Introducing I Change My City for Android 4.0 and above

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For those of you in Bangalore who have been noticing the gaping potholes, vanishing footpaths, mounds of garbage we have some great news. We’ve been hard at work building our I Change My City apps for mobile. 

We’re constantly thinking about new ways to help you fix your neighbourhood by making it a collaborative process between you and the government agencies responsible for various services.

Our focus at I Change My City (ICMyC) is to make it easy for you to report an issue in your neighbourhood. We at ICMyC then take this complaint, forward it to civic agencies that are responsible (BBMP for potholes, BWSSB for water and sewage, etc) and then work with you and the civic agency to get it resolved.

  • Post a Complaint on the go: You can post a complaint about that pothole just outside your house. All you have to do is snap a picture, describe the problem- tell us if it’s a pothole or a broken footpath and ta-da! you’re done!
  • Add your Voice to get a issue that affects you: There are other issues in your neighbourhood that could do with fixing and a neighbour has gotten to it before you.

    Check out the complaints near you and show your solidarity with the neighbour, vote up the complaint. Click on the button that says “I’m affected” and vote it up. This helps the civic agency prioritise the problems in your neighbourhood. More active neighbours, more issues being posted, the sooner your neighbourhood will be a better place to live in.

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How it Works

1. Take a picture of the garbage dump in front of your house, the broken streetlight that is making a street unsafe, the gaping pothole that is causing the traffic jam on your way to work.

2. Post a Complaint using the app and get it sent to the correct Civic Agency (BBMP, BWSSB, BESCOM, etc) within minutes.

3. Easily set the location of the problem on the map, even if you don’t know the exact address. To make it easier, the app picks up your current location.

4. We’ll email you an update when we receive a response from the civic agency, follow up with the Engineer assigned to your complaint and be a Superheroine or Superhero in your neighbourhood!

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You can download the Android App here

Janaagraha - Finalist in the Google Impact Challenge

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I Change My City is a platform to enable you to get know to your city better, give you more and more reasons to love your city and when you find pockmarks on your beautiful city, enable and empower you to fix it. Your one vote has the power to change cities, transform and improve the quality of life of millions of Indians. Currently available only in Bangalore, I Change My City is itching to spread its wings and touch more cities across India. 

Janaagraha is a finalist in the Google Impact Challenge for India for nonprofits that use technology to tackle the world’s toughest problems. If we win this, it will help us improve and impact Urban India in a way we’ve never done before.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the elected representatives in cities and the constituencies they are supposed to represent. There is a lack of accountability of the government to the citizens and an alienation of citizens from the political process. This is a problem which has been deeply rooted in the India psyche and therefore cannot be rectified by traditional mediums. The Global Impact Award will help us reach out to millions of Indians via our revolutionary digital tools, allowing citizens and governments to realise their democratic potential through technology.

We aim to bridge the gap between citizens and the government through our initiative, I Change My City – a hyper local social networking platform for civic change – and spur cooperative and collaborative change in urban India.

In the last year, in the City of Bangalore alone, citizens have posted 5600 complaints, 4 different civic agencies have resolved over 50% of the complaints. With the Global Impact Award, in 3 years, we will be able to scale up to connect 15,00,000 citizens to governments across three metropolitan cities in India.

Please click here to vote for us. Together we can change our cities for the better. Do share our story with friends, family and anyone who believes that it’s time to change our cities and improve our quality of life.

Who is Dee Hock?

When he talks, Dee Hock is charismatic and compelling. But people listen to him for one reason: credibility. Unlike most visionaries – or management consultants – Hock has put his ideas into practice. More than 25 years ago he oversaw the creation of a business that was organized according to the same principles of distributed power, diversity, and ingenuity that he advocates today. And that business has prospered – to put it mildly.

Since 1970 it has grown by something like 10,000%. It continues to expand at roughly 20% per year. It now operates in some 200 countries worldwide. It serves roughly half a billion clients.

And this year, its annual sales volume is expected to pass $1 trillion.

This is one of Dee Hock’s favorite tricks to play on an audience. “How many of you recognize this?” he asks, holding out his own Visa card.

Every hand in the room goes up.

“Now,” Hock says, “how many of you can tell me who owns it, where it’s headquartered, how it’s governed, or where to buy shares?”

Confused silence. No one has the slightest idea, because no one has ever thought about it.

And that, says Hock, is exactly how it ought to be. “The better an organization is, the less obvious it is,” he says. “In Visa, we tried to create an invisible organization and keep it that way. It’s the results, not the structure or management that should be apparent.” Today the Visa organization that Hock founded is not only performing brilliantly, it is also almost mythic, one of only two examples that experts regularly cite to illustrate how the dynamic principles of chaos theory can be applied to business.

