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Case Study: The Report Card on Vote Report India Version 1.0

Categories: Activism, India

Vote Report India Banner [1]

The 2009 Indian Lok Sabha elections have come to an end and so has version 1.0 of Vote Report India [2].

We have had our successes and failures and I have talked about some of them before [3].

I think we did a lot of things well –

- We were able to get the website up within a week, thank to some great work by the Ushahidi [4] and eMoksha [5] teams.

- We were able to build a number of important relationship, with civil society organizations (like Jaago Re [6]/ One Billion Voters [7], National Network for India [8], Liberty Institute [9], Citizens for Justice and Peace [10], and Women’s Political Forum [11]), traditional media organizations (like Al Jazeera [12]) and new media organizations (like Global Voices [13], Indipepal [14], Desipundit [15], BlogAdda [16], NGO Post [17] and Digital Democracy [18]). In fact, our partnerships page [19] looks like a literal who's who of the important players working on the Indian elections.

- We were able to generate a lot of buzz for Vote Report India [20], on blogs [21], on Twitter [22], and in mainstream media within a very short time.

- We have been able to build a vibrant Vote Report India community that has been active in supporting us on both the technical and outreach side.

Here are some things that have not gone well –

- We haven't been able to establish a relationship with any big Indian media organizations on one hand, and National election Watch and the Election Commission on the other hand, in spite of some serious discussions.

- We haven't been able to integrate the Swift [23] functionality into Vote Report India (aggregating feeds from multiple sources and crowdsourcing the tagging etc.) on our original timelines.

- We haven't been able to get users to submit reports in large numbers. We have a little more than 200 reports in the system, which isn't bad. However, we would have needed many more reports to capture the complexity of the 2009 Indian elections.

- The voter turnout in all four phases has been low, putting a question mark on the effectiveness of all digital civil society campaigns [24] like Vote Report India.

Here are some lessons from Vote Report India version 1.0 –

- It's still difficult to build a grassroots movement in India exclusively on the internet. Even online campaigns need to be supported by mainstream media for reach and SMS for the feedback loop. We had SMS, but we didn't have the resources to advertise on mainstream media.

- In a country like India, which has a free and noisy news eco-system, transparency initiatives like Vote Report India need to not only get original reports from users but also aggregate reports from mainstream media.

- Transparency, in terms of availability of information in a usable format, is not a big enough incentive for Indian users. Users expected Vote Report India to closeloop the issues and give them feedback, and we were not set up to do that.

On the whole, I think that we did quite well, given our time and resource constraints.

Our biggest achievement, I think, was being able to build a vibrant community around Vote Report India and we are grateful to all the people who contributed to the project.

As I said, this was only version 1.0 of Vote Report India. We will take a short break and then relaunch Vote Report India as a platform to crowd-source the performance monitoring of our elected members of parliament, using the Ushahidi/ Swift engines. We will move the present homepage to 2009.votereport.in and start new pages like 2014.votereport.in for new elections, including local assembly elections.

Selvam [5] and I, along with the other members of the core team [25], will continue to devote a substantial part of our time to Vote Report India. We are looking to expand our team, so do write to us at votereportindia@gmail.com [26], if you would like to become involved in a significant way.

Cross-posted at Gauravonomics, my blog on social media and social change [27].