Is data our new oil?

Mukesh Ambhani made a mind-blowing statement recently in the Nasscom leadership forum, “The foundation of the fourth industrial revolution is connectivity and data. Data is the new natural resource. We are at the beginning of an era where data is the new oil”. He made this statement in the context of market transactions but we think it helps explain the crisis our study group faced on the field as well. State is our guardian, facilitator and what not and there is not even a single day in our daily life devoid of the State, yet it remains like an alien to most of us. We thought of this gap in several dimensions and one interesting aspect struck us. The lack of information or data or “awareness” in public policy terms.

We were shocked to see people rushing to even primary school teachers to find solutions for their life threatening problems. What was interesting here is not whether the primary school teacher is a capable enough or not but why would she/he know a solution to that? Why do the people run to them instead of the ‘police’? Are they not aware of the role of police? Is it that they don’t trust the institution of police?. These questions troubled us throughout. However during the process of study we came across several such instances wherein the common factor was that people really want information but do not know whom to go to?

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On the other hand we realised that the same lack of data about the appropriate state institutions leads to two serious problems, 1. Citizen left helpless 2.Top bureaucratic offices becoming “information cells” instead of “activity cells”. They are forced to spend a significant amount of their time and energy in connecting people to the concerned state institutions. Our State is a complex web of multiple channels and departments that we could see that at times even the senior bureaucrats are  left clueless about how to maneuver through them.

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This experience on actual field triggered us to think of possible solutions. The state has devised several welfare schemes and institutions but are mostly left unutilised thus leaving our facilitator State in the darkness in-spite of all efforts because of the lack of connectivity. We thought of something that could get the relevant data to the citizens  so as to connect them to the appropriate state institution in place. The one stop for citizens in to get all sort of information thus in a way connecting citizens to state. Decomplexization of the State mechanisms.

On the other hand if activity cells turning into information cell is a big problem why not have an information cell in every village.This cell should be the first point of contact for any citizen faced with any problem in the village. The Cell will function like a specialized help-desk  capable enough to listen to citizens problem and connect to the concerned state institution. This can save people’s time and effort in from running into the wrong institutions based on wrong information.Apart from saving citizens time and energy the cell also ensures bureaucrats some peace of mind to do what they are supposed to be doing.Institutionally the cell can be located in very Panchayat office which ensures availability and cuts down expenditure.Now for better accountability and financial viability we were thinking of the cell in the form of a market model wherein they will be paid by the people themselves on a transaction basis.A  kind of similar model would be Akshaya centers in Kerala. This ensures better performance and above all saves government exchequer.

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What do you think ?

Minu

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The whole post/Piece is completely the result of discussions amongst Aparna ,Vivek and myself. My role in this post is limited to a representer of the discussions ,narratives and ideas that came up in the group discussion.

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