We are a team of engineers, social workers and social scientists who are interested in improving public service delivery in India. We are inspired by India’s right to information movement and believe that transparency can go a long way in reducing corruption and improving accountability. We also realize that effective transparency is a difficult task, especially in this age of ever-increasing information. Our main mission is to support citizens, activists and those in government to access actionable information effortlessly, so that they can focus on using the information, rather than spend endless hours getting it.
As a team, we leverage digital technologies to improve how citizens obtain information about public programmes. One of our key goals is to harness public records available online and disseminate relevant information to citizens and CSOs in ways that are easy to access and consume.
While technology is central to our approach, we recognize that a transparency project cannot just be about transferring bits of information from one place to another. Most of us started as activists and we recognize that providing actionable information is a hard task. It requires an understanding of concrete problems that people face in each context, a strategy on which issues could be reasonably tackled in a given context, and an assessment of what role information can play in a role in this social process.
How this started
The project started in 2012 under the aegis of the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. It was established with a seed grant from Google Charitable Giving. When the research program at Stanford ended in 2016, the team working on it sought to continue and we were able to do it with the support of CORD India, which gave us an organizational home and the Tata Trusts which offered financial support for the project.
What we do
We work with CSOs on improving the delivery of basic public services. Currently, our partners focus on two of India’s largest welfare programmes – the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Public Distribution System (PDS). In each region, we identify accountability problems that could be mitigated with greater transparency. We then disseminate this information in the form of recorded voice calls, printouts and offline information on tablets carried by community workers. Recently, we started experimenting with a messenger chatbot to disseminate information on the NREGA.
We started this project with the intention of verifying online records, but our partners helped us expand the basic vision. For example, they used the broadcast capability to help people understand their rights. Based on the request of government workers, we started disseminating information on processes such as how to get work in NREGA, apply for new ration cards, applying for land improvement, etc. Such calls helped the community understand government programmes better, and avail them effectively. Finally, the CSOs have also used this to create better coordination between the administration and citizens. Put together, the system has helped improve awareness, monitoring, administrative coordination, and helped CSO partners to expand their reach with limited human resources.