Quick Look

Kiirti is a one-stop citizen reporting and petitioning platform for India addressing civic and governance issues.

Beginning Date: 
June 1, 2009
Annual Budget 2009: 
Project Scale: 
Specific Tools: 


Selvam is the founder of eMoksha, a non-partisan, non-profit organization focused on enabling citizen awareness and engagement using internet and mobile technologies. The team at EMoksha is passionate about using technology to enable meaningful change in the society, with a focus toward building stronger democracies and better societies in developing countries. They have developed several projects over the years, but this interview with Selvam focuses on their latest projects: Kiirti and Fix our City.

Kiirti is a platform, where any individual or civil society organization can make a complaint or raise an issue by telephone or by using the website. That issues is then tracked, categorized, mapped, and forwarded on to authorities. The issues can range from cleanliness to environment to sexual harassment. Kiirti enables aggregation of several issues at a singular place so that they can be tracked and collaborated upon by anyone interested.

Kiirti uses the Ushahidi platform to aggregate and visualize submitted reports. Kiirti also maps and aggregates partner organizations that deal with civic complaints on the local level throughout India. It is a way to aggregate and integrate data from across platforms onto a single map that users can filter by location and topic.

The core philosophy of the platform is to enable awareness of all the processes and the data of what’s going on in government. That encourages people to ask questions, demand transparency and accountability. It serves as a bridge between citizens with complaints and questions and public officials who are responsible for addressing related issues. Each complaint is routed to the right department.

Here is their ‘Fly-wheel’ of effective governance: More participation leads to greater accountability, which improves government performance, making a more efficient government.


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Date of Audio: 
March 8, 2010


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

Resources - that is one of the biggest obstacles, currently. We do have enough people showing interest, but there is not enough money to have servers, add functionality to the platform, or hire people to build partnerships, support the platform, as issues crop up.
But the good news is that, less resources is also less of a high risk.
The other risk is, if we actually are not able to affect changes. Then, the citizens might feel that their time is not being well accounted for. The interest level will go down.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

We need to develop a strong rapport with government departments and different NGOs and build best practices. Government should respond in the way, we like to.
Also, build relationships with NGOs, which already have the rapport with the government departments.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

We want to address civic issues at different levels in government, from the environment to public schools, to hospitals, and civic corporations, where the generic problematic aspect across all is engagement.
We want to lower the bar significantly so that people engage with their government.
Currently, there are only few people who do that, who are passionate about it, or who have been impacted adversely by some problem. We want to make sure that more and more people are able to use the phone or SMS to make their voices heard in pointing out civic problems. By showcasing the change that their participation has brought about, it will encourage them to participate even more.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

If we talk about civic engagement, for example, it’s a bit of a cultural issue. And also it has to do with our government has been functioning – broadly speaking.

We have a very tolerant culture in India, which is a reason, why India is able to exist today, with its different dialogues and languages and religions. Unfortunately, that tolerance extends to the areas of governance – people say, ‘it’s fine’, to problems with their government.

We have seen a very ineffective governance process grow organically. It’s a process that any developing country goes through, although in the recent past, we were seeing better governance, continually. But, as the basic needs of the people are addressed, they would want to rise above them and look at better societal needs as well.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

From 2006-07, when I helped set up the Amazon Centre for Development in Chennai, I noticed things like traffic police missing from his post on a busy intersection and I wanted to figure out how and where to complain about things like that.
That is when I thought, why can’t we have a simple mechanism where people can complain about simple issues like potholes, street lamps, electricity or water-logging on the roads, or even petty corruption – and then aggregate those complaints together and forward them to the right department. Then we'd also need to have a team of people who can follow it up. That’s when I came up with Fix Our City and later, with Kiirti.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

I think that it’s absolutely the responsibility of the government to enable civic engagement. But, practically speaking, I understand that the government cannot do everything by itself. The Chennai government for example, has launched an online complaint management system. But most of the similar systems set up by different governments in different cities are not followed up well. So, for people to engage in participation they need to do so through Civil Society Organizations like us. Once the government sees a passionate project like them working, it can take up such steps to initiate and then start running them.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

I think that the government provides information, but it probably provides it in an ineffective way. It’s a tedious and laborious process – like filing for it, physically going there and following it up, etc.. There’s an inherent lack of interest in making it easy.

When you are not confident of your ability to deliver on your goals, you do not voluntarily go around asking people’s opinion about, how you are performing! It’s the case even in a corporate environment. So, they don’t want to lower the bar of entrance, as all the focus could be on just fixing those few issues and not on what they want to focus on.

The analogy works in the case of the government, except that the priority and purpose of the government is to fix citizen’s issues first. Often there are ulterior motives like corruption that are involved in these decisions. That’s why they should have channels to get citizen reports or opinions, and then prioritize what they want to focus on.

