Designing for Building Transparency and Accountability by Facilitating all Citizens to Participate in the Process of Decision Making and Urban Planning
Centre of Development Studies and Activities
Rapid urbanisation in India sends a clear message that cities and city governments will have to prepare themselves for managing resources and providing equitable service delivery to their citizens in a sustained manner. The United Nations projects a population increase of 41% (41.86 million) between 2014 - 2030 in the 9 most populated urban agglomerations in India. India alone is expected to account for approximately 16% of the world’s urban population growth, between the years 2014-2050. City governments will fight a losing battle unless the current approaches and frameworks in urban policy and planning processes are changed or improved.
The economically weaker sections, children, the elderly, women, persons with disabilities, people of minority castes and people living in informal settlements will bear the brunt of the lack of adequacy, security and equitability of service delivery and resource distribution. The situation will be further exacerbated in the event of disaster or civil strife. There is a need to identify the lacunae in the current policy and planning framework and formulate a sustainable, inclusive, scalable and replicable planning framework.
There is a need to involve citizens to put pressure on policymakers and urban planners. The planning process is undemocratic and non-participatory which makes the final plan divergent from ground realities and not reflective of people's needs. A vast majority of people not only lack a say in the way the city is planned but are viewed as lesser contributors to the city whose needs are therefore never recognised.
What does it take for people to genuinely connect and participate in an age of political, social, racial, religious and digital divides? What are some ways we can mobilise citizens and make space for constructive conversations beyond these divides?
In a country that is directing its efforts towards inclusive growth and development, it is imperative, that the felt needs of every citizen are recorded and categorised in relation to issues of quality of life and access to security and equitability in service delivery. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that over the last hundred years of urban planning (or the lack of it), exclusively expert-led city planning has worsened social inequalities and made cities increasingly unliveable and exclusionary, turning their backs on its people and the workers that make the cities. what distinguishes Indian cities and cities in the Global South is the ever-pervading informality. Whether living or working conditions, the informal constitutes the majority and state-led planning has only tried to remove the informal practices. This leads to further marginalisation of the urban poor and worker groups
1. Due to Rapid Urbanisation, cities and government have to meet the growing demand of resources and services in a sustained manner
2. The current urban planning process is assumed to be a non-partisan and objective, where objective and rational decisions are taken. However, this also is a deeply contested socio-political process that makes it imperative to engage with In the current situation there is a large population living in unplanned, unhealthy and malfunctioning cities and settlements. The system does not accommodate the voices of the vulnerable sections of society. The absence of a reporting framework and lack of capacity of these citizens to participate in the planning process, presents a major impediment to local area participatory policy and plan creation.
3. There is no standardised system of data collection, norms and standards, reporting or feedback loops for urban planning and management in the current framework. The sheer size of population and physical scale of cities present a challenge in collecting high resolution, accurate, timely and relevant data. Lack of scientifically collected and processed data is a major hurdle in presenting evidence for informed opinion making and consensus building. Scientifically collected and processed data ensures informed and objective decision making for policies and plans where most outcomes are measurable or at least tracked through an objective participatory process.
The Quantified Cities Movement
The Quantified Cities Movement platform has been created and is owned by the Centre for Development Studies and Activities (CDSA). It enables citizens and urban local bodies to participate in the process of monitoring and improving the city. The QCM ecosystem is designed to help citizens and the government identify problems, agree on solutions and manage the city on a day to day basis. CDSA has designed an app called iNagrik to collect data through the citizens. This was designed without any research or designers. We have tried to understand the existing app that was designed so that we can completely redesign it (right).
We also know that the app is a very small part of the ecosystem that needs to be designed.
Firstly, just designing an app is not enough. Most of the people don't own smartphones or the ones who do, can't intuitively use it. And a bigger question is - why would people even participate? What would be their motivation? How do we mobilise citizens to participate?
Secondly, a vast majority of people not only lack a say in the way the city is planned but are viewed as lesser contributors to the city whose needs are therefore never recognised. All residents have a right to be heard and to be part of envisioning our collective urban future. The QCM must aim to make the process of planning more representative and accessible to all by enabling wide-ranging public discussions on what kind of city and plan the people of Pune want.
Hence, an ecosystem needs to be built that enables citizen participation. So the aim should be to collect data, hold inclusive public discussions, mobilise various organisations and groups and use media to engage citizens with its own development visions. Rather than cynically viewing urban planning as an apparatus in the arms of the State and viewing Indian cities as unplannable, we must place the focus on the importance of planning by people. My role is to figure out how to do this. To begin with -
1. Research about democratic decision making, citizen participation, data collection, participatory settlement planning, participatory research methodologies.
2. Systems design and strategy development for the Quantified Cities Movement Project.
3. Storytelling and communication strategy for community outreach and partnerships.
4. Employing a "led by people" approach of co-production, community-led design and design justice.
“If you really want to change the city, or want a real struggle, a real fight, then it would require re-engaging with things like public planning for example, or re-engaging with government, or re-engaging with a large-scale institutionalised developers. I think that’s where the real struggles lie, that we re-engage with these structures and these institutions, this horribly complex ‘dark matter.’ That’s where it becomes really interesting.”