It all started back in the late 1960s, when the credit card industry was on the brink of disaster. The forerunner of the Visa system – the very first credit card – was BankAmericard, which had originated a decade earlier as a statewide service of the San Francisco-based Bank of America. The card got off to a rocky start, then became reasonably profitable – until 1966, when five other California banks jointly issued a competing product they called MasterCharge.

Bank of America promptly responded, franchising BankAmericard nationwide. (In those days, banks were forbidden to have their own out-of-state branches.) Other large banks quickly responded with their own proprietary cards and franchise systems. A credit card orgy ensued: banks mass-mailed preapproved cards to any list they could find. Children were getting cards. Pets were getting cards. Convicted felons were getting cards. Fraud was rampant, and the banks were hemorrhaging red ink.

By 1968, the industry had become so self-destructive that Bank of America called its licensees to a meeting in Columbus, Ohio to find a solution. The meeting promptly dissolved into angry finger-pointing.

Enter Dee Hock, then a 38-year-old vice president at a licensee bank in Seattle. When the meeting was at its most acrimonious, he got up and suggested that the group find a method to study the issues more systematically. The thankful participants immediately formed a committee, named Hock chairman, and went home.

It was the chance Hock had been waiting for. Even then, he was a man who thought Big Thoughts. Born in 1929, the youngest child of a utility lineman in the mountain town of North Ogden, Utah, he was a loner, an iconoclast, a self-educated mountain boy with a deeply ingrained respect for the individual and a hard-won sense of self-worth. And he stubbornly refused to accept orthodox ideas: before he’d started with the Seattle bank he’d already walked away from fast-track jobs at three separate financial companies, each time raging that the hierarchical, rule-following, control-everything organizations were stifling creativity and initiative at the grass roots – and in the process, making the company too rigid to respond to new challenges and opportunities.

He’d been a passionate reader since before he could remember, even though his formal schooling ended after two years at a community college. He read history, economics, politics, science, philosophy, poetry – anything and everything, without paying the slightest attention to disciplinary boundaries.

What he read convinced him that the command-and-control model of organization that had grown up to support the industrial revolution had gotten out of hand. It simply didn’t work. Command-and-control organizations, Hock says, “were not only archaic and increasingly irrelevant. They were becoming a public menace, antithetical to the human spirit and destructive of the biosphere. I was convinced we were on the brink of an epidemic of institutional failure.”

He also had a deep conviction that if he ever got to create an organization, things would be different. He would try to conceive it based on biological concepts and metaphors.

Now he had that chance. In June 1970, after nearly two years of brainstorming, planning, arguing, and consensus building, control of the BankAmericard system passed to a new, independent entity called National BankAmericard, Inc. (later renamed Visa International). And its CEO was one Dee W. Hock.

The new organization was indeed different – a nonstock, for-profit membership corporation with ownership in the form of nontransferable rights of participation. Hock designed the organization according to his philosophy: highly decentralized and highly collaborative. Authority, initiative, decision making, wealth – everything possible is pushed out to the periphery of the organization, to the members. This design resulted from the need to reconcile a fundamental tension. On the one hand, the member financial institutions are fierce competitors: they – not Visa – issue the cards, which means they are constantly going after each other’s customers. On the other hand, the members also have to cooperate with each other: for the system to work, participating merchants must be able to take any Visa card issued by any bank, anywhere.

That means that the banks abide by certain standards on issues such as card layout. Even more important, they participate in a common clearinghouse operation, the system that reconciles all the accounts and makes sure merchants get paid for each purchase, the transactions are cleared between banks, and customers get billed.

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Visa has been called “a corporation whose product is coordination.” Hock calls it “an enabling organization.” He also sees it as living proof that a large organization can be effective without being centralized and coercive. “Visa has elements of Jeffersonian democracy, it has elements of the free market, of government franchising – almost every kind of organization you can think about,” he says. “But it’s none of them. Like the body, the brain, and the biosphere, it’s largely self-organizing.”

It also works. Visa grew phenomenally during the 1970s, from a few hundred members to tens of thousands. And it did so more or less smoothly, without dissolving into fiefdoms and turf wars. By the early 1980s, in fact, the Visa system had surpassed MasterCard as the largest in the world. It had begun to fulfill Hock’s vision of a universal currency, transcending national boundaries. And Dee Hock was seen as the system’s essential man.

“Utter nonsense,” Hock says. “It’s the organizational concepts and ideas that were essential. I merely came to symbolize them. Such organizations should be management-proof.”

