Transparent Chennai is a project that was started three years ago with the aim to improve the quality of data used for urban governance in Chennai, and present it in ways that help people understand and use the data for planning, monitoring, and for making claims on the government. It is housed in the Centre for Development Finance (CDF), one of three centres for research at IFMR, a business school in Chennai. This small group of researchers, mostly women, does a great job aggregating, creating and disseminating data and research about important civic issues facing the city of Chennai, including those issues facing the poor. Quoting their website: „Our work aims to empower residents by providing them useful, easy-to-understand information that can better highlight citizen needs, shed light on government performance, and improve their lives in the city.“
We met researchers Satyarupa Shekhar and Vinaya Padmanabhan, who explained Transparent Chennai’s ongoing research. In few words, their work consists on researching and collecting data with a focus on: slums and informal settlements, solid waste management, walkability and pedestrian infrastructure, and water and sanitation. A great part of this collected information is accessible in an aggregated form through the interactive map which users can find on their website.
The way they collect this data represents a laborious and passionate task. Depending on the project, they work with local residents or call for volunteers to conduct citizen surveys. They collaborate with other citizens groups and civil society organisations, and work closely with the local administration, which provides them with first-hand data. As you can read on their blog, they work closely with residents and that enables them to develop a better understanding of the problems and actual needs of the population of the city, who is at the end the one who will benefit from the output of their action.
One successful case is the recent study about the current state and optimal location of public toilets. The results of this research are going to help the municipality to define an efficient strategy for the construction of new sanitation facilities.
Another project that showed the impact of their smart use of data: by conducting surveys, they could map the location of homeless people in different neighbourhoods of Chennai and contrasted it with the position of the existing shelters. Through this research, they could find relevant inconsistencies and propose a better distribution in order to improve the quality of life of this group of less fortunate citizens.
And Open Data? Does Transparenct Chennai release the collected data as open? We obviously formulated this question during our meeting. On the Database Section in their website, you can find some of the data sets they have generated so far. Also, and without leaving the Open Data topic, we experienced that they are participating in the Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC) project. This study, led by the World Wide Web Foundation, has the goal of understanding how open data is being put to use in different countries and contexts across the developing world.
After this enriching exchange, we could present our workshop counting with around 15 attendees from different areas: representant of the region Tamil Nadu, Open Source activists, students, members of research institute and renewable energy initiatives,… From the beginning on, the audience showed a big interest in the data collection methodology and data visualisation tools. Many projects were mentioned during the closing discussion. For example, the results of the national rural employment programme conducted by the indian Ministry of Rural Development, which can be visualised online and downloaded as CSV file since last week only.
Finally, we were asked whether we were going to pass by Bangalore. Indeed, the capital of the Karnataka region is well known in India for being the headquarters of many Open initiatives and the participants pointed us many organisations and individuals we could meet there. For sure! Bangalore was already on our schedule and it seems that we will experience a lot there. We expect to arrive around mid november and will keep you updated!