Feb 10 2015 12:00pm to Feb 10 2015 12:00pm

[Postponed] Can the State use information technology to police itself? A study of open governance in Andhra Pradesh, India

with Berkman Fellow, Rajesh Veeraraghavan

[Postponed] New date will be posted here once rescheduled.
Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
23 Everett Street, Second Floor, Cambridge, MA  02138
RSVP required via this form

This talk examines the attempted use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to eliminate corruption within a bureaucracy in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. In this initiative, the senior bureaucrats built a digital network to curb corruption at the “last mile.” By increasing the visibility and by controlling the “micro-practices” of the work done by lower-level bureaucrats, this digital system allowed higher-level bureaucrats to exercise more control remotely, bypassing the existing “chain of command” form of control and reducing corruption. Ideally, the system was imagined to centralize power through technology in order to eliminate powers of discretion at the lower-levels of the bureaucracy. What my fieldwork revealed, however, was a constant struggle to control the digital system: the lower-level bureaucrats found creative ways to thwart the intentions of the higher-level bureaucrats. Agency was not removed from local politics; instead it was constantly renegotiated through efforts by local politicians and local bureaucrats on the one side and higher-level administrators on the other to control the technological instruments of surveillance. The struggle over surveillance is not the "Scottian" state against citizen but contestation within a divided state. ICT did reduce corruption and created a more “Weberian” bureaucracy but only up to a point. Local actors managed to defend their power and some of their ability to extract rents in the last mile. The struggle continues, on the new digital terrain.

About Rajesh

Rajesh Veeraraghavan is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Information, UC Berkeley, and a research fellow at the Transparency and Accountability Initiative at the Open Society Foundation. Rajesh questions the widespread belief that information technology can be used to "solve" either development or governance "problems," both by engaging in activism involving technological interventions and by using empirical methods to critically examine claims about the impact of ICT in governance. He studies how information and communication technology (ICT) is used in practice to regulate economic, social and political relationships.

Rajesh's PhD dissertation is an ethnographic examination of a bold "open government" experiment intended to eliminate corruption at the local "last-mile" of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The government project takes place within the context of India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), which aims to support India's poorest citizens by guaranteeing a minimum level of employment for rural families. With the aim to eliminate corruption, the state instituted “social audits” and online record keeping, to improve government records and bureaucratic compliance, but the outcomes were found to depend greatly on existing state-citizen dynamics. Based on his findings, Rajesh recommends that open government projects go beyond the rhetoric of democratizing information to the more challenging task of democratizing administrative surveillance.

While at the Berkman Center, Rajesh will explore the use of high-resolution satellite map data to improve the quality of public infrastructure in India. Remote sensing data can be used as a starting point for material audits by providing a way to track built infrastructure and to enhance administrative surveillance. By monitoring the building of roads, canals, and other infrastructural assets and comparing it against project documents, it should be possible to create a "deviation report" that identifies and quantifies local corruption on a scale that was not possible before. Building on findings from his dissertation, the system will be a socio-technical system that relies on on-the-ground partners and human intermediaries both to detect and confirm deviations, as well as to celebrate creation of public assets.

Previously, Rajesh was an associate researcher at the Technology for Emerging Markets group at Microsoft Research India. His work focused on building appropriate technologies for socio-economic development. One of his projects there was the first in the context of developing-world rural ICT to replace an existing PC-based system with a mobile-phone system; the system communicated information between a sugarcane cooperative and its member farmers via SMS. His work led to several research publications as well as non-profit spin-off called Digital Green on whose board he serves. Before MSR India, he worked as a software developer at Microsoft in the United States and was an active volunteer with the Association for India's Development. Rajesh has degrees in Computer Science, Economics and Management.

For more information see http://ischool.berkeley.edu/~rajesh

Last updated date

February 9, 2015