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Praja: what next and do more - your thoughts?

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Recent comments and messages from a few members indicate that it may be time for us to take some next steps to "do more". We are trying to see if there are good and practical ideas on "what next" and "do more", this is the place-holder posts to capture your input.

Doing things in consultation with members fits in our culture as we wish to be open and transparent community limited only by practical constraints of time, money and the initial thoughts that started it all. So here is some context before we kick this off.

First, a quick list of the thoughts that bind the set of about a dozen people who joined hands to build what we have today.

  • Praja is neither an NGO, nor a journalistic venture. There is space between polarized NGOs, and pure media. NGOs consist of "converted" people (already know a lot), and media prefers to share information and versions that sell. We don't know enough, and can understand stuff a lot better by sharing our observations.
  • This is primarily a place for aware citizens to "network" and "talk sense". We don't belittle discussions. Talking sense as in showing willingness to understand as opposed to mere cribbing is the critical first step towards becoming active and aware citizen.
  • Going beyond discussions is left to the members. There is no pressure - talk as much sense as you want. On the other hand, you can't come talk, and then demand or expect someone else to do the walking.
  • Talking sense, and creating useful content in terms of requirements or factually bright suggestions can lead to indirect influence. More sense we talk, more chances that we will be heard by those in a position to do something with it. We truly believe that positive and constructive talk tends to find its way.
  • Beyond this, we do our best to make it possible for members to group together and connect with local bodies. These connects are expected to be carried forward by enthusiastic members themselves. Our long term goal is to build creative, loosely structured, transparent and collaborative ways of facilitating these connects. Remember, there is a fine line between "my suggestion" and "our suggestion". Sending links to consolidated quality discussions (representing a group) would work better than each of us sending our personal ideas to govt email addresses.
  • Ideally, with time, we would connect with NGOs, or "do-ers" to direct (or funnel) those who want to go beyond discussions (numbers are usually thin here)
  • For those members who will like to collaborate on projects here itself, we are building project management type systems, with time, we will invite NGOs to make use of our tools to run (and publicize) their projects.

Next, and pretty important, a quick note on how it all works today:

  • An early set of people built the website. They continue to maintain it, on volunteering basis.
  • There is now a Society consisting of donors who pool in money to support 1 full time engineer to help run this Internet based community.
  • Praja "donors" is a closed group right now, but we will soon open it up to all registered users so that Praja lovers can donate to support and keep this community running.

Bottom-line - be aware of the thoughts behind building this place, and think practical aspects of implementing what you would suggest.

Look forward to a healthy discussion, this time about Praja itself.

Comments

sanjayv's picture

the book idea - a compromise

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[off from this comment]

Well, this book idea is a compromise I guess.  Agreed that creating gyan takes time, but we have to start taking the analysis to the next level.  

One thing I am noticing is that there is quite a bit of repetition of discussions and sometimes the same concept can get repeated over and over several times.  The other thing I notice is that lot of folks put out ideas/ whitepapers etc. All that is nice, but we tend to get stuck at a certain level of detail or dimensionality.  That is very natural given the nature of this group.  What I am hoping for is that we go through several rounds of discussions, summarizing after each round and increasing the quality and depth of analysis with each round.  Some ideas may drop off along the way.  But then at the end of it, we will have something really concrete. A solution with analysis and data backing it up! In short, hoping for the 1+1=4 sort of effect.

Hope that does not sound too ambitious.  I am game if you want me to help sort some threads into "books". Go ahead and give me the appropriate privileges and a short tutorial.

kbsyed61's picture

We should move to the next level

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[context: this discussion]

Sanjayv,

You are right on when you said we should move to new level from present discussion. The next level would be each one of us who have listed their models should now go one step further and add more details and real examples. They might choose one area of the city and show it on paper how their model fits the case. I see 2 ways to do this.

One, with a Skype meeting or next monthly meeting wherein SB, Murali, Naveen and other presenting their models with real examples. It could be 4-5 slide presentation from each one of the presenter not exceeding more than 5 minutes of presentation.

Second, by reaching out to experts like reaching out to Central Institute of Road Transport, Pune and sponsoring a detailed technical proposal to change PT in B'lore. I am sure by now we have good reputation to solicit funds for this sponsorship. Anybody game for this?

