Putting public information online
The Right to Information (RTI) is a powerful tool that can improve governance. While it has been used to some degree of success, the procedure involved in filing and following up on an RTI application is inconvenient, even daunting. Furthermore there are few avenues to capture the externalities from the information that gets out of government offices into the hands of citizens—many citizens might have to file a request for the same or similar piece of information, there might be interesting findings across different pieces of information and so on. While some government departments do publish some of the information they release as part of the RTI process, the practice is by no means consistent or reliable. (See Amit Varma’s Mint article)
What if the information received from RTI applications was put on a Wikipedia-like platform? Citizens can search the database to see if the information is already there before filing a new application. Analysts and researchers can mine the database to extract more knowledge about how governments have performed, whether policies are delivering the expected results, spot systematic mistakes and identify malpractice.
Well, that’s exactly what the Kochi-based Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) intends to do with the Digital RTI Mission project. According to CPPR:
The copy of the so far filed RTI applications will be obtained from the major Public Information Offices and State Information Commission. It will be then digitalized and the information will be provided into a Wiki platform. The platform is built in such a way that anyone can feed wiki site. This offers tremendous scope for incorporating all the RTI activists groups across the state. RTI inputs are fed to the wiki platform in five major sectors viz., health, road and transport, power, water, and education. A Ranking and bench marking of the government programs in these five sectors are done during this phase. Using the information collected, a balance score card approach is evolved by which the analysis of various schemes initiated by the Government is done. This will in long run help to keep vigilance on the Government role on the various policy matters and how the departments and officials respond to the various situations. [CPPR]
They expect to have the website ready by July 2010 during which it will target 100 village panchayats across Kerala.
(Full disclosure: A few of us—Amit, Ravikiran Rao and I—dreamt of this concept in August 2007. It got off the ground due the energy of D Dhanuraj and his CPPR team, not least due to the financial support extended by my INI co-blogger V Anantha Nageswaran.)