Citizens’ say in e-governance

DIT initiative to engage people in programme implementation is praiseworthy

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | May 13, 2011



I felt proud when I attended a consultative meeting on the framework for citizen engagement on NeGP at the department of information technology (DIT) this week – not because I contributed to the meeting but because I chanced to meet a government officer who is committed to transparency and is laying a strong foundation in the system for it.
 
During the meeting discussions I learnt about a number of initiatives DIT has planned which have a great potential to bring about a real change in the lives of people. These initiatives range from mandatory e-delivery of services, mobile government framework, Gov 2.0, open data, evolving interoperability frameworks and promoting local languages online – apart from, of course, a framework for citizen engagement.
 
The one man standing firm to push these initiatives is Shankar Aggarwal, additional secretary and head of e-governance in the department. Though many participants had doubts about the implementation of such a framework, Aggarwal maintained that a beginning has to be made somewhere.
 
The proposed framework for citizen engagement (hyperlink here) can go a long way in strengthening democracy, especially the spirit of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments. If citizens can be engaged to improve the implementation of e-gov projects, then they can do so for other government schemes and programmes too.
 
Of course, e-governance offers a great potential for making policy and governance more participatory and there is a need to explore citizen engagement through e-governance. Many will argue that only tech-savvy citizens – a small fraction of the population – will engage themselves in fine-tuning e-gov projects. That need not be the case, when e-gov projects are reaching rural hinterlands too.
As the government is planning to make e–delivery of services mandatory through legislation, it makes sense to engage citizens in e-governance.

The idea of using information technology for citizen participation is not new. DIT itself started out with a discussion forum on its website a few years ago. Several departments and even the various parliamentary committees take feedback from citizens through e-mails after posting consultation documents online.
 
To make this exercise more effective, all government data should be available as ‘open data’ freely accessible to everyone, without restrictions from copyright, patents etc. The government can host such data on a centralised website like the data.gov initiative in the US.
 
Next, the government may create a contact centre wherein a citizen can dial a number and express his or her opinion on various issues. Since the mobiles have already made inroads amongst majority of the population, a contact centre may be of great help. The freely accessible social media tools like Facebook and Twitter may as well be used to consult with citizens across the country, along with the websites of the government agencies.
 
The government may create a central platform wherein the various opinions of people through e-mails, blogs, phone-calls, and letters may be posted and are made available as open data to citizens. There are technologies where in the digital data can be automatically be configured to appear on a central website through different sources. Other tools such as live chats with the elected representatives may as well be created on such a platform. The government may as well capture people’s opinions on certain issues through e-voting.
 
The result framework documents (RFDs) as prepared by various departments should be made available on this website and they should be open for evaluation/ comments by citizens. The citizen feedback may also be taken on demand for grants (budget) of various departments.
 
In nutshell, the key to such an engagement will be free government information which is easily accessible through multiple communication channels and a direct dialogue that is facilitated between government and citizen.
 

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