Prakriye - Center for Community Informatics and Development
From IT for Change's Annual Report for 2013-14
Till date, most ICTs for development projects have been implants by external actors who have considered community-based organisations and grassroots NGOs as instruments for implementation, rather than full partners in the endeavour to explore the new possibilities opened up by digital technologies for strengthening participatory development practice. IT for Change aims at addressing this gap, through its field centre Prakriye which focuses on exploring bottom-up, techno-social strategies for women's empowerment and strengthening their engagement with local governance systems, rooted in a rights and citizenship based approach that puts rural women's collectives in the driver's seat.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Field Strategies
- 2.1 Women-run, ICT-enabled community information centres
- 2.2 Box 1 : Attiguppe Namma Mahiti Kendra's growing linkages with the public health care system
- 2.3 Box 2: Namma Mahiti Kendras as public interest arbitrators
- 2.4 Community Media for citizenship education of women's collectives
- 2.5 Techno-social strategies for building a women's political constituency
- 2.6 Box 3: Mahila Gram Sabha in Thumsoge Panchayat
- 2.7 GIS-enabled Participatory Mapping for accountable governance
- 2.8 Mobile phones for informational networking
- 3 Research
- 4 Advocacy and Networking
- 5 Future Plans
In 2013-14, at Prakriye, we have continued our efforts towards utilising techno-social strategies for strengthening the 'education for empowerment' processes of marginalised women's collectives in H.D.Kote and Hunsur blocks of Mysore district, and strengthening their capacity to dialogue, negotiate, and exert claims on local governance structures. Further, we have focused on carving out new spaces for strengthening the linkages between women's collectives and elected women representatives of Gram Panchayats, to facilitate the emergence of a vibrant women's political constituency at the grassroots.
"I find the work of IT for Change unique in that it covers the wide canvas of feminist organising for citizenship rights, and locates it within a political economy analysis of the ‘digital architecture’. For me, it has been a great learning experience to see how the broader analysis can be linked effectively with grassroots activism. I feel the biggest contribution of the organisation is in being able to make these links, to contribute to feminist knowledge building, and to institutionalise the ideas through its courses and policy advocacy efforts at all levels, while keeping a strong focus on its core vision of organising and movement-building. "
The strategies that have been continued from earlier years include: setting up an ICT-enabled network of women-run community information centres, and utilising community radio and community video for citizenship education of women's collectives. The new strategies that we have explored, are: utilising community media to catalyse dialogue between elected women and women's collectives in order to shape a gendered local governance agenda, mobile phone-based networking of elected women and members of women's collectives utilising IVRS technology, and GIS-enabled participatory mapping to promote a culture of accountable, gender-responsive governance at the Panchayat level.
Another significant shift in our work from previous years, is the expansion of our community base. In its initial years, the centre's interventions were targeted mainly towards the women's collectives formed under the Mahila Samakhya programme of the Government of India. This year, we have made a conscious effort to reach out to all women's collectives at the local level, rather than focus exclusively on Mahila Samakhya collectives, in our activities. Additionally, in the current context where the collective rather than the individual woman has become the locus of mainstream developmental interventions, and where there is a plethora of competing collectives at the local level, formed under a variety of governmental and non-governmental programmes, we recognise the urgent imperative to build bridges between various women's collectives, and between collectives and individual women who are unaffiliated to any group.
Prakriye's work is supported by the following organisations: International Development Research Centre, Canada as part of the Women-gov action-research project; UN Women Fund for Gender Equality as part of the Making Women's Voices and Votes Count project and National Mission for Empowerment of Women as part of its Poorna Shakti Kendras pilot programme.
The Women-gov action-research project (March 2012- September 2014) investigates the question of how we can develop context-appropriate, gender-responsive local governance models that utilise techno-social possibilities for strengthening marginalised women's informational, associational and communicative power, and their claims-making processes, in three sites in India, Brazil and South Africa. Prakriye is one of the sites of research, under this South-South collaboration.
