Feedback- Challenges at the Grassroots

 

Samaadhaan citizen feedback initiative was launched to raise citizen’s voices so that their feedback is heard by the Government and action is taken to address their  concerns. After 4 years of operation in multiple districts, the process has led to interesting and diverse learning from these exercises.

A Tool for the District Collector

In the Indian governance system, a District Collector (DC) is the final authority at the district level and is responsible for planning and execution for government sponsored programs. The government on its part carries out regular studies to gauge the effectiveness of programs and its implementation. However, due to the lack of empirical data based on citizen’s feedback, many crucial bottlenecks are not effectively captured. One of the big reason for a gap between government and citizen feedback was the lack of a collaborative tool which could bridge this divide. Hence, most of the Samadhaan deployments are at the district level. The deployment at the district level has enabled citizens at the block and village level to voice their concerns and play their part in accountable governance.

At the higher level, citizen grievance redressal mechanisms are available at the state level. The citizens can register their complaint through a call center. However, the distance between the state capital and the place of origin of complaint plays a major hindrance in effective resolution of complaints. This is supported by studies done in the state of Madhya Pradesh as part of this program.

A tool which can provide transparent feedback  at the district level under  District Collector’s control can become a great asset for the purpose of district planning mainly because of three reasons:   

  1. The tool helps in providing an independent statistical validation for the impact of various government schemes.

  2. It can bring in data continuity in case of an official’s transfer.

  3. A tool for managing feedback at the district level can bring  genuine usage as compared to a feedback system placed at the state level which  mostly deals with escalations.

A District Collector’s own  openness in acknowledging  the value of the tool has been critical to the success of Samaadhaan. In its four years of deployment across three districts in India, the process has seen six different District Collectors. There was a direct correlation between how the platform was used and the interest and trust the District Collectors showed in the value of the  tool, associated processes and the involved stakeholders.

Difficulty of Collecting Citizen Feedback on Government Services

Feedback is an activity that demands effort. It is generally observed that  an effort is put only when the issue gets personal or life-threatening. In one of the districts, Samaadhaan was being used as a data collation tool for Jan Sunwai (Monday Grievances). In Jan Sunwai, citizens are physically present at the  District Headquarters to raise issues. Here, the issues raised are mostly related to police complaints, revenue and land whereas the percentage of issues related to various welfare schemes was quite low. There was no other reason for  someone to lose a day’s wage, travel 70 kms in a rickety bus and come to the district office to give a feedback. On the other hand, many  of the Government’s priority-spending on welfare schemes are intended to improve the villager’s life. The problems related to such welfare schemes are hence not captured. For instance, the government wants to build toilets in every house. However, rural India is  not even used to having toilets. It is  difficult  to get feedback on a missing service, which in first place, is not even felt important. But if the process for feedback is made easier, the chances of it getting  reported are much higher. SMS based feedback to the Collectorate on similar issues has been quite eye opening. A large percentage of issues (more than 85%) reported through this channel are related to entitlement realization.

SMS as an Effective Tool for Gathering Feedback

Samaadhaan empowers citizens at the grass root level to  lodge complaints to the Collectorate through  SMS to the district mobile helpline. This helpline is managed by partner NGOs, who first curate and validate the problem and create an actionable item. . The complaint is then logged in the to the tracking system. All such complaints are then reviewed on weekly basis by the District Collector. Progress on the complaint is intimated back to the Citizen through SMS.

Ease of providing  feedback and receiving the current status  through SMS builds  trust with the local government. The trust hence built between citizens and government is one of the key parameters in effective governance.


About Samaadhaan: Samaadhaan started it’s journey as a citizen feedback initiative led by United Nations Millenium campaign with support of UNDP. Civil society partners namely Samarthan Centre for Development Support, Sehore and Bhopal and South Orissa Voluntary Organization (SOVA), Koraput and Seba Jagat, Kalahandi with program support from Voluntary Service Organization (VSO) India fronted the program in collaboration with respective District administrations. The program was technically supported by Tangere Infotech. Tangere is now leading the Samaadhaan initiative through partnerships with various interested bodies.