Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Framework For Citizen Engagement In NEGP

Public private partnership (PPP) has been used for long in India. However, it always remained ineffective. It is only now that crucial fields like internal security and defence sector have been opened up for PPP purposes.

Most E-Governance Projects of India have failed to materialise. Projects like e-courts have failed to take off despite spending crores of money and many years. Even there is no legal framework for mandatory e-governance services in India. The proposed draft electronic services delivery bill 2011 of India is mere eyewash and nothing more. In this background, the concept note on framework for citizen engagement in NEGP seems to be too much optimistic.

Citizen Engagement is an essential element of democracy and the public institutions must undertake all steps to achieve credible public participation. However, in a country as vast and as complex as India, active citizen engagement in policy making has been challenging and minimal. Today, technology offers a unique opportunity to engage with citizens in real time to make policy making citizen centric. The National E-Governance Plan (NEGP) with citizen centricity at its core represents that paradigm shift in policy making. In order to ensure that citizen engagement is deliberate, meaningful, and institutionalised, a citizen engagement framework in being proposed which aims to achieve the abovementioned.

Citizen engagement or public participation is not a new concept and has been exercised in varied degrees across the world and even in India. A document from Department of Communication and Information technology (DCIT) illustrates some examples from India and across the world. It also proposes to go beyond what currently exists and institutionalise citizen engagement in E-Government projects. The definition of citizen engagement proposed in the document goes beyond conventional public consultation by enabling citizen to do more than simply voice an opinion – it includes their participation in the deliberation process leading to decisions.

The need for citizen engagement is clearly highlighted in the findings of the various impact assessments undertaken by DIT. The assessments show that the impact of the projects is determined by the level of consultation with service seekers because it is only after such a process of consultation that the project design can yield optimal results. Public engagement is also a process for educating decision makers (in Parliament and Government) about important social issues and citizens’ pressing needs that Parliaments and Governments must address. Public participation also enhances citizen ownership of development processes, increases the sense of citizenship, and results in better implementation of development programs.

In an ideal scenario, the citizens may collaborate from conceptualisation to implementation of the project and may even be empowered to reject or alter the project design at a later stage of the project. However, in real life, project managers must define the intervention points and degree of engagement. The document proposes the process and recommends points of interventions and methodologies that may be used for such engagements.

Finally the document recommends the following:

(a) Wider stakeholder consultation for refinement of framework
(b) Creation of Citizen Engagement Fund
(c) Creation of Citizen Engagement Toolkit for E-Government projects; and
(d) Piloting of the proposed framework in NeGP MMPs.

Let us see whether this initiative would succeed or it would face the same old failure and red tappism as other ICT initiatives of India have faced.