Nov 20, 2011

Crowdsourcing fosters government accountability

Almost everyone in this village in central India has a complaint. Electricity comes only three hours a day. The road has potholes. Widows’ pensions arrive late. The school lunch program often runs low on food. 
Villagers say they send letters, call a government complaint line and wait outside officials’ offices for help, but never get a response. “All our complaints go into a blind well of the government,” said Mukesh Chandravanshi, 30, a farmer. 
Now a simple cellphone text-messaging program is providing a more direct line of communication between villagers and the government. Developed by activists, local officials and an information technology company, the system ensures that complaints are immediately acknowledged and that residents regularly receive updates on how and when their problems will be resolved.
This month, the program — which was supported by the U.N. Millennium Development Goals campaign — has received 530 complaints through text messages, such as “my water handpump is not working,” “health worker is absent” and “the village bridge has collapsed in the rain.” 
In New Delhi, a new Web site urges women to report harassment and help map neighborhoods they consider unsafe. A mobile app called Fight Back, which will be launched in November for $2 a month, is tied to the site and enables a woman to send alerts to her friends from her smartphone if she is harassed. The alerts also go to her Facebook page and identify her location on a map. 

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