Syed

silkboard's picture

The Gyan thought from n

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n's thought was about better use of the dormant "Gyan" feature: http://praja.in/en/blog/n...

"Been meaning to write this for a looong time - not intended to be personal.  Posting it here as there are (I assume) multiple admins who can all see this post. Some of the below may be very difficult / in the works etc.

Am trying to figure out the direction of the site. Does it want to be similar to skycrapercity forums where people just post, or get more technical? In other words, my focus is on the "know" or gyan part of praja. ..."

s_yajaman's picture

The other thing that binds us is

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That we all genuinely care for our city's well being.  We would all love to see Bangalore as a good place to live in (and not just a city with "great infrastructure" a.k.a lots of roads and flyovers).

My own thinking is that we ought to connect with bureaucrats (many of them are well meaning, knowledgeable people) and hear them out and put our point of view.  But most of us have day jobs and if they expect that we will solve their problems, I think it is unrealistic.

I think with the collective wisdom we have here and our spread across the city, we can do a good job of tracking what is working and what is not.  The discussions help bring out different aspects of the problem.  I think the logical next is to understand (either via direct discussions where possible or through RTI) on what the barriers to setting things right are.  As citizens this is our duty - to ensure public money is well spent. 

Srivathsa

Drive safe.  It is not just the car maker which can recall its product.

silkboard's picture

Paid RTI service?

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What if we have a feature (simply borrowing the idea from RTINation) where at Rs 200 each, we file RTIs for all tracking projects that run on this website.

If there is enough interest, this money can fund an assistant/intern whose job will be to print the RTI applications, mail them and scan and post response.

So, the project section can have a feature  - "file and RTI". Applications would go to a queue, replies will be posted on the project that filed the original application.

At Rs 200 each - 30-40 RTIs a month could fund an Intern. Rs 6000-8000 a month, a simple work from home job.


swamy's picture

Citizen lobbying - paid service

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Many people here say in comments - please tell this to BMTC, please take this up with BBMP. Make this into a paid service. For a nominal charge (Rs 100-200 whatever) you deliver complaints suggestions and all to BMTC BBMP BWSSB and all.

Get proof from BMTC BBMP BWSSB and all after delivering the complaint suggestion.

Premium version of this - Higher charge. Follow up also included, and promise minimum one written reply for them.

thampan's picture

Devils advocate

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 SB, 

there is an issue with the RTI suggestion. From what i understand about your suggestion, it will be Praja who will file the application on behalf of somebody else and get the response. ( unlike RTI nation which is just a facilitator to print the RTI letter and post it to appropriate authorities along with the fee)

  1. This will mandate that Praja has to respond back to the applicant with the response. ( there could be T&C that praja is not responsible and will only try its best)
  2. There could be other organizations which spring up to do the same. ( let us call them agents)
  3. Now the RTI officer will have a mass of applications to deal with , from the public and the agents.
  4. The agents ( some of them )may want preferential treatment as they are answerable to their clients.
  5. They may device means by which RTI officer responds favourably to their applications.
  6. This would cause a bias towards agents and applications from the general public may be ignored.
  7. The problem would be compounded when there are multiple rates ( premium version etc)

Not that this scenario will play out, but this could eventually happen. From what I understand, RTI nation has stepped away from this problem by being only the facilitator.

Aside, To make RTI easier, the government should change legislation to accept online RTI applications and perhaps create agencies which have authority to file on behalf of public like that done for filing tax returns. 

As long as the legislation is silent, we are treading into dangerous territory with this concept.

 

n's picture

PEM, PEA, PTA

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The important next step is on-ground conveying of issues and follow up. Burdening with RTI initially may not be a good idea - the official can be informed that praja are ready for RTI if issues aren't resolved in a timely fashion (say in 2 months for a majority of the issues).

