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Chapter # 41. Data Led Governance and Policy Making

Objectives

Evidence based policy making should be made integral to the overall governance structure in New India, 2022-23. To achieve this, timely generation and dissemination of robust data at all levels of governance would be a pre-requisite. This would require:

  • Collecting data for new measurable parameters using latest technologies.
  • Improving efficiencies in processes related to existing data collection by government departments and agencies.
  • Expanding warehousing facilities for storing and integrating data from different sources.
  • Making data available for industry practitioners, academicians, researchers, etc., wherever feasible.
  • Integrating data analysis and interactive data visualization into all policy formulation.

Current Situation 

Background

Countries, where large-scale developmental efforts are needed, require their policy delivery mechanisms to be robust and efficient. However, paradoxically, these countries have very little data needed for the selection, implementation and evaluation of effective policies.1

In India, decision-making is often based on surveys and consultations that are released with a considerable lag. For e.g., the population census comes out once in ten years; the latest National Family Health Survey – 4 was released in 2015-16 after a period of 10 years.

Rapid advancements in technology have led to an explosive growth in the volume of data produced. Data is now being touted as one of the most valuable resources. Given the proprietary access to high value data sources, public services and governance systems in India can better harness the value of this data.

Statistical system in India

At the government level, various ministries/ departments of the Government of India, state governments and the Office of the Registrar General Census Commissioner under the Ministry of Home Affairs collect data. One important step taken towards creating the availability of non-sensitive data for public consumption on a common platform was the launch of National Data Sharing and

Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) in 2012. The objective2 of the policy was to “increase the accessibility and easier sharing of non-sensitive data amongst the registered users and their availability for scientific, economic and social developmental purposes”.

This led to the creation of the Open Government Data initiative where the domain data.gov.in was registered in 2012. It is now one of the important pillars of the Digital India programme.

As stated by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoS&PI),3 central ministries/departments or state government departments that are responsible for an area/ subject are usually the key agencies for collecting the statistics for that domain.

The usual flow of statistical information is from states to the centre except in cases where the operations are part of centrally sponsored schemes or when the data is collected through national sample surveys. Viewed from the national level, the Indian statistical system at the centre is laterally decentralized between the ministries and departments while the vertical represented by each ministry is vertically decentralized between the centre and the states.

A similar decentralized structure exists at the state levels, which have lateral decentralization at the state department level and vertical decentralization at the district level. In addition, statistical offices at the central and state levels, i.e., the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Directorate of Economics and Statistics (DESs) respectively, bring together all statistics related to India and examine various aspects including quality, accuracy, and timeliness.

The need for evidence-based policymaking has been recognised for years now. Five-year plans in the past have stressed the need for frequent and robust data collection processes in various contexts ranging from health to natural calamities to agriculture. The Report of the Dr. Rangarajan Commission in 2001 also acknowledges the increased need for data in the decision-making process.4

Constraints

The following constraints need to be overcome to enable India’s transition to a data-led governance structure.

  • There is over-reliance on data collection through surveys. These are released at a considerable lag, which diminishes their usefulness in policymaking. There is a dearth of availability of real time operational/administrative data.
  • One challenge in this regard is that considerable numbers of stakeholders are involved in enabling data collection systems that are premised on a “bottom-to-top” approach. It will be a huge challenge to get all these stakeholders on board for a streamlined data collection and reporting mechanism as envisaged for 2022-23.
  • There is a problem with the usability of data that is currently generated.
  • Large volumes of data collected by different government agencies and departments are not shared, even among the departments.
  • The data shared is often not available in machine readable format or cannot be integrated with data from other sources to help develop multi-dimensional insights.
  • Enabling adoption of the latest technology at the grassroots level would involve substantial investment along with skill development of local functionaries.
  • Furthermore, planning will be required to integrate different technologies so that ground level data can be aggregated.
  • Lastly, there is considerable lack of awareness regarding currently available data sources.

DATA LED GOVERNANCE AND POLICY MAKING DATA LED GOVERNANCE AND POLICY MAKING

Way Forward

The following framework, which focuses on the key aspects requiring intervention, needs to be enabled by 2022-23 to achieve transparent governance:

Data collection methods should be streamlined through the following measures:

  • Both administrative and survey data need to be collected in digital formats across various sectors in real time to move from paper based to digitally driven operations. This would require the adoption of latest technologies that require recording in digital format, geo-tagging etc. This will address the issues related to time lags, data cleansing, etc., associated with surveys to a large extent.
  • Ensure availability of data at a more granular level – village/block/district. NITI Aayog is already engaged in developing a National Data  Analytics Portal, which is envisioned as a central repository for real-time data across different sectors for all states/UTs.
  • Enable data sharing in real time through Application Programming Interfaces (API)  between data stored across different databases and across ministries in a central location for easy access by the public.

The following specific steps will ensure that the above objectives are achieved.

  1. Data integration and quality assurance 

Most of the administrative and survey data are generated at the state level. It is recommended that after going through the process of quality assurance, where discrepancies are removed, and formats are standardized, the data should be integrated in a state data repository. This process should be followed by all states based on guidelines drawn up by the central government. 

Reliable and timely data is essential for evidence-based policy making, which should be the norm. Necessary reform of our statistics and data collection system must be undertaken as soon as possible to achieve this objective.

Some state governments like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan have taken important steps to leverage technology for evidence-based policymaking. However, these steps need to be further streamlined and adopted by all states. This will empower the officer on the ground to take data led decisions.

This aspect forms an integral part of the Digital Transformation Index being instituted by NITI Aayog. Measures to leverage technology for informed policymaking will be implemented in a time bound manner and closely monitored for desired results.

  1. Data protection

 The issue of confidentiality will need to be ensured while dealing with citizen level data. The Justice Sri Krishna Committee Report submitted its recommendation in July 2018. Its recommendations are under active consideration to formulate a data protection law in India.

  1. Role of tertiary big data 

For better governance and evidence-based policymaking, it is recommended that tertiary big data collected by private third parties should be used. Over time, the National Data Analytics Portal aims at collecting, analysing and disseminating various types of tertiary data of different levels of granularity. 

  1. Skill development and restructuring 

Government statistical organizations responsible for data collection and reporting need to be updated on new technologies. Data scientists with multiple skills in the areas of statistics, analytics, computer science and programming are rare in the Indian government. MoS&PI needs to have an adequate number of data scientists to take advantage of new technologies.

Re-skilling needs to be promoted across government agencies, both at the state level and at the centre. A roadmap for strengthening various government agencies including MoS&PI needs to be formulated and implemented in a time bound manner.

DATA LED GOVERNANCE AND POLICY MAKING DATA LED GOVERNANCE AND POLICY MAKING

NITI AYOG - New India @ 75

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