The Making Women's Voices and Votes Count project (January 2013-December 2014) focuses on strengthening the linkages between elected women in Panchayat bodies and women's collectives at the grassroots, and gendering local governance decision-making processes,in two sites in Gujarat and one site in Karnataka, by utilising the above-mentioned techno-social strategies for: (a) creating a platform for peer-based support of elected women, (b) triggering discussions and debates among women's collectives and elected women on how to incorporate their priorities in developmental decision-making processes, and (c) building a critical mass of women at the community level who can further the gender justice and women's rights agenda in formal and informal local governance forums.
“When we visualise IT for Change - three words define it best: Team work,
zeal for technology and development ', deep understanding on ICT'. It is
amazing to see how the organisation blends technology to address community's concerns and there is constant reflection, struggle and consciousness to integrate them. We can easily see that entire team right from the directors to field team the passion, objective and approach is
same. As a project partner, they have been continual knowledge providers
and have helped KMVS integrate newer ways of adapting to ICTs. So in
IT for Change, we met not only partners but great friends for life."
From January 2014 onwards, the National Mission for Empowerment of Women(NMEW) has been supporting Prakriye as part of its Poorna Shakti Kendra initiative, that intends to pilot various models for setting up women-run community convergence centres across the country, between 2014-15. Prakriye's work in establishing ICT-enabled community information centres, to create an alternative public information architecture, will be taken forward, as part of this initiative.
Women-run, ICT-enabled community information centres
Since 2006, we have been engaged in building a women-run ICT-enabled community information centre model. The key objective of this is to create a space that can bring local governance institutions closer to women, and particularly, enable marginalised women to seek their entitlements. The information centres – called Namma Mahiti Kendras (meaning, Our Information Centres, in Kannada, the local language) – are situated in two blocks of Mysore district – Hunsur and H.D.Kote.
Catering to 5 to 7 villages, each centre is run by a Managing Committee comprising of representatives from women's collectives (sanghas) in these villages.A young woman information intermediary, sakhi (meaning friend), trained by the sangha women and the Prakriye team, runs the everyday affairs of the centre. The sakhi addresses the information needs of the village community, while focusing mainly on women's participation,and interfaces continuously with local institutions - government departments at the block level and the Gram Panchayat. A block information centre – called the Taluk Mahiti Kendra – facilitates smooth interface with block level departments, for the village cluster-level Namma Mahiti Kendras. It needs to be highlighted that the Prakriye team invests considerable amount of time and energies in training and mentoring the sakhis, as they are constantly at the receiving end of community censure, for performing a role that challenges prevailing gender norms and restrictions on young women's mobility.
At the beginning of the year, in April 2013, we had 2 cluster level centres operational in Hunsur block: in the villages of Attiguppe (Mullur Gram Panchayat), and Hosavaranchi (Uygodanahalli Gram Panchayat). Block level centres were operational in both Hunsur and H.D.Kote blocks, as we have always aimed at scaling up the information centres strategy, in the long run. In 2013-14, we set up 2 additional cluster level centres, in the villages of Bharatwadi (Doddahejjuru Gram Panchayat, Hunsur block) and Bhuktalemala (Hannuru Gram Panchayat, H.D.Kote block).
Between April- August 2013, we were engaged in the ground-work for setting up the information centre in both these villages – which included the finalisation of the location for housing the information centre, the selection of the Managing Committee members who would be responsible for overseeing the operations of the centre from among the sangha women of the village, and the selection of the sakhi or young woman infomediary for the centre.
In both these villages, we consciously pushed for a strategy that foregrounded dalit women's ownership of the centre, a move that was met with stiff resistance and opposition from upper caste groups in both areas. Therefore, we had to tread very slowly and carefully – in light of the fact that in the associated processes, the threat of capture by the informal power structures of the villages loomed large. Another challenge that we encountered while establishing the information centres was the extreme supply-side scarcity in the rent market at the village level – it was extremely difficult for us and the sangha women to identify a house to situate the information centre, in both Bharathwadi and Bhuktalemala. In each village, we have finally had to house the centre in a cattle shed, after the owner of the property had been persuaded by sangha women to give it a make-over, including a coat of paint and an electricity connection.
