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Technology, Transparency and Accountability: A Bar-Camp in Delhi

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jun 06, 2011 06:30 AM
Accountability Initiative (AI) held a bar-camp on “Technology, Transparency and Accountability” on 5th June at Google office in Gurgaon. Pranesh Prakash participated in this bar-camp.

The camp brought together technology enthusiasts, coders, hackers and policy-thinkers together in a collaborative environment to develop innovative solutions to accountability and transparency challenges in India.


  • 10:00 AM - Introduction
  • 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM Combined sessions at the cafe
  • 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM - Breakout sessions in the various rooms and demo sessions in the cafe
  • 1:30 PM - Lunch
  • 2:30 - 5:30 PM - Breakout sessions in the various rooms and demo session in the cafe
  • 5:30 - 6:30 PM - Deciding the future of the camp and creating blueprints for further collaboration
  • 6:30 PM - Ending session

Some of the topics being talked about thus far

  • Social accountability tools and how can technology be used for this?
  1. Public finance tracking and PAISA
  2. Participatory budgeting
  3. Participatory research for tracking outcomes
  4. Citizen report cards
  5. Social audits
  • Open Data and why it is important for transparency
  1. Where can you find government data
  2. Scraping government data using Needle Base
  3. Why is visualization important?
  4. Some examples of how open Data is changing the world
  5. Akshara's work at the Karnataka Learning Partnership and the need for open educational data.
  6. Data-mashups
  7. The draft policy on open data in India
  8. One stop govt ports
  • Technology innovations for improving the Right to Information
  1. A wishlist
  2. Shouldn't the replies to RTI be in the public domain?
  3. Filing an RTI: Problems and Prospects
  4. RTI Question and Answer Portal
  5. How do you file an RTI though an SMS?
  • Egovernance initiatives that are leading to greater accountability and transparency
  1. Mahima Kaul - Digital Empowerment Foundation
  • Making the links between politics and businesses transparent
  1. Rohit Chandra
  • Electoral accountability

‘Improving and Strengthening Democracy in India’ - Lessons from Election Watch Process

  • Crowd-sourcing actionable data

An example of crowd-sourcing -

  • Transparency in diplomacy
  • Using online tools to engage and be engaged by the public.
  • How should we look at technology when dealing with grassroots situations?
  • How can programmers help in making governance more transparent?
  • Perspectives from the Government
  1. Perspectives from the NIC
  2. Perspectives from the NEGP
  3. Perspectives from the Office of Mr Sam Pitroda, Adviser to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations.
  • Making conversation: citizens and their government
  • Making visual sense of Data and Policy
  • Policy to Practice: From the lab and to the people
  • How can legislators and parliamentarians and MPs be tracked by citizens?
  • Research Tools to work with large amounts of data
  • Other interesting ideas that have come up
  1. Panini Keypad - Mr Abhijit Bhattacharjee
  2. How Ashok Leyland dealt with its problems of too many layers between the customer on the ground and the top management - Its implications for the government

 The Speakers

Nikhil Dey - Nikhil Dey has done more to fight for the rights of people than he will ever allow the world to find out. Always far from the spotlight, he has worked quietly to shape legislation, lobby governments and politicians and build grassroots campaigns.Born in 1963 in the city of Bangalore, Nikhil was educated in India and the US. Before the formal completion of his graduate course at the George Mason University, he left to ‘follow his bliss' and came to India. His initial work was with the Kheduth Mazdoor Chetna Sangathan in Madhya Pradesh. He then joined Aruna Roy and Shankar Singh in 1987 to go to a village called Devdungri in Rajsamand district, Rajasthan. Devdungri was soon to become the head office of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a peasants-workers-women organisation founded by the trio in 1990. He currently is the Convener of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information.

Shri Sailesh Gandhi - Shailesh Gandhi is one among the handful of people whose dogged perseverance has demonstrated that the Right to Information Act is a valuable tool that can be used by ordinary people to resolve issues and to clean up public life. Currently one of the Information Commissioners of India, Mr Gandhi is a graduate from IIT-Mumbai and first-generation entrepreneur.

Prof Trilochan Sastry -    Prof Trilochan Sastry has a Bachelors in Technology from IIT, Delhi, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) USA. He taught for several years at Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad after which he moved to IIM, Bangalore. He is currently Dean at IIM Bangalore. He has taught in other Universities in India, Japan, Hong Kong and United States and has published several academic papers in Indian and International journals. Has received national award for research and teaching. He was part of the cofounding team of  ADR India in 1999.

