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Bengaluru: Living in Bengaluru, the fastest-growing urban area in India, has perils of its own. The city, which sees itself as the Silicon Valley of India, grew at a rate of 44.6% in the past decade and is estimated to be home to more than 20 million people by 2040, way above that of cities like Paris or countries like Switzerland.

A state government-appointed three-member panel recently noted that the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), a single central corporation that oversees the city’s governance, is dysfunctional and neglects over half the population on the outskirts of the city. It also noted that whether it is tackling transportation or waste or power challenges, the city’s infrastructure has failed to keep pace with this amount of massive and exponential growth.

Back in 2012, Janagraha, a non-profit advocacy organization, thought about how to bring an improvement in the quality of the city’s existing services and infrastructure. Is it possible for citizens to work closely with the authorities? Can citizens leverage technology to solve some of the city’s pressing issues?

The result was a portal and an app called I Change My City (ichangemycity.com), a hyperlocal social network that allows users to upload complaints, along with pictures, about civic issues. The complaints will be then forwarded to the city’s administration.

The platform not only allows users to air their grievances but also to build communities based on common civic issues. Building such communities leads to impact and active citizenship, said Sylvia Veeraraghavan, coordinator of the platform.

If there’s a pothole outside one’s house, or a garbage dump, or a broken streetlight, one can log on to the website and register a complaint, Veeraraghavan explained.

I Change My City, or ICMyC, has seven parastatal agencies that oversee a majority of the city’s infrastructure and services, such as BBMP, Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), on its board. They also get support from 10 state legislators. Through the back-end support of these institutions and politicians, the complaints will find their way to the respective officer or engineer, who is supposed to resolve the issue.

From more than 100,000 users, the NGO has received more than 30,000 complaints so far, and the resolution rate is 50%, said Veeraraghavan.

The group now plans to expand to 25 Indian cities within the next three years, starting with New Delhi.

“But with this kind of a product, you need to have a very solid integration with civic agencies. That’s why we are taking it very slow," said Rajit Shaji, product manager of ICMyC.

Over the years, ICMyC also innovated itself with the use of advanced technology. The platform runs on a server and is built on software distribution model SaaS (software as a service), which allows users to access the services any time using the Internet and saves them from installing or maintaining software to use it.

A 40-member product team works at any given time on five verticals of the application—coding, product, content, outreach and marketing. It wasn’t launched like this, said Shaji.

“In the initial stage, we were focussed on building a hyper-local social network. But over the years, we found that the biggest factor that brings people together are complaints," he said. As the product started focussing on complaints and building a community around it, the user base increased, he said.

“We changed from a blogging platform to a SaaS platform after a while. Also, some of the bigger players helped us. For instance, we have been to Flipkart to learn how to scale up databases," he said.

But technology, said Shaji, was not the biggest hurdle in implementing the project. Getting to connect with the government was the hardest thing. Also, some complaints do not have a quick-fix. After all, how far can an app decongest traffic jams if there is little thought going into long-term planning and adequate budgeting?

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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