The Responsive State --- Introduction to the Series

Posted by Zainab Bawa at Sep 13, 2010 06:25 AM |
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This post is an introduction to a series of posts on the concept of the 'responsive state'. In this series, I try to explain the various meanings that the term responsiveness has come to acquire when it is used in relation with the discourses surrounding transparency and the deployment of ICTs and the Internet to enforce transparency and thereby create a responsive state. Understanding the notion of responsiveness requires us to revisit and analyze certain concepts and the relations that have been drawn between concepts such as state, government, politics, administration, transparency, effectiveness, government-citizen interface, ICTs and effectiveness, among others. Read on to find more...

The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the Internet to enforce transparency is believed to create the ‘responsive state’. A responsive state is one which:

  • enables citizens to participate in policy-making processes;
  • provides them with information about the functioning (including roles and responsibilities) of its various arms and functionaries, and the laws governing cities, the nation and other jurisdictions of administration and governance;
  • delivers services efficiently and in a more transparent manner;
  • in general, responds to citizens’ needs and demands and pays heed to their opinions, suggestions, grievances and complaints.

In this post I will specifically examine what responsiveness has come to mean in the backdrop of the discourses and practices regarding transparency and the use of ICTs and the Internet to promote transparency and, to thereby, create a responsive state. In some posts, I will backtrack to trace what responsiveness means and how it translates in everyday life when citizens variously interact with their governments and administrative agencies, and how the discourses of transparency and uses of ICTs and the Internet have ushered new meanings of responsiveness. In some of the posts, we will need to re-visit and examine fundamental concepts such as ‘state’, ‘government’, ‘administration’ and ‘politics’, among others, to understand how the meanings and uses of these concepts have changed over time, resulting in new imaginations and beliefs about realities concerning and involving the state, government, administration and politics. Locating and understanding these transformations helps us to get a perspective on elements such as transparency, ICTs and the Internet and their existing and emergent relationships with state, government, administration, politics and citizenship.

Our interest is actually to see how government–citizen interfaces are transformed through the various deployments of ICTs and the Internet to enforce transparency and responsiveness. This is because the notion of responsiveness is premised on particular understandings, beliefs and imaginations regarding:

  • functioning of the state i.e., non-transparent, inefficient, non-responsive, bureaucratic; and therefore
  • of government–citizen interface i.e., ineffective, non-transparent and therefore, non-democratic, not producing desirable outcomes.

It is the desire to improve government–citizen interface — mainly reform of government functioning, improving the effectiveness of interactions between governments and citizens and strengthening the possibilities of translating these interactions into outcomes. This desire has led not only non-government organizations (NGOs), social movement and civic groups and international development aid agencies but also the state to take steps towards improvising on and/or bettering avenues and channels through which citizens and governments interact with each other. The Indian state has made efforts to introduce responsiveness among its various arms and functionaries by:

  • introducing and implementing new laws such as the Right to Information Act (RTI) (through pressures from and in collaboration with social movement, civic groups and the National Advisory Council);
  • announcing (and mandating government agencies to implement) policies that make it mandatory for municipalities, urban local bodies and other local administrative institutions to publish information that is (considered to be) relevant/necessary/potentially useful for citizens;
  • by necessitating the creation of websites as a means of information provision and thereby as a novel mode of interaction between governments and citizens;
  • by making particular kinds of data more easily available to citizens through ICTs;
  • by developing e-governance policies and frameworks which re-engineer government functioning and facilitate easier and more interaction between governments and citizens (including, among others, electronic delivery of some kinds of basic services).

In this series, we will analyze each of the above steps that the Indian state has taken, either on its own initiative or owing to pressures from other actors and institutions in the polity, to institute responsiveness. Our goal is to critically evaluate the meanings of responsiveness and the consequences of establishing it (in the backdrop of transparency and the use of ICTs and Internet) – essentially what such responsiveness means for different citizen groups as well as, fundamentally, for the abstract notion of the state and the ground realities that reify the state. Given these goals, in the forthcoming posts we will individually look at the relationships between:

  1. State and Government – what do each of these concepts mean, how do they differ as actually existing entities, how do responsiveness and transparency apply independently to each of them as well as in their relations with each other;
  2. Transparency and Responsiveness – why transparency has become a prerequisite for realizing responsiveness;
  3. State and Citizens, Governments and Citizens – how are these relationships distinct and co-related in different contexts and how interfaces developed through the deployment of ICTs and the Internet configure and reconfigure these relationships;
  4. Transparency, Responsiveness and ICTs and Internet – what kinds of imaginations underlie the use of ICTs and Internet to enforce transparency and responsiveness, how do ICTs and Internet reconfigure the meanings and virtues of transparency and responsiveness, and how are the virtues and symbolisms associated with ICT enabled transparency and responsiveness informing our understandings of politics, governance, administration and the state.

Each of the posts, though individual, will require readers to refer to earlier posts in order to get a grasp of some of the issues being raised in the post they may be reading. On my part, I will make every attempt to cross-reference and provide extensive references to external resources that will help the reader to examine points of views on their own.  

The next post will tackle the concepts of state and government. Without much ado, adieu till we meet next …

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Zainab Bawa

Zainab Bawa works as an independent researcher on issues of urbanism, governance and impact of technology on political practices and institutions. She is doing a project, Transparency and Politics with CIS.