PEM - Praja Engagement Manager - does the actual groundwork, acts as a liaison between praja and the authorities. Better to have the same PEM for a longer duration to cultivate the relationship etc. 2nd PEM can gradually be involved to take over at some point when 1st one "retires" and 3rd one acts as a 2nd ... (just like in the industries)
PEA - Praja Engagement Assistant - puts together the required information, takes care of the administrative part of the engagement so the PEM is not burdened by the nitty-gritty's. Remote praja (like me) are ideally suited. Am willing to bee a PEA.
PTA - Praja Technical Advisor - advises on the best approach, answers praja's questions that need not be taken to the authorities, speaks on technical difficulties and/or from authorities point of view. Ideally a retired bureaucrat.
The above people can represent each topic/project of interest and follow up on a regular (say once in two months) basis. At least one of PEM and PEA to start and 1 more added in case the primary praja has other commitments. 1 or more PTA to follow. For example: BMTC services: PEM can be a praja member who has already talked to a receptive person at BMTC; PEM and PEA can have first rights on ideas/questions, problems with solutions etc. (say 2 each) and then open the floor for ideas/questions (say total 10), problems with solutions (say total 10) and problems/rants (say total 10). Praja should be encouraged to prioritize so one praja doesn't hog all questions. Total of 30 points (say 2-3 from each praja and with input from PTA) to be conveyed to the authority - they may get back quickly on some and a little later on the others. Update book with questions and answers as received. Update gyan with selected items and PTAs input.
The important part is the ground-work and praja reading up on existing book and/or understanding issues before posting thoughts. The PTA can help out on some occasions. Well-thought out and/or researched discussions should (and are) not belittled. It is the argument for the sake of arguing or one-upmanship that rankles people with better knowledge - they will ignore or drop out (loss to the community). What say?


rs's picture

Success stories?

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I was wondering if anyone had a list of Praja `success stories' where some of the initiatives of Praja have actually been implemented by the various Bangalore Municipal organizations. The impression I get it that while there are a lot of wonderful suggestions and solutions that Praja members come up with one rarely sees whether they have been carried through to fruition.

I suppose, apart from getting a feeling of what is possible or what is not it would also serve the purpose of being somewhat inspirational.  To be honest the impression I get is that nothing ever comes out of all these discussions on Praja.

For example, there have been several discussions on pedestrianization projects. Das even did a lot of spadework and met various people of importance and power. But as far as I am aware nothing has happened. Another case is that of the BMTC website. There were some really nice suggestions and templates made by several of the tech savvy contributors to Praja - but BMTCs website remains the same.

In fact, not to put a damper on Praja but it seems to me that none of the public outreach/involvement initiatives ever come to anything. ABIDe, for example, even though it has such a high profile their suggestions are simply ignored by the authorities. BMRCL does not seem to care about taking in suggestions of their appointed environmental consultants. Citizen Connect was involved in some project to improve MS Ramiah junction - even that has not come to pass. BBMP hacked all these trees on Seshadri road and said they would replant them - that is yet to happen. BBMP does a terrible job in all their infrastructure projects - nobody has the power to question them - or even if they do they are ignored. bengaluruvedike.com..... and earlier BATF, BMLTA ......... the less said the better.

Unfortunately I cannot think of a single success story, perhaps out of ignorance or since I havent been deeply involved in any of them. So it would be nice if there was some place where the victories are listed so that we get the feeling something is possible. 

I'm sorry if I sound cynical but it is to precisely get back some optimism that I am making this post.

Ramesh

n's picture

at least one example ...

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.. on BMTC meeting and an earlier response (or http://praja.in/files/BMT...) is available. Whether the responses were actually implemented on-ground is unknown and/or takes time. There is shortage of praja to even engage on different projects let alone follow up on implementation of responses. I had earlier suggested a segregation of roles - if PEMs get firmed up, announced and ready, rest will follow.
Was getting ready to spend the time on posting book/gyan of info on BBMP; your post just gave me pause :-( - interested in hearing about other success stories. If there are not enough praja engagement managers for other projects, there cannot be one for BBMP. Will wait ....


silkboard's picture

on 'success stories'

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What exactly is "success"?

Why do you think the bodies you mention in your comment did not get that "success" (as defined by you)?

Think a bit. Think carefully if listing "success stories" could be a self defeating exercise in the long run.

Do you think that for good things that you do at your work, you will like to be told - "this was not RS'es original idea". Do you think anyone can ever prove (forget them admitting) that traffic police fixed the incoming direction of Old Madras Road after we talked and met at that very same place to highlight the obvious place (broken ped signal, unused bus stand) ?