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?: 

In the case of Fix Our City, there are online complaint management systems in Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad. When we get information from citizens, we package it in a way that can be accepted by the complain management system of the departments, and we send it to them. This is an open portal were anybody can look at everyone's issues. Citizens can also collaborate via comment, upload images and videos and also generate reports, about how different civic localities are functioning. It’s a more user-friendly system than, what the government provides, which is a closed portal (one can view, only their own complaints – there’s no way to find out, how many complaints have been filed against a particular department.)

We, then route it through the department, and the departments sometimes have been very effective in resolving them. The feedback testimonials that are put up on the website are all real user-feedback comments.

With Kiirti, we don’t want to directly build a rapport with government departments. There are lot of social agencies, already doing that. We want to partner with such organizations all over India, that focus on different topics - from sexual harassment to rural and civic issues - organizations like Blank Noise, CHIRAG or Lok Satta etc., which have an interest in making these changes, have already built those platforms and relationships with the government, and besides they also have the local presence. Kiirti, will then provide them the platform to enable civic engagement, so they can effect the change. Instead of driving the change, we provide them with the technology to do so. So, it’s using local partners to effect the changes, rather than actually having to travel around the world, and effect them yourself.

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

There was a case once, in Chennai - somebody complained about the streetlights, not working. The next day, the department came and fixed it with a new lamp. It was small incident, but from a citizen’s point of view, it was a dramatic incident – it made a big difference in the mindset of the people, that there’s an easy way for them to report, and then to effect a change.

Another larger change that happened was, there was a request by one of the users of Fix Our City, to pave a road in a certain area, where before there was just a mud-path. To their surprise, the municipality actually moved on it, issued a tender for sub-contractors, and then followed it up and built the road. That is a reasonably significant effort by the municipality. All that, by someone, just writing a complaint on the website – that’s the power of this platform.

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

About 15 – 20 hours.

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

We have a full-time project manager, who spends 30 -40 hours a week. The developer volunteers spend 8 -16 hours a week.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

There have been three time-consuming areas:

For Kiirti, the most time-consuming task has been, to taking all the open source applications, like Ushahidi or MySQL or Frontline SMS, and putting them together in a way, for what we envision as an interesting platform. It’s coming out with the idea, building that up, and communicating that idea to the developers. Turning the vision into a reality by working with people.

The second, is to build technology partnerships, so that we can enable people to report via different communication channels. For example, we worked with Reliance Communications for Kiirti, to get the short code SMS number. We needed to go through the process of explaining to them, what Kiirti is going to do, and what it has done. That took us 2—3 months.

The third one is, building partnerships with the organizations, which are going to be on the platform. It’s basically, explaining to them, what Kiirti is, and then, hand-holding them through the initial few steps of configuring it. There’s a lot of training that has to happen, for them to take ownership of their own supported cause, and then, run with it.

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

When Kiirti is launched, we will need to build different ways to use the huge amount of data to propagate to the citizens and to the government, to build pressure for action. For that, we need to build things like, e-mail lists, micro-social networks, and more. Another way is to use the mainstream media. We need a ready stream of related data on issues that we can give to reporters to increase visibility of these issues.

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: 

There should be less friction when people want to complain for issues. We don’t want to ask them for all their background details, and make them refrain from filing issues. At the same time, we also want to make sure that they don’t file bogus complaints. That’s why, we just ask them for a valid e-mail ID. We send a verification link and when it is verified, the complaint is registered. No one, so far, has abused the platform.
But now, on Kiirti, we want to register the users, as we want to build a social network. We can enable people to register, and we can track their contribution to various issues.

How do you attract new participants?: 

I am a big believer of, the value proposition for people to come and use the product, should be self-evident. This means, it would be mostly word-of-mouth. The success of the platform depends on the real changes that are made. Once the real changes are made, the word-of-mouth will start spreading, getting more people to the platform.
We can reach out to a small set of people through marketing tools like, Facebook, or the media, or going to colleges. But these people will be the core group that we want on Kiirti. These are the people, who would be really interested in getting involved with the platform.

We can reach out to a small set of people through marketing like Facebook, or through the media, or going to colleges. But these people will be the core group that we want on Kiirti. These are the people who would be really interested in getting involved with the platform.

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

Media, definitely, has been a very large part. For example, when we launched Fix Our City, I was interviewed by The Times on India, and they carried an article on the first page of their supplement. That drove a large amount of traffic to the website. Lot of people came and filed issues during that time.
Also, we don’t want to spend our budget on marketing. We want to reach out to the younger generation, through colleges and social network tools.
We are also partnering with different NGOs, and they will spread awareness about Kiirti as well.

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

Some of our biggest referrers are - Media (print and online), Social Networks, Partner NGOs, Word-of-Mouth and Search.

Currently most of our traffic is coming via Partner NGOs, since we're in limited Beta. Once we go public, then I expect most of the results to come from a combination of Word of Mouth, Media and Partner NGOs.