Surmounting these challenges, in end-August 2013, we completed the groundwork for setting up the centres. Today, in both villages, dalit women lead the governance and institutional management of the centres. We have also observed that the centres are slowly gaining the status of a community institution, and upper caste groups who originally tried to socially boycott the centre, are coming around – as they have started realising the enormous value in the new public information networks the centre opens up. Needless to say, we will continue our vigilant mentoring of the dalit women's collectives who manage the centres in both these villages, to help them ward off attempts by local caste elders and powerful political factions at capturing these valuable community institutions.
As is well known, specialist doctors in the governmental health system, are located at the block level, and they do occasional visits to the Primary Health Centres at the village level. Laskhmi who is a member of the Managing Committee of the Attiguppe Namma Mahiti Kendra as well as the village level ASHA worker, went to attend a health department meeting at the local Primary Health Centre, in March 2014. She found the ophthalmologist (or in our parlance, 'eye doctor') visiting. He told all the ASHAS present that they could ask people from their villages to visit the health centre, any time that day, as it was the day of his scheduled visit. Lakshmi pointed out that it was not possible for people to put aside their tasks at such short notice, and come to the health centre, if prior notice was not given. She said that if the doctor were willing, the Attiguppe Mahiti Kendra (information centre) would take the responsibility of organising an eye camp -- and inform the doctor in advance so that he could plan the visit. The doctor agreed. The Mahiti Kendra organised the camp, shortly thereafter. 60 villagers, many of whom were senior citizens, attended. About 17 women were prescribed reading glasses. The doctor further helped the women in bargaining with the block level opticals showroom in getting their prescription glasses at a discount. The sangha women and the infomediary consider the fact that they got the 'eye doctor' to their village, to be one of the big successes of the Mahiti Kendra!
During the same period, we have focused on strengthening the linkages of our pre-existing Namma Mahiti Kendras at Attiguppe and Hosavaranchi, with Gram Panchayats and other public institutions such as the school, the anganwadi and the Primary Health Centre (See Box 1).
Box 2: Namma Mahiti Kendras as public interest arbitrators
anganwadi to audit its food grains distribution, every month. In fact, at present, it is the information intermediary who takes the photographs that are sent as documentary evidence to the block level departments, by the anganwadi workers.
The infomediaries (sakhis) of both these centres have started actively participating in all key local governance forums – such as Gram Sabha, Ward Sabha, and meetings of Panchayat committees (School Development and Management Committee and Village Health and Sanitation Committee).
As a result of this, the Namma Mahiti Kendras and their Managing Committees are increasingly gaining legitimacy as arbitrators of public interest, in the local public-political sphere.
Further, the Namma Mahiti Kendras are being increasingly flooded with requests from local governance authorities to provide 'authentic' community-generated data-sets to guide Panchayat planning and decision-making (See Box 2).
This period also witnessed the pay-offs of the long investment in enabling the infomediaries to scan the Internet for public information, and glean appropriate snippets for their work. In December 2013, the infomediary at the Hunsur block information centre, in the course of her periodic scanning of governmental information, found the list of wage payments made under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for all the villages in Mysore, published online. She shared this information with the other infomediaries over the phone, and at the subsequent infomediary meeting convened by us in Mysore. Each infomediary scanned the list for the information pertaining to the geographies they hail from, and then shared this list with women's collectives in their communities. Such an examination of the list revealed many inaccuracies. Though the women's collectives did not go on to openly confront the Gram Panchayats in these areas, as this scheme is highly politicised and there is a high risk of reprisal from those involved in the deep-rooted nexus of corruption associated with the implementation of the scheme, the fact that marginalised women and the infomediaries had an informed dialogue and deliberation around this issue, is in itself a significant achievement – a small step that can eventually lead to a giant leap in transforming informational cultures at the grassroots.
Finally, as part of our work under the Poorna Shakti Kendras of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, we have focused on piloting a Namma Mahiti Kendra under a new model, with the close cooperation of the Thumsoge Gram Panchayat. The Namma Mahiti Kendra will be set up in the precincts of the Gram Panchayat. The Managing Committee will not only include representatives from the women's collectives,but also the Panchayat Development Officer and the elected women representatives of the Gram Panchayat. The idea here is to strengthen the linkages between the Namma Mahiti Kendra and the Gram Panchayat, right at the outset, with the aim of attuning the Gram Panchayat to the effective use of ICT possibilities for information outreach and micro-planning. Currently, an in-principle approval from the Panchayat body for setting up the Namma Mahiti Kendra in the Panchayat precincts, has been obtained.
