Swipe to connect with government

September 07, 2017 12:00 AM
  •  Swipe to connect with government logo

By Kavitha Srinivasa

Introduction

Swati Ramanathan and Ramesh Ramanathan founded Janaagraha in December 2001. The Bangalore-based NGO works in the urban space with a mission of improving the quality of life in urban India in order to be a developed nation. Innovative infrastructure backed by betterment solutions and a slew of services have been created to fulfill the vision.

The fact that the urban population in India is expected to reach 800 million by 2050 has urged Janaagraha to expand its horizon. An insight into the situation revealed that the existing infrastructure needs to be strengthened, while also giving citizens a voice. Citizens need to take responsibility and have a sense of ownership and belonging to their neighborhood and cities. With responsibility comes a participatory approach for which they need to engage with relevant stakeholders within and outside of government and address development challenges. 

A move in this direction is the inception of Civic Learning, Civic Participation and Advocacy and Reforms, Janaagraha’s three major strands of work to accomplish its mission.

The NGO has opened out channels of communication for citizens to communicate with the government and make it accountable, the mission is to look at civic issues and grievances, and bring in the required change through citizen participation. An out-of-the box thinking backed by a skilled team has resulted in various technology solutions deployed to open out avenues of connect, thereby bridging the gap between citizens and governing bodies.

Problem / Challenge

Janaagraha is part of the Jana Group, India’s largest non-profit group committed to fixing India’s cities. Statistics point to the fact that over 400 million citizens live in cities and towns of India, many of whom face development challenges like health, sanitation, education, water supply, public transport, public toilets, walkable, cyclable and driveable streets, along with open spaces and playgrounds and clean air.

Other challenges loom large. The fact that citizens in urban India don’t have a direct communication with the civic bodies has resulted in poor infrastructure. Citizens’ participation in local governance is abysmal in the absence of a formal avenue. Policy reforms to improve local governance through citizen advocacy are unimaginable. With the result, people didn’t know what to do or even worse, they shrug off any civic related problem. As an NGO Janaagraha has understood the grimness of the situation and has conceptualized a unique strategy — give people a voice and platform — connect them with local corporators and MLAs.

In its effort to address the problem, the NGO has chalked out an agenda whereby it works with citizens and government to bring in civic participation from grassroots up, as well as governance reforms from the top down. Several outcome-based programmes have been initiated from time to time. For example – The ‘Public Eye’ Mobile app built in partnership with the Bengaluru City Traffic Police (BTP) encourages citizens to report traffic violations using the app. The ‘Swachhata-MouD’ Mobile app, built in partnership with Ministry of Urban Development, encourages citizens to report garbage black spots and grievances around public toilets using the app.  

The Civic Participation programmes are sought to be anchored under the campaigns titled I Paid a Bribe (IPAB) and Ichangemycity.com (ICMyC). In both cases, technological intervention has been strongly felt and seen in the form of web and mobile applications.

IPAB has begun as an effort to empower citizens, governments and advocacy organizations to tackle retail corruption that has begun in India and extended to various parts of the globe. It is a formalized interactive online platform created to report on bribe and lower levels of corruption through tech solutions. Some of its successful outcomes include automating tests for drivers’ license, electronic registration of land transactions and doing away with police verification during the issuance of passports.

On its part, ICMyC is a citizen connect platform that links the citizens with the government through technology. Several successful initiatives have been accomplished including garbage disposal, poor road conditions, street safety and security related issues plaguing the wards and constituencies.

Solution

I Paid a Bribe (IPAB) began in 2010 and the spotlight has been on Retail Corruption. The online medium has been chosen because of its viral impact and focused reach.

Janaagraha has an in-house team that takes care of end-to-end solutions right from design to product output. This backend operation has also taken care of production costs, though funds come in from donors.

Consistent inputs from the R&D have led to a three pronged approach. In the first case, individuals can report and vent out their feelings when they actually paid a bribe. However, the segment also gives them the option of remaining anonymous, in order to ensure their comfort level. Anonymity or the Privacy Policy started in February 2013. In the second level, individuals can report on instances when they did not yield and pay bribe. The third category celebrates an honest officer who does not take bribe. More than 1,046 officers have been recognized so far. The technology, design, content and outreach have all been developed in-house. The tech stack is backed by a cloud-powered server and data is captured through crowd-sourcing. The data is used to understand trends and accordingly advocate for changes within the departments.

The platform is being marketed through Smartphones, Facebook and Twitter. Given the scale of reach, it’s no wonder that the platform has also connected with Hindi speaking states in north India as it has been launched in Hindi — Maine Rishwat Di — in 2013. 

In the same year, Janaagraha has launched mobile and SMS services for IPAB. Through this facility, citizens can access the website from their mobile devices, download mobile apps and share their bribe experiences by messaging IPAB.

With time, IPAB has become the world’s largest online crowd-sourced anti-corruption platform, besides getting global recognition. I Paid a Bribe has become a case study for Harvard Business School, London School of Economics and Stanford University. Besides that, IPAB has attracted individuals and civil society initiatives from 30 countries. IPAB has set up an open-source platform to share the source code with partners from 22 countries through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

In a nutshell, IPAB has grown into a movement, with a global outreach, acknowledged as a globally-recognized innovation in the fight against ‘retail’ corruption. This year, IPAB won the Audience Choice Award at the Citi Tech for Integrity Challenge (T4I) Winners in India event.