Has legal action been taken against your website?: 


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

Current high-level metrics we're tracking for Kiirti are number of reports filed, number of reports collaborated upon, and number of reports acted upon. Besides those we're also tracking general site-statistics like unique visitors, repeat visitors, daily page views, etc.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

For the volunteers, it is passion. They are the people, who are willing to take on more additional responsibility than an average citizen and spend more of their time working on issues. They are people, interested in social change and technology.
Kiirti provides them the channel to use technology for civic changes for a better society, and provides a concrete vision and platform.
Citizens participate on this website, as they are concerned to bring about a change in their locality, with minimal effort possible. They feel, their time is well spent on this platform, as changes are happening, and they see the effect within few days or weeks.

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

The top two priorities are:

A developer for back-end development of software website, who can learn things quickly. These guys bring the vision to a reality from a technology perspective.

Others are people, who bring the vision to a reality, from a more physical perspective like building partnerships, providing trainings to NGOs, making sure that issues are getting addressed, propagating the change, etc. People specializing in community management, project management, communication relationships are really valued and needed.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

For now, it will be personally financed and supported with a grant from Center for Internet Society.
If we want to really scale it up, we first need to prove that this model works on a smaller scale and then go to different foundations looking for bigger funds.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

Ushahidi, on which the platform is built on it. Environmental Support Group, CHIRAG, NNFI – National Network for Indians, Loksatta based in Hyderabad, The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies, and Resident Welfare Associations in Bangalore.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

For me, Kiirti is one such tool. We will be adding more functionalities as we go on. What we definitely will be building, is a social network for people and also the ability for government and the media to get aggregated reports on the issues filed on the website.

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

We are talking to the Kerala Government, where they have funds from IDBI (Industrial Development Bank of India). There are different monitoring agencies to monitor, if the funds are being well-spent, and if citizens are actually getting the benefits of these funds. From that aspect, we are taking with certain departments, if we can use Kiirti too, as a way to report about the effectiveness of monitoring the benefits. Hopefully, we will build more relationships with the government.

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

There is a possibility that certain people might feel that certain reports are defamatory. I don’t know, how this law can actually work, but I have seen people file defamation cases, which are usually dependent on the political clout you might have. Some of this might be construed as defamation. I don’t know, if the police department can come and say, a certain corruption report is defamatory. We have not given much thought to such issues, though. We still do not encourage people to file corruption related cases, unless, we find a partnership with a NGO working in this arena.

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

I haven’t come across something that people are doing on this scale – across India, on several civic issues, through various means like phone, sms, email etc.

Though, there are people doing things at a local scale. For our other project, Vote Report India, there were people who replicated the same thing for Haryana State Elections. We provided them with some consulting about the platform. A lot of people have come to us to replicate Fix Our City. We do try and reach out to groups like those.

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

Sahana, is a very interesting project, based on disaster management. It came about in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami. Janaagraha has been doing very interesting work. I particularly find them effective in their offline work.

If someone gave you $30,000 how would you use the money?: 

For 2010, we are interested in getting a US$ 92000/- grant, to build partnerships with 25 different organizations, and making sure that issues get followed through – hire a project manager and two software developers.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

We definitely want to build more and more partnerships. Our goal is to partner with at least 100 organizations, working on different areas and issues of governance. We want to support them on Kiirti and register at least 100,000 reports on various issues through these organizations. We will make sure that at least half of these issues are addressed.

We are looking at funding of $92,000 in 2010 and close to $140,000 in 2011. If we don’t get this kind of funding, then we will continue on a smaller scale.


Facilitating citizen-authorities engagement: interesting effort

It is true that whatever be the issue/ grievance in question, citizens often do not register complaints simply because a)they do not know where to go with their complaints b)the process to do so is perceived to be tedious and unwieldy c)they are not sure that their voices will be heard or in many cases d)they fear harassment from the complaint-receiving authorities. So, a project that can facilitate the process is a welcome initiative. Though a first glance it appears to add another layer to the system already in place and may seem like a 'less than ideal' approach, citizens may actually welcome this buffer which facilitates engagement and gives visibility, weight to their complaints and issues/ cause(s).

To me it seems that this kind of a project is good for general civic issues where the need is for someone to give more visibility to the cause/ complaint (ex: by publishing the cause/ complaint on the Website). I am not sure if people would be using this platform for issues that are more personal in nature (sexual harassment for example). It will be good to know if the tool allows for different handling of sensitive/ personal issues.

Also, Selvam points out "With Kiirti, we don’t want to directly build a rapport with government departments". Rather, the aim appears to be to partner with other agencies that already have established channels of communication with the authorities. However, from the citizen's point of view, Kiirti is the first (and as far as the citizen is concerned - the only, one-stop shop) touch-point that they have to voice their causes/ concerns. So it would be interesting to have more details regarding how the project ensures validation of the process. For example, if I register a complaint, do I get some response telling me that yes, the complaint has reached the authorities and has been acknowledged as received? Or else, what is the process of feedback to evaluate that the mechanism is working?

Having said that, I think it is a welcome effort to facilitate the engagement process and I think it will be a relevant tool until the day the authorities become more approachable and open and decide to simplify the engagement process at their end. Some of the State governments have already begun to roll out such initiatives through the use ICT. For example, the Madhya Pradesh Government's E-governance site ( has an online grievance redressal option.

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