Community Media for citizenship education of women's collectives
Firstly, Prakriye, in partnership with the Karnataka State Open University, runs a community radio for sangha women, to claim their rightful space in the local public sphere. The broadcast,called Kelu Sakhi (Listen, my friend) features content sourced from the sanghas, in the geographies where the Namma Mahiti Kendras are operational. Secondly, Prakriye has a community video strategy that promotes women's perspectives, working closely with sanghas on content ideation and development. Thirdly, through a digital library strategy, video screenings, narrow casting of audio clips from Kelu Sakhi, and debates on gender inequality and injustice, the Namma Mahiti Kendra acts as a crucial local institution for women's active citizenship.
The community media strategy aims at enabling the information centres to function as digital libraries that can catalyse community media-based learning processes for marginalised women. Therefore, the sakhis at the Namma Mahiti Kendras are trained to screen videos and play audio clips to individuals and sanghas visiting the centre, on a variety of thematic areas such as : women's experiences with local governance institutions, information about governmental schemes for marginalised groups, women's health, discursive critiques of gender norms, and so on. Similarly, the sakhis have been trained to take a tablet PC with preloaded video resources, and audio clips from Kelu Sakhi on her mobile, when she makes her monthly information outreach visits to neighbouring villages.
It must be noted here that the sakhis and the women's collectives are not merely consumers of the audio and video content produced by Prakriye. They play a vital role in content ideation, recording and filming processes. The effort here is to create a new communicative culture – where women see audio clips and videos as part of the learning resources they have access to; and not as objects of fetish.
Between 2013-14, Prakriye has focused on utilising techno-social strategies for strengthening the capacities of 56 elected women representatives in 7 Gram Panchayats of Hunsur and H.D.Kote blocks of Mysore district. Today, there are a range of training and capacity-building programmes offered by state structures and civil society organisations for first-time elected representatives, especially women. However, as has been often pointed out, most of them focus on formal, rule-book oriented approaches rather than equipping first-time members, especially women and members from marginalised communities, in tackling power-politics at the local level. Also, in the case of elected women representatives, it has often been noticed that male family members often attend training and capacity-building forums on their behalf. This is because the practice of powerful village leaders fielding women family members as 'proxy' candidates in Panchayat elections, to avoid losing their control over local government structures when their constituencies are ear-marked for reservation, is very common.
To be effective, any training/capacity-building effort aimed at elected women representatives must enable them to emerge as leaders in their own right. This is not an easy endeavour -- as the co-operation of male members and elected men, in such an effort, is hard to obtain. At Prakriye, we have used the captivating power of technology, as a tactic to gain a foothold in the Panchayats, to further our aims of strengthening elected women representatives' political voice, linking them to the larger women's constituency at the local level, and bringing in women's priorities into local governance processes.
It must also be mentioned here that the video resources screened before Panchayat members as part of the Tablet PC training -- on areas such as the responsibilities of Panchayat Committees, the responsibilities of elected women representatives in taking forward women's agendas, and the idea of setting up a Namma Mahiti Kendra as a resource centre for Panchayats, played a huge role in enhancing members' and local leaders' receptivity to working with Prakriye.
For example, in Thumsoge Gram Panchayat, the initial set of camera and Tablet PC trainings made the Panchayat body open to the idea of setting up a Namma Mahiti Kendra within the Panchayat premises, and to the idea of organising a Mahila Gram Sabha for incorporating women's agendas into planning and decision-making processes (See Box 3). We are also working towards convening Mahila Gram Sabhas in the other Gram Panchayats we are engaging with.
Box 3: Mahila Gram Sabha in Thumsoge Panchayat
- Many houses do not have adequate drinking water supply.
Of course, at this point, we have not yet had a head-on confrontation with the politics of gender and caste at the local level. At some point, if this happens, we will certainly have to contend with some hostility from local power structures.