GVL Narasimha Rao: Rao is a well known Psephologist who has been predicting Indian elections for two decades for various leading media organisations in the country. He is the founder of Development & Research Services Pvt. Ltd., a leading research organisation offering professional research services for various governmental, international and commercial organisations. Formerly, he was a Columnist for MINT newspaper and regularly writes in various newspapers on politics and elections.

Rao is presently Media Adviser to Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in the rank of a state minister. He is also a member of the BJP’s National Committee on Electoral Reforms under the guidance of BJP’s senior Leader Mr. L.K. Advani.

Rao is President of VeTA (Citizens for Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability) and has organised various efforts in highlighting the lack of transparency and verifiability in Indian EVMs. He has authored a book titled “Democracy at Risk! Can We Trust Our EVMs?” which became the intellectual basis for the campaign for EVM reform. He had highlighted the vulnerabilities of India’s EVMs in a round table international Electronic Voting Workshop in Washington D.C. last year which was also attended by the Election Commission of India. Rao has blogged extensively on the vulnerabilities of EVMs at which exerted huge pressure on the Election Commission of India and even served as an eye opener for laying bare hitherto unknown vulnerabilities (brought out by the research of Hari Prasad et al.) and raising uncomfortable questions regarding the pitfalls in EVM procurement, storage and field administration.

Mahima Kaul - Mahima Kaul is a writer/journalist and has worked with different formats - print, video and online. She has written for The Indian Express, Sunday Guardian, PBS World Focus and also worked on video programming for Al Jazeera and PBS. She was the India producer for PBS's special coverage on the Mumbai Terror Attacks, which was nominated for an Emmy Award. She has a blog that has been picked up by (among others) OpenDemocracy, Global Voices, Huffington Post and Ground Report.

She is deeply involved in ICT4D -- Information and Communication Technologies for Development -- sector. She has worked with Video Volunteers, a community media organization, and helped launch India's first community TV channel, India Unheard. She is a consultant with the Digital Empowerment Foundation where she manages the Digital Knowledge Center, the first information portal in India on best practices in ICT4D.  Mahima has also established The Open Communication Foundation as a multidisciplinary platform devoted to ICT4D.

Rohit Chandra - Rohit Chandra is an engineering graduate currently doing research in the areas of power, energy and natural resources at the Centre for Policy Research. He will be discussing a nascent idea at the Accountability Initiative which hopes to map the links between businesses and politicians.

Sukhman Randhawa - Sukhman has completed her Masters in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge, UK and has obtained a BA in English Literature (Hons.) from St. Stephen's College, Delhi University. She is also an honorary fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. She has worked as a Research Associate at the National Knowledge Commission (NKC), a high level advisory body to the Prime Minister of India, on the focus areas of Higher Education, Libraries, National Portal for Teachers, National Environment Portal, National Biodiversity Portal, Quality of Life, and worked on compiling the final report of the Commission. At NKC, she also worked with State Governments for implementation of NKC recommendations and preparing blueprints for action. She has also worked with IL&FS Education and Technology Services Ltd in Delhi. Currently she is working at the Office of Mr Sam Pitroda, Adviser to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations.

Gautam John - Gautam used to be a lawyer with a focus on copyright laws and has also been an entrepreneur. He is passionate about education, equality and equity and focuses on 'access' as a way to achieve these. Gautam was a TED India Fellow in 2009 and is a Creative Commons supporter. He works with the Akshara Foundation where he manages the Karnataka Learning Partnership project, Pratham Books and is an advisor to Inclusive Planet. He is a founder member of Wikimedia Chapter (India) and currently serves as Secretary on the Executive Committee.

The Karnataka Learning Partnership is a multi-party, multi-stakeholder platform to bring transparency in the public preschool and primary education space. Karnataka Learning Partnership is also a public space where citizens can contribute to the cause of ensuring better schools and schooling for our children.

Raman Jit Singh Chima - is a senior analyst, Public Policy and Government Affairs at Google, India.

Pranesh Prakash - Pranesh Prakash is a programme manager with the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bangalore-based non-profit research and advocacy organization.  He is a lawyer by training who's comfortable at a bash prompt.  He works mostly around issues of intellectual property rights reform, promoting IP alternatives and transparency through different kinds of 'opennesses'—open standards, free/open source software, open government data, open access to law—as well as issues of freedom of speech and expression and privacy that relate to the Internet.

