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Information and Communication Technologies

Strengthening the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India to Foster Participation, Access and Accountability

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

The initiation and countrywide implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) represents a milestone in social policy and employment creation with its right based approach and focus on livelihood security. The flagship program has benefitted millions of marginalized rural households by providing them unskilled work and led to prevention of stress migration from rural areas in lean agricultural seasons. A UNDP/Carnegie Endowment for Peace study points out that from the scheme’s first year of operation in 2006-2007 till 2010-2011, job creation accelerated from less than 1 billion workdays distributed amongst 20 million households to 2.5 billion workdays for 50 million households.
 
In the above context, the 2013 performance audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) should be a timely opportunity to analyze the immense management and convergence challenges that a program of MGNREGA’s size poses. This is especially relevant in view of CAG’s observation that undertaking of non permissible works, non completion of works and lack of creation of durable assets during the period 2007-2012 indicated that the poorest were not able to fully exercise their rights under the program. 

One of the ‘bottom up’ features’ of the program is its reliance on rural local self government structures i.e. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to reinvigorate community driven participation and decision making in service delivery.  The first key institutional challenge, therefore, is to make MGNREGA’S program implementation effective by enforcing PRI ‘activity mapping’ (unbundling subjects into smaller units of work and assigning these units to different levels of government) that was set in motion after the historic 73rd Constitutional Amendment, 1993.  Herein, the Central Government and the States of the Union, have to jointly actualize the principle of subsidiarity- what can be best done at lower levels of government should not be centralized at higher levels. Empowering PRIs especially Gram Panchayats (last mile units in villages) with funds, functions and functionaries (3F’s) is a critical incentive to build their institutional capacity for service delivery. This, in turn, would provide them the teeth to carry out their core responsibilities under MGNREGA such as planning of works, registration of beneficiaries, allotting employment, executing works, making timely payments, maintaining records of measurement and muster rolls.

Open Data, Open Policy: Stepping Out of the Echo Chamber

Milica Begovic's picture

Recently, I participated in several events that look at the space between empowered government (gov2.0) and empowered citizens (citizen2.0 both individuals and civic groups and NGOs).

One discussion was around tapping into networks of empowered citizens clustering around different issues for open policy making (Masters of Networks, Venice) and another on getting human-readable stories from data (Open Data on the Web, London).

Then, there was a question on how open data and modern technologies can improve environmental sector governance (#ICT4ENV, Cetinje), or strengthen political transparency and accountability (Point 2.0, Sarajevo).

Different countries, different venues, different leading institutions – but a common set of issues that I struggle with and that, I hope, will emerge as topics in some future events (one of those, shaping up to be the policy making 2.0. deluge in Dublin, is coming up this month).

Quote of the Week: Ian Bremmer

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Around the world, the race is on between a communications revolution that empowers the individual and a data revolution designed to protect the state. This contest will play out in different countries in different ways…We can’t yet know how this race will end, but it is a mistake to assume the state can’t hold its own for years to come.”

- Ian Bremmer. Author and President of Eurasia Group, a global political risk research and consulting firm.

The E-workers

Maya Brahmam's picture

The Economist recently wrote about the "workforce in the cloud" and how the global mobile workforce is being tapped by online talent marketplaces like Elance.com and oDesk.com. This has allowed professionals worldwide to compete globally for work and has saved businesses money. Last year, the value for this online work topped $1 billion for the first time and is expected to reach $5 billion by 2018.

These exchanges are providing opportunities to build businesses without borders. The Guardian reported that a start-up firm, Boutique London Lets, which rents luxury apartments to international business travelers and tourists, has tripled turnover every year for the last three years. The firm used online talent marketplaces to help with recruitment, was able to expand to separate London and Manila offices, and used the “workforce in the cloud” to handle their communications. The owner can keep control of the business while traveling and visiting prospects and staff.  The company also uses e-mail, video conferences, online groups, and instant messenger to train staff and is exploring how to create an internal social media network for sharing informal staff interactions.

