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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Digital Bangladesh - Get the crowd involved through crowdmaps

Initiatives related with Digital Bangladesh will be truly successful when UNDP in Bangladesh and the Access to Information Programme at the Prime Minister’s Office start relying more on the ‘crowd’ for feedback and service improvement requests across a variety of services on offer such as information, market price, human rights etc. To this extent, I share my inclination towards ‘crowdmaps’ – which is open source, integrated with a range of technology channels such as phone, Twitter, emails, SMS, web, which is free or at minimal cost, customisable, supports a variety of languages and truly inclusive by involving the ultimate beneficiaries in the full value chain process.

‘Crowdmap’ is based on the ‘ushahidi’ platform, the Kenya based technology for development start up which was first used during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007. Since then, it has been used increasingly after the earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, Japan, during the crisis in Egypt, Libya etc. Other than being used after natural calamities and man made crisis, ‘crowdmaps’ – rather ‘mapmania’ is going to be one of the key buzzwords for the year 2011.

For example, take the case of a crowdmap set up for reporting and tracking violence against women say in Dhaka city. Imagine the power it would give to ordinary Dhaka women to report incidents immediately to alert police or social agencies via the crowdmap. It could be a quick call against the shortcode for the crowdmap, or a quick SMS or for even further details, they can always login to internet to report in detail what exactly happened. It would become clearer which areas in the city are more prone to incidents against women thus urging authorities to promptly take measures to prevent such events from occurring in future. Please note that crowdmap doesn’t require internet for interacting with its users – simple mobile or landlines can also be integrated with crowdmap via another useful technology useful for NGOs – frontlineSMS. Have a look at a crowdmap to track violence against women in Egypt.

I won’t go into much detail how exactly frontlineSMS or crowdmap work, you can check the links and innovate a service for your locality anywhere in Bangladesh. The key point I am trying to drive home is effective initiatives for Digital Bangladesh will need to come out of closed door seminars and workshops in government offices or posh hotels and from reliance on proprietary software or platforms. Rather than hiring expensive foreign consultants or taking alms from foreign donors on a never-ending basis to devise technology driven solutions for social change, we should explore open source and mostly free technologies such as crowdmaps to include ordinary citizens in various aspects of services which the Government or other social development agencies are mandated to deliver. At present I am involved in a crowdmap initiative for Bangladesh focusing on economic, cultural and social rights of citizens. Power to the 'crowd'.