It is to prepare for this eventuality, that in parallel, we have explored community media strategies for building solidarities between elected women and women's collectives at the local level, to shape a vibrant women's political constituency at the grasssroots. The hope is that such a constituency can take on entrenched power structures, where required, to further the shared needs, concerns and priorities of women in the community, with respect to local governance processes. During January-March 2014, meetings were convened in 15 villages across 7 Gram Panchayats in H.D.Kote and Hunsur blocks, to network the elected women members from these areas with the women's collectives in their constituencies. This series of meetings has brought together 15 women elected to office, across the 7 Panchayats, with over 326 members of women's collectives. These meetings have been very helpful in triggering debates and discussion on issues such as women's demands from the Gram Panchayat, and the importance of women's paticipation in local governance forums. Video resources have been utilised where appropriate, to provide inputs to the discussions. Most importantly, the meetings have been a useful training ground to introduce women to the conventions of formal deliberative democracy -- How do you raise a question in a Gram Sabha? How do you make maximal use of the Mahila Gram Sabha? How do you strategically state your needs and requirements before elected representatives?
We have noticed that in this set of meetings, most demands that emerged were either infrastructural or about the non-receipt of individual entitlements. The challenge before us, which we hope to address through the next set of meetings that we are planning after July 2014, is to push the debates towards addressing those concerns that are often relegated to the space of the 'private' : marriage of under-age adolescent girls, domestic violence related to alcohol abuse, and so on.
GIS-enabled Participatory Mapping for accountable governance
Participatory mapping aims to empower marginalised communities to represent themselves spatially, bringing their local knowledge and perspectives in education, science, culture and communication and information to the attention of local governmental authorities and decision-makers and improving their livelihoods. Such maps can also be used to highlight existing gaps in infrastructure and services, such as low school enrolment rates, low quality public infratructure provisioning (schools, primary health care centres, water points,sanitation facilities etc.)
It is also important and relevant to note that adult illiteracy in most parts of India, including the areas in Mysore district that Prakriye works in, is extremely high. This means that the manner in which information is largely available – in written and text-based formats – is not accessible to a large section of the adult population. Lack of textual literacy also hinders their ability to meaningfully participate in decision making and planning activities in their communities, and often forms a barrier between them and new technologies. Visual mapping (including audio metadata possibilities ) could allow for these sections of the population to find meaningful ways to participate in development planning processes, give them a sense of ownership and engagement.
During 2013-14, we therefore carried out 'GIS Mapping on OpenStreetMaps' for Hunsur block, as part of a UNESCO supported programme to map 'points of interest' on OpenStreetMap, covering all public / social infrastructure such as roads, schools, health centres, panchayat offices etc. The Prakriye team also trained the staff of a local NGO, DEED, on mapping points on OpenStreetMaps, as part of building capacities for data mapping and visualisation among local civil society organisations.
The maps thus created are easily accessible from the OpenStreetMaps website. Access need not only be limited to individuals, but can also include
facilitated,communal access through village tele-centres and in the offices of NGOs, CBOs etc. Such a collective viewing of visual representation of key public information though GIS-enabled mapping, in a facilitated manner, can trigger discussions amongst community members and support bottom-up and participatory processes towards deepening democracy and enforcing the accountable governance agenda. The coming year, we will be utilising the education-related data for running a campaign in Doddahejjuru panchayat -- an area which has very low enrolment and retention rates. Also, we will be exploring further possibilities for creating Panchayat-level maps that can trigger discussions around effective implementation of schemes, in Thumsoge, building on the specific discussions highlighted in Box 3.
Mobile phones for informational networking
In 2013-14, we have made significant progress on the work initiated last year for the creation of a dialogic platform using the possibilities offered by Interactive Voice Recording System (IVRS) technology, for geographically dispersed elected women representatives and women's collectives to share insights on their specific experiences with, and challenges they have faced in dealing with, local governance institutions. While there is still a lot of ground to be covered before this vision can be fully realised, some headway has been made in the direction of forming an IVRS network of women's collectives and elected women leaders in the project area. At this point, test-runs of the voice-blast system have been satisfactorily completed – since January 2014, weekly reminders of the Kelu Sakhi programme and welcome messages to key women community leaders for project events, have been regularly sent. At every meeting, the mobile numbers of the participants are being enrolled by the field centre team who intend to send 1 minute “info capsules” about governance schemes, Panchayat functioning, women's rights vis-a-vis local institutions, from June 2014 onwards, on the IVRS network thus being created.
