Looking global: transparency and accountability initiatives in India

At Indigo, we’re keen to make sure we keep on top of trends and innovations in our priority areas. However, these may come from outwith our priority region of Africa. So we’re taking a step back and looking worldwide at the moment. We’ve started in India, looking at transparency and accountability initiatives.

India has a leader in online engagement with government. This has occurred for two reasons: ICT was placed at the heart of India’s early development strategy and transparency became a hot political issue early on. India’s government had developed an e-government strategy as early as 2002. While implementation has not been perfect, the Right to Information movement in the early and mid-2000s ensured that political will was behind making e-government happen. The policy environment is conducive to making things happen.

RTI movement protest in India

Source: jkrtimovement.com; a RTI protest in India

Because of this political backdrop, transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs) in India are unusual when we compare them with Africa. First, they are primarily state-led rather than citizen-led. Second, they are primarily local. Unlike in Africa and in Latin America (more to come on this region), the focus of most TAIs is local service delivery and oversight rather than national government. For example, VOICE: Versatile Online Information for Citizen Empowerment is a state-run interactive TV project in Andra Pradesh which offers an extensive set of public information and services using cable television alongside a telephone service. Gyandoot offers a similar set of services through chains of computer kiosks in Madhya Pradesh.

A local government kiosk in Utter Pradesh

However, it has not all been plain sailing. Because of multiple layers of government and multiple languages, aggregation of information has proved difficult. Citizen-led projects which seek to collect data and produce a national picture struggle because of non-uniform data collection across states. With a population and land mass far exceeding that of any African country, India’s TAIs face challenges unique to its environment. 

Next, we’ll be looking at Latin America, a region with a long history of citizen-led TAIs.