Low cost solutions for improving citizen participation in municipal level governance.
Tele-Panchayat is a design research project looking into low-cost solutions for improving citizen participation in municipal level governance.
In a vast and diverse country like India, people often feel disconnected from the act of governance. Even at the local level, initial research found that people feel that (1) there is no clear idea about where to go to express their opinion on issues; (2) People are unsure about whether their opinion will reach the correct officials; (3) Individuals wonder whether their own opinion counts; (4) Getting timely and appropriate reciprocation from the Government is lacking.
So, we started by asking the question, how can a community be more involved in local governance?
Prototype 1: Tele-Panchayat
A first attempt at answering this question was a project initiated by Manas Karambelkar as part of his final project at CIID. The first prototype, called “Tele-Panchayat“ is a platform via which municipal corporators or community activists can gather public opinion on issues related to local community planning.
The way it works is simple: retrofitted pay phones installed in public spaces (shops, streets, stations) are used as a voting mechanism for recording public consensus on particular local issues. For example, citizens may be asked the question: should water meters be installed in houses to keep a check on water wastage in the area? They can access the above and vote on it at a locally situated public phone. The information can be collected and passed on to the municipal corporators who can then decide whether to go ahead with the same, based on the votes received.
The system is developed on public payphones which are ubiquitous in India. This provides users with a familiar interaction and added simplicity for illiterate citizens via audio interfacing. The results are open to the people and can provide a reliable overview of public opinion on various local issues. The municipality then becomes answerable to its citizens and should provide valid reasons for not meeting their needs. The hope is that this could create transparency and dialogue between citizens and the municipality.
The project is currently in progress in India with research associates Manas Karambelkar and Zubin Pastakia who are carrying out in-context research, testing and prototyping to seek out various applications and opportunities for such referendum systems.
The project will be opening up the system described above to include questions such as:
Who decides what the appropriate issues are?
Who asks the questions?
What is the ideal form of the recording device (given the demographic diversity of the country)?
What is the frequency of the voting?
What would be a way in which the government can respond to a referendum?
What is the appropriate way to display results of the referendum (to people and to the government)?
How do we minimize the possibility of abuse / misuse of the system?
To follow the progress of this project please follow the Frugal Digital blog.
Thanks to Nishith Desai Associates, Mumbai for supporting the project in Mumbai, India.