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. While technology is integral to our approach, we recognise that a transparency project cannot just be about transferring bits of information from one place to another. We have learned 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. Doing so requires us to combine technical imagination with a sound understanding of social and political complexities.
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 Trust, which offered financial support for the project. The pilot project started in four states of India – undivided Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal – covering issues such as health, education, food and employment. The objective was to support the partner organisations in various campaigns, develop information interventions, deal with the socio-technological challenges including: poor connectivity, gendered ownership of phones and understanding the socio-political context of the interventions. The focus was largely on disseminating useful information through text messages, mobile voice broadcasts and in some cases paper printouts.
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 organisational home and the Tata Trust, ICCO Corporation and subsequently Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives have offered financial support for the endeavours.
What We Do
Using a rights-based framework, we have worked on different policies, trying to make them transparent and disseminating data about them to those who can use the information to make the state accountable to them. We believe that it is critical that policy design is people-centric and arrived at through wide consultation with all the stakeholders; the workers/beneficiaries, bureaucracy, field functionaries etc. 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 civil society organisations (CSOs) in ways that are easy to access and consume.
The key pillars of our work include Learning, Dissemination, Policy Intervention and Research.
Learning: We monitor official documents, learning about the scheme specifics as intended by the policy and analysing publicly available (secondary) data. We embed ourselves deeply in small geographies to understand processes and bottlenecks from the perspective of each stakeholder especially the workers/beneficiaries and field functionaries. Being part of various national campaigns continues to be fundamental to sharpening our perspectives.
Information Intervention: We programmatically crawl data available in the public domain, combine it with our qualitative insights from the ground and offer these to our partners. Through our partners, we also disseminate information via voice broadcasts and simple printed reports. We have recently begun to publish some of our learnings through online learning modules.
Policy: We aim to influence policy design and implementation to make it more human centered. We draw on the insights from our field engagement to provide feedback to policy makers and the administration.
Research: Most of our research questions are driven by what workers or beneficiaries of programmes articulate. This forms the cornerstone of understanding the gaps between the theoretical conception of policy designs and their implementation. Our research initiatives aim to articulate people’s experiential voices in a structured manner for thinking about new policies and betterment of existing policies.