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Transparent Chennai study on civic data in water, sanitation and health


This is a report on civic data in water, public health and sanitation (toilets) in the city of Chennai.

The report examines data availability, quality, processes of creation and use of data, and impact of data quality using a methodology of unstructured and semi-structured interviews, surveys, physical and digital mapping methodologies, public consultations and focus group discussions to answer the following questions:


  • Does the evidence collected suggest that government data quality is indeed questionable?
  • If so, what are the ways in which this data is deficient, particularly with regards to the poor?
  • Do these deficiencies result from common failures in data collection and storage processes?
  • Does this poor quality of data actually impact the quality of services provided to residents, particularly the urban poor?
  • Finally, are there ways in which this data can be easily corrected or improved?


We found that there are several problems with the data available with municipal authorities, including incomplete and inaccurate data, a lack of data standards, formats, metadata and licenses, no integrated data repositories, selective public disclosure and negligible sharing of data between government agencies. This directly results in poor planning and maintenance of public infrastructure, and poor provision of public services, particularly to the urban poor. Poor data sharing practices reinforce the fragmentation in governance that already hinders public service provision. We also find that poor data and sharing practices impedes transparency and accountability. Opening up data can help overcome the obstacle of sharing between public agencies and may also improve internal accountability. However, we caution against making existing data open without first addressing the causes of poor data quality has the danger of reinforcing existing social, economic and political divides. We found that the city government was willing to try new methodologies to create data to fill gaps but efforts need to be made to institutionalise these processes.