Praxis is an inherent part of the work ethos of the Prakriye field centre as well as IT for Change. The specific insights from our explorations of techno-social strategies for strengthening marginalised women's citizenship are taken forward through our action-research project "Women-gov" and they also inform our other policy research initiatives.
Advocacy and Networking
Global4th Annual Leadership Institute in Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Institute which brought together women's rights participants from 15 countries across South Asia, East Asia, and Africa focused on the question of effectively using global human rights frameworks to address context-specific experiences of marginality and gender discrimination.
In September 2013, as a grantee of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality, IT for Change was invited to make a remote presentation on the work of the field centre Prakriye with elected women representatives and women's collectives, at the Fund's internal strategy meeting on the role of ICT in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
In November 2013, IT for Change was invited by the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality to a Partners' Meet in New Delhi, which aimed at developing a shared research, programme and advocacy agenda on women’s economic rights and security. IT for Change made a presentation arguing for the need to have ICT-enabled information centres at the community level that could facilitate marginalised women's access to public information and entitlements, including social security benefits, based on insights from the work of the field centre.
Between 2013-14, as part of the 'Making Women's Voices and Votes Count' project, Prakriye has also functioned as a resource centre on techno-social strategies for the teams of the partnering organisations -- Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghathan and ANANDI.
Prakriye has been networking with MYRADA, an established development organisation in Mysore which also runs community information centres at the field level, to exchange learnings and insights from each model. Further, Prakriye has entered into a partnership with Prerna, a Mysore-based NGO that works on health issues, to organise reproductive health awareness campaigns in the project area, establishing linkages with government health extension workers and the public health care system.
In 2014-15, Prakriye will continue its efforts towards building a vibrant women's political constituency at the local level, by bringing together elected women and women's collectives for identifying shared priorities. A specific strategy that will be utilised is convening Mahila Gram Sabhas in follow up of the meetings for networking that have already been organised -- in order to help women formally put in their demands before office-bearers of the Gram Panchayat.
We will also continue our efforts towards the capacity-building of elected women representatives in Panchayats, and utilise innovative community media-based pedagogies to promote peer learning processes, which focus on helping women build the skills to deal with everyday power-politics, in a departure from mainstream models that have tended to focus on rule-books and manuals.
Needless to say, the community information centres strategy will continue to be at the heart of our work -- and we slowly, but steadily, want to move the centres to becoming vibrant 'schools for democracy' at the local level. This means that the centres will be equipped to play an important role in enabling women's collectives acquire a critical perspective on local governance processes,utilising techno-social strategies such as GIS-enabled participatory mapping and community video, where necessary.
Another key strategic direction is enabling the development of an alternative model of 'data-centred' governance, in which community ownership and audit of local data for planning is emphasised. As part of this strategy, we will focus on working closely with Panchayats in which our information centres are located, to help them utilise techno-social possibilities like Wiki platforms and GIS, to put out data-centred decision making processes in the public domain, and explore mobile phone-based strategies for public information outreach. Most importantly, we will focus on evolving a gendered framework for data-led local governance at the Panchayat level.
In parallel, we will build the capacities of the information centres to help them function as 'Gram Sabha resource centres' -- that equip citizens, especially women's collectives and marginalised groups, to critically analyse formal data-centred governance processes, and counter/challenge it where necessary. We will also focus on furthering the capacity of the information centres to take advantage of the 'digital delta' in strengthening their work : an MIS system for helping the infomediaries track applications and follow up on entitlement processing in an effective way, a community data-base identifying the specific informational needs at the household level to facilitate targeted outreach through bulk voice messaging, and utilsing GIS-based participatory mapping to promote discussions on accountable governance, are on the cards.