In May 1984, at 55, Hock put his beliefs to the test. He resigned from Visa and three months later, with his successor in place, dropped completely from sight. Six years later, in an acceptance speech as a laureate of the Business Hall of Fame, Hock put it this way: “Through the years, I have greatly feared and sought to keep at bay the four beasts that inevitably devour their keeper – Ego, Envy, Avarice, and Ambition. In 1984, I severed all connections with business for a life of isolation and anonymity, convinced I was making a great bargain by trading money for time, position for liberty, and ego for contentment – that the beasts were securely caged.”

Visa never missed a beat.

Open Data in India: Where's the data anyway?

Swati Ramanathan and I collaborated on this post for the Open Government Partnership Blog:

India is an increasingly relevant example when making a case for open data in governance in developing countries. The passage of the Right to Information Act (RTI) in 2005 is a milestone in the changing face of the citizen-government relationship. It also sets the stage for India to move towards more transparency and accountability in governance.

In this increasing clamor for Open Data in governance in India, the Communications & IT Minister Kapil Sibal made an interesting observation,

WHO OWNS DATA? WHO OWNS WHAT DATA? WHAT IS THE DATA THAT CAN BE OWNED BY INDIVIDUALS? WHAT KIND OF DATA CAN BE PUT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN WITHOUT COMPROMISING PRIVACY? THESE ARE QUESTIONS THAT GOVERNMENTS ARE GRAPPLING WITH. DATA BELONGS TO ALL OF US. THE QUICKER WE REALIZE THAT, THE BETTER FOR ALL OF US, BECAUSE GOVERNMENTS AND CITIZENS CAN COLLABORATE.

Before we move towards a discussion on open data and Bribe Data on I Paid a Bribe in particular, we need to reiterate the questions: Who has the data? Where is the data? What type of data do we have?

In India, efforts are made towards collection of data on a national, state and district level. However, the current state of infrastructure within government for data collection, aggregation and data processing are not robust enough. Even when collected in a systematic and timely manner, there is little to no standardization and consistency across methodologies.

There is also a dearth in understanding of standardization of data formats. Most times data from a decade ago is still available in paper form and though digitization processes are underway, these are both time and resource consuming.

Insufficient standardization and consistency practices prove to be challenging at two levels: Systemic and Semantic. Where there might be systemic standardization through formats and software standards, there is the larger problem of semantic compatibility. Different departments use varying terminologies for the same data, gather different information under the same blanket terminology, etc. For example, Land registration records maintained by Registration Departments are maintained differently in each state.

Most times there is also no clear understanding of what open standards are and the reasons behind choosing these. Privacy and the maintenance of anonymity wherever required is another challenge. When data is available publicly, it is difficult to locate, limited in its scope and is not readily accessible.

With such large gaps in our primary data, we can’t get into the minutiae of data. In most developed countries, government supports research that’s engrossed in detail. In India, the picture is very different: Where is the primary data? Who collects the primary data?

While everyone waits for government to put in place systemic efforts to open data, randomized sampling is one method most non-government organizations adopt in their data collection methods. The other innovative model is the Wikipedia-like crowd-sourcing model. Crowd-sourcing combined with social motivation can be a powerful data collection tool at the grassroot level.

A report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) found that about 10% of India – about 112 million users in a country of 1.2 billion have access to Internet. Through a simple interface on the web and mobile platforms, I Paid a Bribe addresses concerns about both scale and relevance.

With ipaidabribe.com, the focus is not so much on big-ticket corruption or ‘wholesale’ corruption, but more on petty corruption – what we call ‘retail’ corruption. This is kind of corruption that confronts ordinary citizens in their daily lives when they’re not able to avail of services they are legitimately entitled to- getting a driver’s license, a birth certificate, registering a purchase of property and so on.

When Janaagraha started I Paid a Bribe the most staggering revelation was the lack of data on bribes and corruption in the country. Retail Corruption is a large and real problem in India, but there is no data on its size or range – almost all of it is shared anecdotally!

Through the platform, we have so far collected geographical, bribe amount and bribe details data. We now have more than 20,000 reports from over 484 cities in India. The goal of this structured and relevant repository of data is to enable stakeholders – the citizens and the government- to analyze trends, decipher workflows and re-engineer business processes within government departments.

By allowing users to participate in data collection and by providing a platform to engage with this data, I Paid a Bribe balances the role of the government and the citizen in a democracy. In this manner, the onus of locating and collecting information now doesn’t solely depend on the government. It also subliminally places responsibility for change on the citizen too.