The project below was interviewed during the first phase of our research, in early 2010. We have since determined that it fits more within the categories of general citizen engagement and/or activism in areas outside of transparency and accountability, rather than within the specific criteria we have defined for the purposes of our research.

Quick Look

An online 'touch-point', between citizens and government, for information, empowerment and accountability.

Beginning Date: 
February 15, 2010
Project Scale: 


Velu Shankar is the co-ordinator of iJanaagraha, an online platform, promoting the ‘spirit of volunteerism’ for citizen engagement, through information, training workshops, and the building of citizen-government relationships while keeping an eye on direct accountability.

"It is an off-shoot of its mother-organization," Janaagraha, Shankar says, "which was launched a decade back, and takes inspiration and guidelines, from its experiences and understandings, over time. Janaagraha has been the force behind a lot of campaigns over the years, some of which, have even led to policy changes, besides creating a huge citizen-follower base that it has successfully guided by taking increased interest in civic engagement. Its mantra is R.E.E.D..

Some of the notable endeavors of the organization are the three Janaagraha programmes – the Community Leadership Programme, Bala Janaagraha and Yuva Janaagraha - that work to promote citizen participation in governance. It also has a public-private urban initiative to bring about regional initiatives such as, JnNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru, Urban Renewal Mission) and Jaagore, an online Voter information and registration system with over 600,000 registrants since its inception.

iJanaagraha intends to be a ‘touch-point’ between the government and citizens to create an atmosphere of partnership in developmental processes via increased citizen-interest, local government empowerment and direct accountability.


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Date of Audio: 
April 23, 2010


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

To create relevance in people’s lives - both theoretically and practically - about these issues. Everyone knows, talks about it, and complains, but to actually get involved and take up an issue, it has to appeal to them, and creating that appeal is a big challenge.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

At two levels:

1. Internal – Content. Creating relevant content packaged in an interesting way to appeal to citizens to take up issues and act at different levels, starting from the individual to whole neighborhoods to the urban level.

2. External – Network on the ground with other citizens, digital activists, policy experts, organizations, online or otherwise, and the government to bring about effective change.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

The urban civic system in today’s India, is a broken one – a lot worse than its rural counterpart! The local administration, the lowest form of urban governance, is under-powered. Citizens are ill-informed as to the ways and means to take up their issues, starting from the individual to the neighborhood level and upwards, irrespective of intent. iJanaagraha aims to citizen-train and empower the local governance system at the lowest level, and act as a bridge between the ‘demand and supply’, while keeping a tab on direct accountability.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

70% of India is predicted to be urbanized by the next decade or so. The rapid growth of urban India - post-liberalization - has created a huge gap between the current quality of life, and civic and infrastructural needs. This is buoyed by the lack of citizen initiatives, empowerment of local governments, and forms of direct accountability.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

With media as my background, having extensively worked with radio before, an opportunity to cover Janaagraha brought out some interesting revelations about the work they were doing – ‘practical patriotism’ and ‘professional volunteerism’. Intrigued, I decided to volunteer part-time, which is when I got drawn into the cause and decided to take a break from media and spend most of my time with the organization. Today, I’m their full time Communications Advisor. iJanaagraha gave me the opportunity to explore the creation of a ‘touch-point’ between the government and citizens, via great content, design and exploring ideas to facilitate the objective.

Is there a freedom of information law in the country where this project is based?: 
How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

Citizens generally, do not know, how to take up their causes and issues, and that creates a vacuum in participation, irrespective of their intent. An online platform, such as iJanaagraha, not only informs and trains citizens, but also works on empowering the local government to address issues, once taken up. It also enables both the citizens and the government, via various tools like maps, etc., to solve them, while tracking on the accountability process.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

A good example would be the Jaagore campaign. It registered 600,000 voters, since its launch.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

About 50. Sometimes more.

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 

About 150 hours. or so.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

Collecting data, prioritizing issues and packaging them in a more ‘appetizing manner’, for the citizen-audience to find relevance with them. Also, making information more accessible and tools more simple, and encouraging for citizens to actively participate and then act.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

The available information is extracted from government sources, and papers that are not readily available, are extracted by commissioning researches.

The other effective endeavor, is that of WISA (Ward Infrastructure & Services Assessment) – a seven point check system, designed to effectively and tangibly assess, ‘quality of life’ that can be monitored. This is to scientifically examine public opinion about the ground reality, vis-a vis basic standards. Here, the citizens are empowered to tell the government, what their priorities are. This in conjunction with government information, leads to a rational relationship between the citizens and their government.

How do you attract new participants?: 

Janaagraha, by virtue of its work and established presence, already has an audience that has participated actively, and follows up on its work regularly. iJanaagraha, therefore, already has an audience base.