Nobody can promise "success". We wouldn't want to build things up on the back of false hopes of "success" in 1 or 2 years. What I have learned and seen in my short stint in this city so far is

  • In most cases, its hard to get more than 5 people (who all think themselves to be very smart) to think of and explain any of our city's issues in same way
  • Many activists, even a few reputed ones are into it for self promotion
  • Younger folks like you and me are mostly out of this whole "activist ecosystem"
  • But - acheiving small "success" (as per our individual definitions") isn't that hard if even 5 people can join hands and engage with local bodies with common level of understanding and expectations. Ask a member who lives on Serpentine road - he just had to meet with and crib to his local area BBMP engineer and contractors to get the pavements done the right way. Or ask another young member who didn't need much to meet engineers regarding a road next to her house in Ejipura.
  • The whole citizen engagement process is broken. Just attend any of those public engagement meetings organized by Abide, DULT etc, and see and hear the type of discussions that come up.
  • Not every person (babu or engineer) in govt department is as worthless and corrupt as most of us love to describe.

Till we get together, start demanding and asking things in cohesion, and connect with the right sorts inside the govt, talk of success is like kidding ourselves.

Lets collect and gather first, develop common understandings (these are the basics), and not beat drums about the small wins or loses while we are doing that.

And even those small wins or losses are individual members', not of "Praja.in". Why put a website or e-community's brand around individual members' time and efforts?

Naveen's picture

Praja - Objective/s

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Praja's "success" (or accomplishments, as I would like to term it) might never be measurable nor quantifiable.

The purpose of praja, in a nutshell, is to gather a vast set of scientific ideas & opinions on various public & government services & analyze what is lacking & how they could be improved. To do this, some comparisions would become inevitable, but there is no harm done.

By doing this in the open, the purpose is to appeal to the authorities about one school of thought. In some cases, members have interacted with various agencies. These discussions are but only one facet - there might be many other viewpoints that we might be unaware of, though not deliberately. 

Thus, I think we at praja, are 'pointing' at one set of possibly great ideas for consideration, & it goes without saying that there will be many such different lines of thoughts, but I believe we should continue & push along as we deem fit, though the "extent" of success might never be definable.

tsubba's picture

rs.

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i agree with what naveen and sb have written. i would add that praja's is a forum for interested ORDINARY citizens to engage themselves with their city's issues. just like any other forum on the ground.

since we use the internet to organize, we hope the threshold to join-in is lower and perhaps convenient. Plus, what we have to say, our hopes and fears, and knowledge and ignorance is all in the open, transparent and available at all times.

but beyond these, praja's successes have been and WILL ALWAYS BE similar to any other such organization of ordinary people and WILL always depend on multiple factors falling in place.

what am i talking about?
for any intervention the following are required:
Part 1.
1) identification of a problem
2) awareness of possible solution(s)
3) evaluation of possible solution(s)
Part 2.
4) organizational support
5) money to execute
6) actual execution

what i hope is that praja uses this is provide a systematic, consistent forum.

see if you are MLA, you say my constituency will have granite footpath. then bcoz you are the boss, you can get it done. then it will all look nice and clean and posh to the eye and the MLA can put it in his resume, i put granite footpaths. and we can all say yayy!! so cool no ya we have granite footpath. but what happens after that, once the yam ell yae is gone? is this approach desirable, sustainable, good utilization of our resources, will it yield good solutions etc etc.

so our favourite star celebrity in industry and media gets involved, two and a half roads get built. then his stars wane. what happens next? ahem ahem. without naming names there were certain big shots who were placed on pedestals by ahem ahem media-wale from bombai. from the great heights of nimbe giDa our hero saw great visions of lokoddhaara. those of us on the ground, strained our necks and looked in his direction with great interest and expectation and asked yen kaaNatri yaen kaaNathri. then after some time he fell asleep or fell down we dont know. but we are left to gaze ahead from ground - as always.

so bottom line is. TINA: there is no alternative to ordinary people playing munim and mestri. celebs will come and do a thing or two with a lot of pomp and show. but it is not sustainable. you must be a techie, so you must know how centralized vs. distributed architecture thingie  works.

to answer your original question, YES we have had our successes. but at all times we should remember that our role is part 1 above.

There is no pretense of being better than other groups or about knowing it all, and definitely no censureship. You propose metro over mono over bullet trains? please go ahead and see if you gather any interest. as yum yes dhoni says, ayy hyav da byat. do yu hyav the bolls?

 

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