If our administrators want to solve problems quickly, they should encourage citizens to send in real-time feedback using mobile phones and the Internet
If there is one thing that governments around the world want to be, it is 'smart'. There are several ways in which people in authority can do things smartly, but sadly, in the Indian context, they rarely make those intelligent choices. We thus have a situation in which our civic taxes paid online don't instantly reflect in a computer network across departments or even within the same organisation. Lower rungs of the bureaucracy could not care whether the systems worked efficiently or not. The harassed resident must often travel to the office of a municipal agency to update a paper record, complete with a Victorian stamp.
This is the state of many cities today, in spite of a decade of e-governance initiatives, and the existence of the National E-governance Plan (NeGP) which even covers panchayats. Today, the Union Minister for Panchayati Raj, V. Kishore Chandra Deo told Parliament that "11 Core Common Software applications" are planned under NeGP. One of the problems in expanding e-government, the Minister conceded, is the absence of good power supply in many areas, especially panchayats. So official agencies are being asked to buy laptops with spare batteries and UPS systems for desktops that can run for several hours.
Be that as it may, is government even eager to listen to citizens? All of us are individually 'smart' in more ways than one, and collectively, our wisdom should help the people in-charge solve many problems really fast.
Whether it is repairing roads with dangerous pits and cuts, restoring unwalkable footpaths, fixing city buses without working doors that kill youth, or getting medicines to the remotest hospitals, the government can get the most detailed inputs from us without so much as looking at a piece of paper. After all, we use our mobile phones to exchange all manner of information, and this reporting instrument can be put to excellent use as a tool for smart governance.
That idea is articulated in this article on co.exist, and it explains that if administrators use our reporting abilities properly, each one of us is a 'sensor' capable of conveying rich data to them. There are free tools such as Ushahidi available to plot the data we give on a map, which should give a fantastic idea of the hotspots that require immediate attention. Imagine using such reporting in real time during a disease outbreak, and health authorities drawing up a priority list that would stop the spread of an epidemic. Think cholera and dengue.
So sending an SMS or Tweet to government with a defined hashtag is a smart move, especially in a land where almost everyone has a mobile phone. Would you be up to it?