The other planned aspect is to network with other organizations working in different fields and on various issues. So iJanaagraha, through such networking, not only becomes a wider platform, but also a common-point for citizens, activists, organizations and the government, to interact and act and balance contextual ‘demand and supply’.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

I would think networking - at the citizen level, with activists, welfare groups and other organizations working on different fields. Right now, the current active participants of Janaagraha, are definitely the biggest propagators.

What are your biggest referrers? Where does most of your traffic come from?: 

The target audience is necessarily, urban. A preferred age group of between 25 – 30.
Janaagraha, so far, is our biggest contributor of readily available audience.

Has legal action been taken against your website?: 


What metrics do you use to judge your own success?: 

Mainly, the number of people that register on the site, the number of partnerships with other organizations on the platform, and very importantly, the involvement/association of eminent media houses, social thinkers and writers, in contributing their thoughts and points of view to the platform.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

The knowledge of the fact that you are making a difference. Through being an informed citizen, taking up your cause and issues at the individual, neighborhood and urban level, you are a participating citizen, who counts and matters – even if, you are selfish enough to just take up your own cause, it still makes a difference.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

Firstly, they should know and understand the target audience.
Secondly, young, and urban – people who understand the issues themselves.
Third, and the most important is that, they should be aware of, and well-conversant with technology tools, such as the ones used by us, like digital/interactive maps etc..

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

We are definitely looking for funding in the coming years.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

We are looking at networking with other organizations, online, or otherwise, thereby building a platform for anybody, who wants their issues looked at, and addressed. We are also looking at valuable association with digital activists, media houses, etc..

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

Yes. We are looking at different tools, like, digital/interactive maps, which form a vital part of our information dissemination, social networking tools, online platforms and so on, for the citizens to connect better with their eco-system.

As for an extension of the Jaagore/Jaagte Raho campaigns, we want to provide search engines to provide voter information, as well as, facilities for online registration.

Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

The communication with the government, typically have been related to the larger project. For example, Jaagore with the Election Commission of India, and so on.

iJanaagraha would have communication with the government at two levels:

1. on the conglomerated programs of Janaagraha.
2. on issues and aspects, iJanaagraha brings in individually.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

No. Only policies that need to be changed or framed, as they come up through the various initiatives, and prove to be important and inevitable for development and growth, like in the case of JnNURM.

What other projects in your region should we know about?: 

Definitely WISA (Ward Infrastructure & Services Assessment). It’s probably the first of its kind in India, which effectively puts a tangible metric system on the otherwise intangible concept of ‘quality of life’, using seven parameters, thus rendering it, scientific and research-oriented in approach and not just based on perception. Beneficial for both ‘demand and supply’ sides.

Other than that, Arghyam, a project working on the water management and sanitation sectors, and Mumbai Votes.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

2010 - Launch in the first week of July, and then focus on participation building with other organizations and citizen involvement and training - establishing the idea of nation-building, starting from neighborhood.

2011+ - Expansion to other Indian cities beyond Bangalore, and approaching and working on broader issues.

Further Questions

Was the project influenced by any other projects? Is it a replication of an existing project? If so, which one?

None, in particular. If at all, iJanaagraha is a digital extension of the experiences and understandings, from the 'Janaagraha journey', over the years.

What is the approach that your organization takes towards overcoming/tackling issues?

We believe, for any big change to happen, you need a systemic approach. Our approach is based on that perspective. We call it R.E.E.D. - Regional Perspective, Empowering Governments and Citizens, Enabling Citizens and Governments, Direct responsibility – the same approach, as Janaagraha.

We create/use tools, such as Maps – digital, interactive, and such, to provide information to citizens to facilitate interactions, starting from the neighborhood to issues levels, while working on local government empowerment and at the same time tracking accountability. We also want to effectively use social networking tools and just about anything, useful for effective networking between citizens, other organizations, and the government.

So, in effect, we are providing information, spaces and tools.

So how do you establish the link between the citizens and the government, and create a meeting point of the two?

We actually provide the citizens with the information, training and the tools, where by, using mediums like social networking, they can come together and approach the concerned departments responsible, to solve problems. So, it’s the tools, training and the space, to empower citizens at either individual levels, or at the neighborhood levels, or even at the ‘issues level’.

Has the work done by your organization, led to a governmental policy change?

The biggest example is JnNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission), taken up by the Govt. of India, in 63 cities – a public-private partnership process, aimed at the 'development of Urban Infrastructure and Governance & providing Basic Services to the Urban Poor', a project entirely lobbied upon by Janaagraha. Jaagore and Jaagte Raho, sub-projects working on encouraging voting, and re-organizing the voter registration process, have received tremendous support from the Election Commission of India.

Is there anything we haven't asked that you would like us to?: 

No. But I see a possible association between Global Voices and iJanaagraha on areas of possible engagement.


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