Last year, Pranesh along with Glover Wright, Sunil Abraham and Nishant Shah, prepared a report around open government data (OGD) in India as part of a series of studies commissioned by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative .  In that report they looked at the existing ecosystem in terms of data practices, the policy environment (RTI, copyright, standards, NeGP, NKC's recommendations, etc.) , and specific OGD case studies of governmental organizations, civil society organizations, public-private partnerships, and civic hackers.  The report then charts out challenges any campaign for OGD in India must address, as well as observations on how the very conceptualization of OGD must be different in India, and strategic recommendations on how to grow the OGD movement in India.

Rishabh Verma - A Python enthusiast, FOSS contributor,loves data mining and is always upto finding unusual patterns in large datasets. Organizer of Tech & Entrepreneurial events, he digs data-contextualization books when he should rather be preparing for his board exams.

Thejesh N - Thejesh GN is a Technologist. His area of interests are web, Open Data and Open Source technologies. He moonlights visualizing public data. He loves blogging and hacking open source software. You can find more about him here.

Chakshu Roy - Chakshu is a lawyer who specialised in real estate law and commercial agreements before joining PRS.  He has earlier worked in corporate law with the Chamber of Law, New Delhi. He holds bachelors degrees in Commerce and Law from Delhi University. Chakshu Roy heads technology initiatives at PRS Legislative research, developing a comprehensive technology strategy to engage large sections of the Indian population in policy making.

Vinay Kumar - Vinay Kumar is the chief strategist at Digital Greens. He currently manage operations of Digital Green and contribute to its organizational development. He is also a consultant to Translational Health Science & Technology Institute (THSTI) at Department of Biotechnology. Prior to this he was at India Operations Director at PATH and Regional Operations Manager for Asia / Near East with IntraHealth International. Earlier he was with the Reserve Bank of India. I have an MA in Political Science and M. Phil. in International Relations from JNU and MBA from FMS.

Manu Srivastava -  Manu Srivastava works as Vice President - Delivery at eGovernment Foundation, a not-for-profit trust that was founded in Feb 2003 by Nandan Nilekani & Srikanth Nadhamuni with a goal of creating an eGovernance system to improve the functioning of City Municipalities leading to better delivery of services to their citizens. He has been in the field of Municipal Governance for the last 7 years and focusses on supply side, with the Municipal Governments, to create sustainable, efficient, transparent and accountable Municipalities. eGovernments Solutions have been deployed in more than 250 municipalities across the country.

Dinesh Shenoy - Dinesh Shenoy is a business developer at Palantir. Palantir is a firm believer in the fact that well-informed citizens lead to better government, and making government data available is certainly an important first step. In practice, however, information is scattered across countless domains, and combining such widely dispersed knowledge in a meaningful way is a technical challenge beyond any private citizen's capabilities. Palantir has eliminated this barrier, democratizing the data and providing the tools to place a new world of analysis at your fingertips. 

Palantir has developed AnalyzeThe.US which allows anyone to to explore vast amounts of data, including key datasets from It brings critical knowledge together on a single stage, while providing rich analytical applications that enable anyone to develop an intuitive picture of the complex flow of resources, money, and influence that affect how our government functions. Ultimately, by allowing citizens to analyze our democracy, AnalyzeThe.US democratizes analysis.

Paul Culmsee - Paul Culmsee is a dialog mapper based in Perth, Australia. He has faciliated a number of meetings and done lot of dialog mapping particularly for the public sector in the areas of urban planning and health. He is the only certified dialog-mapper in the Southern hemisphere. He has also dialog-mapped politicians. His work has culminated in soon to be released book called "Beyond Best Practices", which outlines IBIS based techniques - a radically inclusive approach to knowledge management that allows groups to capture and make sense of unstructured knowledge during project meetings. and case studies. The book goes beyond the tool of mapping and the concept of wicked problems to look at what is needed to create and maintain a "holding environment". 