Accountability on the Internet: What’s the Role of the New Information Gatekeepers?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

The internet has certainly changed the process of how information and news is filtered and by whom.  A process that was carried out by traditional media for decades is today largely managed by a few internet companies through algorithms.  In this new role, they are not only filtering information but also helping us navigate a widely scattered information landscape through their products and services.  In a new report by the Center of International Media Assistance, Bill Ristow discusses the role of these new information gatekeepers and the implications they face in protecting policies and practices across borders, such as openness of information and freedom of expression. Setting universally accepted norms on what is good behavior on the internet and what is not, is a major challenge. The question is who should be making these kinds of decisions? How are the new information gatekeepers held accountable?

Quote of the Week: Chris R. Albon

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The Web is quickly coming to the point that everything you say or do online can be used against you in the court of public opinion. Some say we could be looking at the end of forgetting, where the past can be accessed with the click of a mouse...We deserve something better: a Web that forgets."

-- Chris R. Albon. A political scientist and writer on the global politics of science and technology. He's also a Project Director at FrontlineSMS

Til Debt Do Us Part: South African Soap Opera & Financial Education

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

Will Maletsatsi take the necessary steps to get out of debt and successfully manage her finances in the future? This is the central question posed in Scandal, a South African soap opera that is the subject of a new World Bank Policy Research Working Paper. Maletsatsi, the main character in this show, is in a real bind. After borrowing an excessive amount of money and gambling away her fortunes, she is forced to confess the extent of her debt to family and friends. In one scene, her daughter convinces her to negotiate lower monthly payments with a local furniture store. The store eventually agrees to extend the loan period, but her interest rate goes up and she starts to ignore other bills, leaving them unopened and unpaid. A well-intentioned woman, you can’t help but sympathize with Maletsatsi, who was only trying to create a beautiful home for her husband and family. It is through this emotional connection that television viewers are not only able to relate to the main character’s dilemma, but are also able to share Maletsatsi’s joy as she learns the rules of sound financial management and takes control of her debt.

The Umpteenth Blog on using SMS Feedback in Projects…Now with Support!

Aaron Seyedian's picture

With shiny apps hogging the mobile spotlight these days, one could be forgiven for forgetting about SMS (“Short Message Service” or text messaging).  But although apps often disguise themselves as universally useful, their data and hardware requirements preclude their widespread use in poor countries.  Amongst the world’s poor, SMS is still king.  Given the World Bank’s mandate to serve the exactly that population, and in response to demand from staff, I recently attended a 2-day Frontline SMS training here in DC.

The training took place on the 2nd floor of the OAS building, otherwise known as the “OpenGovHub.”  The hub hosts many organizations working at the intersection of data, governance and development, including Ushahidi, Accountability Lab and Tech4Dem.  Though only one block from the World Bank, it definitely has a Silicon Valley vibe - open offices, young CEOs, bumperstickered laptops and standing desks abound.  Thankfully, this open and informal environment carried right into the training, giving participants the chance to experiment with the software and engage in candid discussions with Frontline’s leaders.  Two days of training, only one Powerpoint presentation. I know, right!?

On the second day, I was particularly struck by a question posed by Frontline CEO Laura Hudson.  In explaining the design tenets of using FrontlineSMS, she asked us:  “What decisions can you make that exclude the fewest voices?”  That’s a question the Dispute Resolution & Prevention team wants all staff designing grievance redress mechanisms for their projects to ponder as well.

The Highs and Lows of the Global ICT Landscape

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

For the last twelve years, the World Economic Forum and INSEAD have been publishing The Global Information Technology Report (GITR), which features a Network Readiness Index (NRI) that measures the ability of countries to leverage information communication technologies (ICTs) for growth and well-being. This year’s GITR, which focuses on jobs and growth, covers 144 countries. The assessments are based on a broad range of indicators that include Internet access, adult literacy, and mobile phone subscriptions. As noted in the report, the growing availability of technology has empowered citizens of both developed and developing countries with good access to the digital world. However, this year’s GITR has some sobering news about the state of ICTs in many parts of the developing world. Despite some positive trends, the report shows a sharp digital divide between impoverished nations and richer economies.

Can the Internet Make Elections Fair and Efficient?

Shamiela Mir's picture

Can the internet help make elections fair and efficient in developing countries?

A presentation “eParticipation: Citizen Consultation ePlatform –Mexico City Case Study” was given by Edgardo Torres-Caballero, the General Manager for Latin America for Scytl who talked about how ePlatform developed by the company helped Mexico City successfully conduct an electronic consultation through which the city residents cast their votes on-line to select public projects.

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