Background: On his first day in office, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling for unprecedented transparency, participation, and collaboration as a hallmark of his Administration. Similarly, in 2005, India enacted the Right to Information Act, adopting a national commitment to openness as a means to make government more effective and accountable. Both nations believe that democratizing access to information and energizing civic engagement through the use of new technologies are critical to delivering better services, especially to those at the bottom of the pyramid; fostering greater entrepreneurship and economic opportunity; and holding government officials accountable.
The Event: The Expo for Democracy and Open Government will highlight key Indian innovations that strengthen democracy, focusing on the intersection of technology, citizen empowerment, and accountability, and allow participants to interact with civil society innovators/exhibitors to gain a sense of the power of these new technologies and approaches.
The event builds on the vision of open societies and open governments that the President laid out in his address to the U.N. General Assembly this past September.
It will highlight a selection of India’s extraordinary groups working on a set of interlinking themes:
Transparency. Groups that use the right to information and e-governance to place government information in the public domain and push for accountability.
Participation. Groups that promote direct citizen participation in local government, particularly panchayats and municipalities; bring “people’s voices” into budget making and policy processes; and strengthen people’s participation in planning and monitoring government programs.
Government Responsiveness. Efforts by the government to improve the delivery of services, including through the wiring of rural villages for government services (e-panchayat), initiatives by groups to monitor day-to-day government functions.
Political Accountability. Groups that promote accountability in legislative functions and processes and groups working to monitor elections, promote electoral reforms, and strengthen electoral processes.
The event will also mark the launch of the United States-India Open Government Dialogue, to be led by Innovation Advisor to the Prime Minister Sam Pitroda and United States Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra.
An Illustrative List of Exhibitors and Roundtable Participants:
- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana (Workers and Peasants Strength Union - MKSS) is an organization that fights against government corruption and creates channels for citizens to oversee their local governments. Its leader, Aruna Roy, is best known as a prominent leader of the Right to Information movement in India which led to Parliament’s passage of the Right to Information Act in 2005, which has empowered millions of ordinary Indians.
- Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) isa New Delhi based citizen’s group with a mandate to promote accountability and transparency in government functioning. SNS’s key activities have been to promote the use of the Right to Information Act (RTI) by training citizens, particularly women in slum areas, to use the RTI and on the functioning of the government in areas such as rations, civic works, education and social welfare schemes.More recently, SNS has used the RTI to collect information on the performance of elected representatives and develop report cards.
- Janaagraha is a Bangalore-based NGO that works with citizens and government to change the quality of life in India’s cities and towns, focusing on urban infrastructure and citizen engagement with public institutions, including volunteerism. They also recently launched an exciting initiative called IPAIDABRIBE.com, a web platform for where people who have been asked for or ever had to pay a bribe are encouraged to share their experiences (after only 2 months, it gets 30,000 hits per day).
- The Hunger Project (THP)is a global organization committed to ending hunger. In India, it is committed to ignite and sustain the leadership spirit of women elected to local village councils (panchayats). THP works in 13 states of India, including Maharashtra (where Mumbai is located). By partnering with more than 90 civil society organizations, THP has worked with and supported the leadership of more than 60,000 elected women representatives.
- ASER uses simple tools to empower people nationwide to test their childrens’ math and reading abilities, and then hold local government accountable to outcomes. With this data, ASER creates the Annual Status of Education Report, which surveys literacy in 570 districts and 700,000 children of India with citizen participation. Each year 25,000 volunteers donate 4 days of their time to gather the data for this report.
- PRS Legislative Research (PRS) works with Members of Parliament (MPs) across party lines to provide research support on legislative and policy issues. Its aim is to complement the base of knowledge and expertise that already exists in government, citizens groups, businesses, and other research institutions. PRS also enables citizens to track the progress of legislative and policy reforms through an on-line portal.
- The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) works on building fair and transparent electoral and political processes in India. ADR has organized Citizen Election Watch for all major elections and discloses candidate background information in a timely manner, including through SMS technology, to the media and the public, helping them to make informed voting choices.