Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Participation, Transparency and Governance!

Participation, Transparency and Governance
Three vital forces that shape urban spaces.

How do we evolve public participation platforms for effective plan preparation (for urban design) that are ingrained to established democratic patterns of governance while ensuring transparency?

See, that's how they are connected! That way, I have already established my case for the need for such a platform. When the said platform for public participation in embedded in the internet and feeds into the governance system, we have a win-win situation. Lets face the fact that our modes-operand i for electing our “peoples' representative” to the Urban Local Body (ULB) is mostly crowded with political issues and political players. There is no escaping that and there is no need to escape that either!

What we probably miss out is a proper public debate on physical development issues of the local region. The powers to do something about this issue of City Planning is totally vested with these city councilors, though that was hardly discussed prior to the election or even that the election was never fought on those issues. It still doesn't take away our privilege to being privy in making qualitative contribution to the process that determines the fate of our neighborhood or our city. But, how do I comment on such issues? To whom? Where? Would anyone listen? We all agree that actually someone should listen.

So, we need a platform for us to comment and make suggestions. It may not be possible for all of us to gather at one place and for someone to actually make a presentation of these issues and then, we would all make our opinions and someone would record all this and something would happen. Aw, come on! It wouldn't work like that.

It would be better if I could study the matter in great leisure and create and articulate my comments in my own pace and words. I could post them where others could see them and I could see comments made by others. Yes, like the social networking sites, on the internet. That's where it should be.

The comments need to be recorded and numbered. They needed to be socially audited and referred to by the agency that prepares the plans. The comments can be generated based on feedback templates custom designed for the specific project put forth.
Take for example the Kochi Metro Rail project: The impression one gets through the media is that “everyone wants it”. Is it true? Did the city council debate it? What is the qualified summary of that debate? Has it been made a public document? Let's not deviate from the topic.

We need a website that is officially put up by the ULB on issues of Development Plan preparation. The site should have a feedback section that records all comments made by the “known or registered users” who are stakeholders in the city. The comments and feedback can be either text or entries on pre-designed (and presented) response forms or through interactive maps. These tools have varying impacts during different stages of project evolution.

Interactive maps could be the most powerful tool of them all. That's because interactive maps is not a one time affair. It would remain a constant live document on which all of the users could be adding information. This needs to be done on a GIS platform where users can locate their grievances or highlight the issues that concern them. The biggest asset here would be the idea of getting issues “located” on a map. This could revolutionize participatory planning in very fundamental ways. The elected representatives (councilors) can be trained to make all the feedback that they get from the grassroots onto this GIS platform.

Act two:
The other source: This is a new character in the urban play. Live feeds from sensors put in public realm. Sensors can bring in enormous data that get constantly updated in real time. For example, sensors can count the number of people waiting at a junction to cross the road. It gives us peak our volumes and helps in prioritizing projects and identifying hotspots for intervention. This information can be an additional layer on the GIS platform. Traffic data, waste water flow data, lack of public lighting, parking data etc can be brought in.
Some of the information collected could be converted into revenue like identifying parking slots through GPRS and SMS integration.
The opportunity is limitless. The idea is powerful and some action needs to be taken on this. It would need the right basic skeleton first. That's where we need to start now.


  1. Nice thoughts...Creation of GIS assisted interactive maps is a wonderful idea. This will act as a conduit for transferring the peoples concerns to the authorities...And this will help both authorities and people to have a birds eye view of the situation and will help in the generation of more number of new and creative ideas...Can it be initiated by an NGO/some civil society organization ?

    1. Take time to look at this. A map put up at a public place, people mark suggestions on a paper and pin it on a part of the map. Physical map!!

      I think the idea needs to go down into peoples minds first. May be physical maps first. But, GIS maps have far better opppotunities. Yes, an NGO can take it up, can't think of which one off-hand!