My Latest Project

Corey writes

I've just passed a milestone in the "main" project I've been working on during the second year of my placement. But before I get into the details, let me give you some background. The project is called SAMADHAN: Citizen’s Action for Governance and the elevator pitch for the project is:

Citizens can file complaints with their local government by calling a toll-free number, by sending an SMS, by visiting the government office in person or through one of our “lead volunteers”. Once the complaint is registered, the government will act to resolve the complaint quickly. The interesting part is that the data about the numbers and types of complaints and the actions taken by the government are open to the public. This means that the district magistrate, the press or local NGOs can help motivate departments that aren’t solving problems. It also means that departments that are solving problems get some recognition.

For example, if I lived in Koraput district and my well is broken, I can call up a toll free number and file a complaint. The complaint will be viewed by the government and they will fix my well. I'll get status messages on my mobile phone at every step of the way too. Finally, at the end of the month, SOVA can review the status of all the complaints in the district.

This project is being funded by the United Nations Milennium Campaign and is being implemented two NGOs: SOVA and Samarthan. The website was programmed by Tangere InfoTech. It's been a good learning experience working as part of a loose team like this. The role I've been filling at SOVA has really been as project manager / technical guy. Like I was doing in the USA before coming here, I've been translating between the technical and non-technical people. I've been developing technical documentation and also just pushing the project along in Koraput.

About a month ago, we decided the project was ready for a "formal launch" event in the state capital. The purpose of doing a launch event there and not in Koraput was mainly publicity. If we launch the system in Koraput it will get covered by the Koraput papers. If we launch the system in Bhubaneswar and the Chief Minister comes, it will be in all the papers in the state. For our American readers, the Chief Minister is like the state Governor. He runs the state.

So we've spent the last month in a slowly building frenzy trying to squash bugs and clean up the website, developing documentation, and preparing to host a major event in a city that is 500 km away. However, this event really helped to solidify the team.

The launch was scheduled for 26 August and so we all arrived at the hotel/conference hall on the 25th. The final preparations were a little chaotic, especially since we decided to add a little drama to the launch by having an actual person with an actual problem call in from Koraput to make the inaugural complaint. It was very difficult figuring out how to patch the telephone system into the PA system.

In the end, the launch went off without a hitch. There was a good turnout of politicians, UN people, and the press. Here are some photos of the event (see if you can guess who the Chief Minister is).

You can see the website for the project in my district at There are many other projects in India that use technology to connect people with their government, with varying degrees of success. If our project does succeed, I think it will be because of two things:

  1. We have the trust and interest of the local government.
  2. We have the trust and awareness of the local citizens.

There is no amount of slickness you can put in a website that will get these two things. It’s going to take a lot of hard work in the field and the political capital of an organisation like SOVA. Achieving one of these things without the other still means failure. It won’t be easy, but if we succeed, we will have created a whole lot of active citizens and hopefully in the process helped Koraput district.

Update 15 September 2011

Thanks to everyone who commented on this blog entry. I don't think I did a good job of communicating the reality of the project in the original post, so I want to make it clear that this project has not actually helped a single person to date. Myself and the other folks working on the project have put in a lot of work based on the assumption that this project will help people. But there are still a lot of big "ifs", and this project could easily end up in the pile with the majority of other projects like this that fail. I know this sounds negative but I feel like I've given the impression that this project is a success prematurely.