newmediadev2009



What is e-governance?
E-governance is the application of ICTs to all aspects of government services in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness, enhance transparency and accountability, and promote public awareness and engagement in civic matters.
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Why is it important?
E-governance is an important tool for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it allows citizens living in remote, rural areas the ability to access government services without having to make long and arduous journey into an urban center to visit a physical government office. Doing so allows rural dwellers to avoid lost-wages as well as access services which previously may have been unavailable to rural residents. Secondly, e-governance is a tool for improving the transparency of government activities by ensuring that all information pertaining to government activities are made available and accessible to citizens via the internet. Giving rural residents access to this information improves their knowledge base and allows them to hold the government accountable for what it has promised. Lastly, e-governance gives previously disenfranchised citizens a voice in all aspects of civic matters by giving them a tool through which they can transmit their grievances and comments to the relevant authorities.

What e-governance programs and tools are out there?
The following are two case studies of current e-governance projects in India which could potentially be adapted for a CBIS toolbox. The description of these projects are broken up into three sections which roughly address three central questions: 1.) What is this and why is this important?, 2.) How is this being promoted/how will this work in a rural context? and 3.) How could this be adapted for the MVP via the CBIS?


1.) The CVC Website is the online portal of the Central Vigilance Commission, an independent body tasked with
investigating corruption and increasing transparency of services in India. The CVC website is the primary tool used to
share information related to corruption with citizens to promote an atmosphere of “zero tolerance” in regards to
corruption. Along with information regarding how to report corruption without fear of disclosure or reprisal, the website
also publishes the names of all public officials who have been convicted of corruption, as well as those who have
investigations pending. Initiatives such as these are important in areas where corruption is rampant as corruption
flourishes in environments were it is perceived to be low risk and high profit. Publishing the names of corrupt officials on
a public website is an attempt to shame these individuals and inculcate the notion of accountability. Increasing access
to information regarding rights provides transparency and lowers the risk that government officials can mislead citizens
in an attempt to defraud them and/or take bribes.

2.) Despite the low penetration of computers throughout rural India, the CVC website has had a much bigger impact
than expected due to India’s free and vibrant press. The press uses the website as an access point to information
regarding corruption and transmits the information to the populace via print and broadcast media. There are issues
surrounding the ability of the press to adequately analyze and draw conclusions on the material published on the CVC
website. An effort must be made to educate the press about the information so as to avoid the dissemination of
misinformation.

3.) Implementing something similar to India's CVC website in the context of the Millennium Villages would require the presence of an independent commission tasked with investing corruption. The situation of each individual village would first have to be assessed with the following questions in mind: Is corruption an issue in this location? If established, could it be a component of a village kiosk (centralized place to access the website and report concerns)? What could be the role of the press in disseminating information regarding corruption in areas where Internet kiosks are not established? Is the press free to do so? What about literacy issues?


gyandoot_kiosk
A typical Gyandoot internet kiosk

1.) The Gyandoot Project has implemented a network of community-owned rural internet kiosks through a district in central India in which 60% of the population lives below the poverty line. The project’s goal is to establish “community-owned, technologically innovative and sustainable information kiosks in a poverty-stricken, tribal dominated rural area…” These kiosks were established to meet the information needs of the villagers. In this particular setting, villagers expressed concern regarding the absence of up to date information about crop prices at near-by auction centers leaving them unable to get the best price for their produce. Additionally, they stated difficulty in getting copies of land records, information crucial to receiving loans for agricultural inputs. Obtaining official records often involved extensive travel of up to 100 miles, which resulted in lost wages/revenues.

This project is an important component of empowering rural villages through access to crucial information. Giving them a portal through which they can access the information they deem important allows them to access services and opportunities, which will better their living conditions. Having the kiosks be community-run centers increases empowerment by giving villages control over the direction the project takes. Local rural youth are trained in how to use the kiosks and then serve as entrepreneurs, running the kiosks for a small profit. Community ownership is essential to the success and adoption of the projects as it roots the technology in local needs.

One example of the benefit of these kiosks to rural communities:
“A complaint costing Rs. 10 brought drinking water to a tribal hamlet of 39 households: The villagers' previous complaint to
local authorities had not yielded results for six months. To the surprise of the villagers, their complaint filed through the
kiosk brought a hand pump mechanic to the hamlet within two days, and he repaired the hand pump within three hours.”

2.) The Gyandoot Project is being promoted in rural areas through a series of incentive measures and public awareness
campaigns being launched in the district. From the funds available, two small scholarships have been offered (Rs.
1000/month for five years) to students of the district who motivate ten or more villagers to use the kiosks. Additionally, cash
incentives are given twice a year to the best performing kiosk in the region to promote best management strategies. In an
effort to increase computer literacy, students of local schools are taken on study tours to the kiosks and computer clubs
are being established in some schools in order to train students in computer skills.

3.) The first step to implementing a similar program of community-owned internet kiosks in the Millennium Villages would be
an assessment of the community's information needs. This is essential for strengthening community participation and
ownership. There is a need to assess the financial viability of this project in the context of the MVP. What rates would the
kiosks charge for access to information? Should there be access-fees? If there aren’t access fees are there other ways in
order to make it an entrepreneurial venture? How would the kiosks be maintained without user-fees? Who would conduct
the training of kiosk operators?

What would an e-governance in the Millennium Villages look like?
A CBIS with appropriate e-government applications will allow a channel for community members to express their needs and concerns to the appropriate local and national government agencies, as well as to charities and NGOs working on development initiatives in the area.

Traditionally, e-governance applications take the form of internet kiosks through which community members can access relevant government websites, request copies of land records, register for services, and file complaints. However, in order to promote a channel through which villagers can not only access services but also hold government and development agencies accountable to the community, e-governance must not be limited only to internet-based applications. It is important that the Millennium Villages utilize other applications, such as community message boards, SMS, and community radio. Taking into account the fact that many of the Millennium Villages are characterized by poor infrastructure, applications such as community message boards are particularly applicable as they do not rely on electricity or internet connectivity. Additionally, the use of image based messages on these boards should be promoted so as to target low-literacy populations. Community message boards can be used in conjunction with more sophisticated technologies such as SMS for the purposes of promoting health and education messages as well as for use as an e-governance tool. As an e-governance tool these applications can be leveraged for several purpose, including:

  • reporting and broadcasting observed instances of corruption thus increasing the visibility and consequence of corruption,
  • disseminating information about local development projects and the amount of external aid that has been promised and disbursed, as well as intended uses
  • allowing community members to voice their inputs and feedback to community leaders and local organizations as well as development practitioners
  • developing participatory monitoring and evaluation systems

Behavior Change Comm. | Edutainment | E-governance | Health Info. Management | Mapping | Participatory Appraisal & Planning | Radio
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