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Posted 1 August, 2012 by Susannah Vila

Featured Initiative: Online Portals Against Small-Scale Corruption in India and Pakistan


I Paid a Bribe, the Indian-born portal empowering citizens to report on experiences with small-scale corruption, has inspired a handful of attempts at replication. This phenomenon was reported (and a bit exaggerated) by the New York Times recently:

Now, similar sites [to I Paid a Bribe] are spreading like kudzu around the globe, vexing petty bureaucrats the world over. Ms. Ramanathan said nongovernmental organizations and government agencies from at least 17 countries had contacted Janaagraha, the nonprofit organization in Bangalore that operates I Paid a Bribe, to ask about obtaining the source code and setting up a site of their own.

But the article overlooked the most important component of the phenomenon it covered: for the successful replication of anti-corruption portals there has to be a lot of of knowledge transfer among practitioners. India has to share what worked and didn’t work with Kenya. Kenya has to share what worked with Uganda. They should all share their lessons with Pakistan. And so on.

Because this has not happened, most attempts at replication have fallen short. While I Paid a Bribe is by no means ideal – hint: as far as I know it does not systematically report back to citizens who submitted information – most copycat initiatives have garnered barely any citizen engagement at all.

That’s why it is worth noting that, in Pakistan, a TED Fellow named  Awab Alvi is attempting to launch an online portal against corruption that does takes into account the important lessons learned in recent years. 

These are just a few of the necessary, non-technical, strategy components of a successful online portal against corruption. Note that Awab may never get the resources to make all of this happen, in which case it will not launch (he doesn’t want his initiative to have anything in common with Map a Crime).  These necessary resources include funding for staff hours as well as support from, as he puts it, a long-term strategy partner that can provide guidance and access to expertise over time.

I spoke to Awab last week, and asked him what he thought the necessary components for a successful online portal against corruption are. Here is what he emphasized:

1. Don’t launch anything unless you have resources for a countrywide marketing campaign

This could include regular opportunities for TV appearances, well known spokespeople or regular spots in online media outlets.

 SKILLS NEEDED: Public relations and or marketing with contacts in the Pakistani media (TV and online); SMS broadcasting

2. Include functionality for anonymous reporting

While harassment of reporters is less of an issue for bribes so small (Khancha wants to stick with incidents involving less than $100 USD) allowing for safe and anonymous reporting is still an imperative. There are no existing resources with Awab’s team to make this happen – from risk assessments to encryption tactics, they’ll need to draw on the expertise of folks that may not yet know.

SKILLS NEEDED: Encrypted mobile 2-way SMS messaging

3. Identify a target for citizen reports – and a way to ensure that the target sees and acts on these reports 

Awab will need a team member with the contacts and experience necessary to get institutional bodies to act on the information collected.

According to Awab, I Paid a Bribe in India has someone on its team who used to be in law enforcement and therefore can more effectively act on incoming bribe reports. He can, for instance, pressure officials who asked for bribes (or their superiors) or take cases to the right law enforcement office based on his knowledge of the institutions.

SKILLS NEEDED: Strong relationships within law enforcement and interest in anti-corruption

If you have any of these skills or want to help get this project off the ground you should send an @reply to Awab on Twitter.

1 thought on “Featured Initiative: Online Portals Against Small-Scale Corruption in India and Pakistan”

John Gray says:

Article that you have written is great.

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