Frederick Noronha - Frederick Noronha is a journalist, writer, publisher and photographer from Goa, India. He is known for online community building, and for promoting the cause of Free Software in India. Among the other campaigns he has been actively associated with are the successful community radio campaign, right to information initiatives, sharable content (including the information commons, Creative Commons, Wikipedia). He has been active in mailing lists within India, and has undertaken blogging assignments in Uganda, Malaysia and Thailand. He is on twitter at @fn and shares his links via Facebook and (fredericknoronha)

Nikhil Pahwa - Nikhil Pahwa is a media junkie, journalist and a blogger. He  has covered the digital media business for more than 3 years. He has helped bringing a pan-media perspective to digital media reportage, highlighting industry issues, identifying opportunities and problems, and questioning the efficacy of decisions being made by some large media companies. Nikhil Pahwa undoubtedly is one of the popular names in the business of digital media coverage. Companies referMedianama for the latest breaking news in the digital media industry.

Kohl Singh Gill - Dr. Kohl S. Gill is the President and founder of LaborVoices, Inc. Dr. Gill served as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow for the U.S. Departments of Energy and State, most recently as the South Asia and Middle East Labor Affairs Officer for the Office of International Labor and Corporate Social Responsibility in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Prior to federal service, Dr. Gill was an Indicorps Fellow in the slum areas of Delhi, India, serving as a volunteer paralegal with local residents, using transparency legislation to fight both petty and grand corruption at the local level. Dr. Gill is a graduate of the California Institute of Technology and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, for his work in quantum computing and semiconductor physics.

Aaditya Dar, Dhruv Suri and Ritwik Agrawal - Aaditya, Dhruv and Ritwik are interested in exploring and evolving innovative interventions to improve governance in India. They have varied backgrounds - economics, policy research, law, advocacy [and even math!] and have worked together in the past on education and governance related issues as part of United Students.

Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya is a development professional with hands-on experience in institution development, development research, communication systems and grassroots networking. He has considerable experience in developing systems and platforms for enabling enterprise support. Vijay is an Electrical Engineering Graduate with a Post-Graduation in Management from the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, M.P., India. Vijay is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ekgaon.

The other speakers were:

  1. Vivek Joshi
  2. Siddhant
  3. Mudit Tuli
  4. Ankit Rastogi
  5. Nirmesh Singh
  6. Manish Shekhar
  7. Shashank S
  8. Mandira
  9. Tonushree
  10. Shomikho Raha

The rationale behind the camp

Founded in 2008, AI is a research initiative that aims to improve the quality of public services in India by promoting informed and accountable governance. To this end, one of AI's key efforts is to develop innovative models for tracking government led social sector programs in India. The Centre for Policy Research, an independent and non-partisan research institute and think-tank, is the institutional anchor for this initiative.

It is now widely accepted that greater transparency – access to information and data on the day to day functioning of government – is key to creating accountable and effective governance systems. The Right to Information Act (2005) has played a significant role in strengthening transparency by committing the government to both proactively providing citizens with information and also responding to specific information requests. While the Act has met much success – RTI applications are growing by the day - there remain concerns related to quality, and reliability of information and data provided. Moreover, there are still many gaps in the Government’s efforts to proactively disclose information and data of public relevance.

Technology is one of many tools that can help address these gaps. There are some incredible initiatives taking place across the world on opening government data and on getting data to work for ordinary citizens. [See below for a sample of initiatives] Through the bar camp, we hope to create a platform for technologists to share these technologies and contribute to the debate on strengthening accountability and transparency.

Equally, we believe that technology solutions can be significantly enhanced if they are developed in consultation with people working on the ground, people who deal with the challenges of our current governance systems in India. By organizing a bar camp, we at AI want to initiate a conversation between technology specialists and people working on the ground. Through the bar camp, we intend to create a space where people can share their knowledge about how best to use new technologies to make our government really work for the people.

Online conversations

To faciliate conversations between interested people and for people who are interested in being a part of the planning process, we created a Google-Group. To send in your suggestions for the camp, both on what you would like to hear, and on what sessions you would like to take, you can use the google-group or send in your entries through our Facebookpage, our Twitter handle or through comments on this blog post. Our entry on the official bar-camp page is here. To tweet about us please use the hash-tag #TAC1.

Do you need more ideas?

To spark your thought processes, we consolidated a list of websites which deal with "Technology, Accountabilty and Transparency". Have fun!

  1. A compendium of ideas from across the world can be found here
  2. The Sunlight Foundation does some excellent work on technology and transparency issues.
  3. The technology for transparency network maps technology initiatives across the world.
  4. Code for America brings together techies from across the world to use their skills for the greater common good.
  5. Civics Common is another organization working on using technology for common good, and this involves a lot of transparent data.

For any other information, please contact lemmanuel @

See the entire details on the Accountability Initiative website.

Filed under:
ASPI-CIS Partnership


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