesh adds that the lack of clean data on government websites is not unique to Bengaluru. “Every city in the country has incorrect/sloppy data on their websites, it’s not only a Bengaluru specific problem. However, there are a lot people here working in the urban development field, so there’s a lot of demand for this information to be made accessible and reader-friendly,” he says.

He gives the example of data pertaining to BBMP tenders, which the corporation pulishes on their website. “We were trying to analyse the procurement data, but the format was unfriendly. First, you cannot download it, you have it on HTML and then you need to organise that data into an Excel sheet,” he says.

They come up with interesting findings. For example, during analysis of one such data set, the team found that budget allocated to one ward was being spent on another.

What you could learn

  • You could study how gendered waste-segregation and cleanup is in the city. One data set gives details of the pourakarmikas including their gender and how many are on contract.
  • Look into a detailed plan to revive Bellandur and Vartur lakes, drawn out by IISc scientists.
  • Download and study the micro-plan for your ward and know if it is a high-income residential neighbourhood or mostly populated with commercial establishments. You could also check how frequently the streets are cleaned or how responsible your neighbours are in composting in-house.


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