NGO Janaagraha Enlists Technology to Transform The Quality of Urban Life
Janaagraha, a Bengaluru-based non-government organisation, uses the latest technology tools innovatively, to change the quality of life in Indian cities.
Janaagraha, an NGO founded in 2001, has been striving to transform the quality of life in urban India by working with citizens and the government. It deals with encouraging the government to develop urban infrastructure and amenities like roads, drains, transport, water supplies, etc. The NGO also encourages citizens to participate in civic action. Its recent social campaign has been the Jaagte Raho initiative, which aims to encourage people to vote.
The Janaagraha team realised that to execute these initiatives and create an impact in society, its way of functioning needed to be backed by a high degree of professionalism. And, technology has helped the organisation achieve this goal.
Leveraging the power of technology
Janaagraha has been using the power of technology to improve the urban local governance landscape. It uses technology to gather facts and present studies based on the information. Technology has aided Janaagraha in areas like handling large databases, multi-format content management, data storage and retrieval, etc. The organisation has a technology team that designs solutions for its specific needs in communication, volunteer management, programme management and the creation of groups. As and when required, the organisation sources external services.
Technology shows the way
Janaagraha has a geographic information system (GIS) team that extensively uses the technology to capture, store, analyse, manage and present data with reference to its geographic location. It has proved to be an effective information delivery and analysis tool. To make use of this technology, Janaagraha purchased mapping software called ‘ArcGIS Desktop’ from ESRI in 2006, which provides access to the world map. However, since the software did not provide intricate details about roads, Janaagraha purchased another software from Reliance Road Network in 2007, which uses ArcGIS as a base and generates detailed road maps. “It provides a layer of roads on the map that our volunteers use to record data that they gather on-field. Once the data is fed, analysis can be done on many different levels. This would have otherwise taken considerable time, manpower and money,” says Tripti Agarwal, GIS manager, Janaagraha.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Sharing experiences from Janaagraha’s different projects, Agarwal illustrates how the GIS technology is helping the organisation in data analysis. “One of Janaagraha’s campaigns involves the Ward Infrastructure Index (WII), which is aimed at analysing the quality of life in various wards. We plan to provide urban planners, corporators and the government with master plans for cities, to give them an idea about the areas in the city that require development,” Agarwal reports. The NGO evaluates and rates a ward on the GIS map, based on the quality of services like the water supply, electricity, public health, public safety, civic amenities, transport and the environment in that area. This gives residents and municipalities an easy indicator on how their respective wards measure up against standard benchmarks set by the government. The maps not only provide valuable information to urban planners and decision makers to streamline the delivery of goods and services to different wards, but also facilitates the local administration and elected representatives becoming directly accountable to urban citizens.
Distributed security for cities
Another project that Janaagraha has launched recently in collaboration with the city police and the Directorate of Home Guards and Civil Defence is the Area Suraksha Mitra (ASM). The campaign aims at ensuring safety in the city and all its wards by ensuring the distribution of security personnel and police officials is even throughout the city. Agarwal further adds, “Data generated via the GIS comes handy in making sure that police officials and home guards are located centrally and evenly in the city so that they can reach any area that requires their presence, quickly. At present, the police force is haphazardly distributed
around cities. The GIS application can be used to evenly mark points that require security the most and more personnel can be sent there. We have also proposed that these officials carry mobile phones equipped with the GPS (global positioning system), so that it becomes easy to locate the officers during an emergency. Then, responding to a crisis in cities at a short notice, becomes possible.”
A stint with open source and the social media
The technology team at Janaagraha firmly believes in free and open source solutions, which users can install on their computer systems without having to pay any licence fee. Janaagraha’s technology team does most of its Web development on Drupal, an open source content management system. “Choosing Drupal has saved us from the huge expense of paying licence and renewal fees, every year,” explains Indira Vishwanathan, coordinator, Technology, at Janaagraha. Since Janaagraha’s campaigns require participation from the urban youth, it leverages the social media to reach out to this audience. One of Janaagraha’s websites, iJanaagraha.com, is integrated with social network applications like Facebook, Twitter, Orkut and many more. The website allows visitors to the site to share their opinions and suggestions regarding the social issues that Janaagraha is addressing on blogs, and to share links to these blogs on their social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter. According to Agarwal, “Social networking and blogging are an integral part of our campaigns. For our ‘I Paid A Bribe’ campaign, we are trying to get the youth to speak out about their experiences with respect to this social evil— such as any time when they had to bribe an official or when they raised their voices against corruption and bribery. We have created a website where people can write about their experience and read about how they can avoid paying bribes. We also post blogs, and when we find other blogs about bribes, we leave comments to encourage and engage the community in spreading this awareness. Janaagraha also follows and supports other agencies and individuals involved in anti-corruption activities online. This has created a lot of momentum, online, as this subject is relevant to everyone. In this initiative, technology has aided us in reaching the right people.”
What lies ahead
Janaagraha intends to seek newer ways of using technology in its future campaigns. It plans to develop maps for its ‘I Paid A Bribe’ campaign to point out which states and areas are most corrupt in accepting bribes. “We have seen how GIS, the social media and the Internet have given our campaigns a boost. Janaagraha will continue to find fun and exciting ways of infusing technology into furthering the success of its development initiatives,” Agarwal concludes.
Written by Jalaja Ramanunni Monday, 4 July 2011 05:12