Ichangemycity.com (ICMyC), which was launched in 2012 — addresses participation, transparency and accountability — the three dimensions of urban governance. 

It has evolved into Janaagraha’s flagship online and mobile platform for civic participation in Bengaluru. This is a hyper-local social change network that allows urban communities to exchange views on varied civic issues through the website and Smartphone.

A two-pronged mobile strategy has been adopted along with a Responsive Web Design. Individuals can post complaints using user-friendly mobile apps that have been developed across Smartphone platforms like Android and iOS, other than Windows.

The ICMyC website is easy to navigate and read and can be accessed from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors. The site introduces individuals to the area around their home. Once the home is located, the individual’s customized ichangemycity map will become the default map zoom. Individuals can see their “ward,” besides identifying their political representatives. This helps people fix their civic problems.

A civic complaint tool allows people to post civic complaints, which are forwarded to relevant Government Agencies for solutions. Upon verifying the email address and mobile number of the Complainant, the Engineer and Citizen work to resolve complaints.  The Complaint Resolution Mechanism has set the pace, as 2,44,928 complaints have been posted on the website. Of these, around 1,74,057 have been resolved as of June 2017.

Constituency connect, a module of ICMyC, brings together Elected Representatives and the citizens along with unsolved issues under its wing. All this is grouped into a community (quite like the Facebook groups) so that they work as a community to fix common problems. Besides the social connect, ICMyC gives citizens the opportunity to connect with the constituency and understand it through spatial and non-spatial data. The ICMyC platform has been researched and built over three years to produce maps from over 5000+ geo-locational data points.

In collaboration with the Bengaluru Traffic Police (BTP) ICMyC runs a traffic violation reporting mobile application, which we know as Public Eye.  The Public Eye mobile app launched in 2015, works on Smartphone platforms like Android and iOS. After downloading and registering on the app, users can aim-click-send photographs on traffic violation. Since the photograph will have both latitude and longitude, it will throw light on the location of the violation. However, it’s important to ensure that the photograph should offer a clear image of the violator along with visibility of the vehicle registration number. The complaints sent in by citizens are scrutinized by a team at ichangemycity.com for authenticity and coherence. They are then sent to the BTP for further action. The app and site are user friendly, with a quick and responsive interface. It allows users to upload multiple high-resolution images.  BTP accordingly issue notices to the erring drivers and takes action. What makes this interesting is its scalability; it can be replicated in any Indian city.

IChangeMycity.com won the Google Global Impact Award- India 2013.

The Swachhata mobile and web application, part of the ICMyC umbrella, is the result of a partnership with the Swachh Bharat Mission of the Ministry of Urban Development of the Government of India. Launched in 2016, the Swachhata application is a fourth generation complaint redressers mobile and web platform. It addresses sanitation problems at a national level and is India’s largest civic change platform. The app has been developed to take inputs from citizens to monitor and resolve issues in real time. It has already registered 1.3 million mobile app downloads across 600 cities. The app helps people to upload Swachhata complaints accurately through the geolocation picture. The sanitary engineer reviews it before taking action. Municipal Commissioners monitor the progress through the website. In 2017, Swacchata Application has been declared as one of the 41 Gems of Digital India, which is the creme de la creme of e-governance initiatives.

Impact

Since its launch on 15 August 2010, IPAB has received around 15 million visits, recorded over 1,40,000 bribe reports amounting to over Rs 2800 crores from more than 1000 cities and towns in India. It has also been scaled to 30 countries, with three more in the process of launching their own IPAB sites.

IPAB’s outreach extended to various government departments. The poster campaign titled Poster Lagao, Corruption Hatao Campaign- has been put up in key government departments all over Bangalore. The campaign urges people to send a text message to a designated number if they had to pay a bribe for a government service, or if they didn’t have to pay a bribe.

As of June 2017, the ICMyC website has had 6, 07,931 users and has more than 2,44,928 complaints on the site. Around 1,74,057 of these complaints have been resolved by connecting the complaints to various government agencies.

ICMyC is very active on social media platforms and has more than 2,26,435 likes on Facebook and has more than 3,377 followers on Twitter. This sizeable number points to the fact that citizens are posting complaints, sharing them with their communities and are bringing them on to the platform so that appropriate action is taken. The site’s look and feel has undergone a revamp based on inputs and feedback from users. The result is an improvised end user experience.

Janaagraha has over 2 million users across all its platforms, and this year it’s intended to take the Swachhata platform to 4,041 cities. Just as Janaagraha has grown into a movement, let’s hope our neighbourhood and the country at large become a more clean and sustainable place to live in.

 

Public Eye Journey So Far:

Mobile downloads – 75585

Complaints received – 99594

Cases booked – 65569

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How it all Started

Citizen Participation in public governance probably never existed in a formalized manner till Janaagraha came into the picture in 2001. The journey has been interesting, anecdotes related to transparency and accountability has made it meaningful. Technology forms the crux of IPAB and ICMyC, which are award-winning globally recognized services

As Janaagraha turns 16 this year, Sylvia Veeraraghavan, Coordinator JanaOnline, offers glimpses of the forthcoming plans.

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