Home / Opinion / Governance through citizen participation @ social media

In India there are about 187 municipal corporations. Municipal corporations serve cities with a population of a million or more each. Municipal corporations are a sign of development, urbanization, prosperity and mushrooming slums, filth and unplanned progress. One thing, however, is clear in a city: the penetration of mobile phones is significantly high. In fact, in some of the municipalities, it could be as high as 400%.

Another noticeable engagement in urban areas is the use of social media, especially via mobile devices. In the last couple of years, various social media initiatives, like using Facebook, have come up where government agencies have shown proactive interest to engage with citizens. These include Gurgaon Police, Delhi Police and Mumbai Police. In addition, there are mobile apps for Metro rail timings, bus timings and their position, public grievances and so on.

However, there is one such example that I wanted to share, which could be seen as standardized institutionalization of the usage of Facebook by government agencies in a municipal area.

This is Kanpur city, district Kanpur Nagar; population 3 million. District collector, Roshan Jacob, a young Indian Administrative Service officer, has almost changed the meaning of citizen services and public grievance redress. Jacob says that at the administrative level, officers can show more than 30-40% work performance improvement without doing anything just by buying equipment and perhaps marking attendance. Jacob says and believes deeply that “we are supposed to serve the people and we have no choice as they pay to the government to be served". The best tool that Jacob has found in her city is social media, “considering that each and every one has a mobile, mostly smartphone, they can easily send us a status report of everything they see and face on a daily basis."

MyCityKanpur is a Facebook-based complaint redress system, where citizens of Kanpur may post complaints regarding various municipal issues to bring them to the district administration’s attention. It also enables authorities to review progress of municipal projects. In order to generate targeted feedback by citizens, a dedicated Facebook page has been created by the district administration on the JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission), tracking more than 300 projects under the scheme. The status of work in these projects is updated periodically and photographs are uploaded.

The district administration at present has operationalized seven sectors: sanitation and garbage disposal; electricity supply; water supply and sewerage; traffic; road construction and repair; street lighting; and JNNURM projects.

Available at https://facebook.com/MyCityKanpur.UP, the official complaint system for citizens of Kanpur enables people to post a complaint or an observation regarding any complaint by means of a photograph or a comment on a dedicated Facebook page. “The pictures and text posted on the Facebook page becomes the basis of departmental action, review and monitoring by the district administration. The project uses Facebook as its platform, since in an urban setting, the number of registered Facebook users is large and growing; there is no further need for registration/authentication of complainants; by posting pictures and simple running text, the users do not have to fill cumbersome complaint form," says Jacob.

The best part about the Kanpur City administration is that it has created an integral system across all sectors of the municipality to adopt the Facebook page as the platform for interacting with citizens. It is their official responsibility to redress all grievances posted on the page and to post the ‘action taken’ update to the people’s satisfaction.

In the last one month, about 1,000 complaints were registered, about 400 citizens have had live chats with departments and about 300 complaints have been resolved. MyCityKanpur has about 6,000 members on its Facebook page.

To make the system work better, the district administration has organized several training and change management programmes for officers in each department responsible for taking action.

It is time now for all 187 municipalities in India to replicate this model and become accountable to their citizens.

Osama Manzar is founder & director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and Chair of Manthan Award. He is also a member of working group for IT for Masses at Ministry of Communication & IT. Tweet him @osamamanzar

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