As of 2018, India’s ranking on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index has slipped by 10 points in the span of one year – now ranking at 42 as a ‘flawed democracy’. An active and informed citizenry is imperative to get the most out of a democracy. However in India, the world’s largest democracy, there is little civic participation in a core process of democracy: law making.
Laws, policies, and schemes are often made within the four walls of government offices, with little feedback from citizens. This is compounded by a lack of legal awareness and the resultant apathy prevents people from making use of the frameworks that exist for participation and accountability. The lack of understanding and dialogue with a pivotal institution like the Government, leads to a loss of trust that adversely impacts democracy.
Civis was founded by Antaraa Vasudev, who has been passionate about citizen’s engagement since an early age. From writing letters to the President of India at age nine about animal welfare to blog posts about the power of a citizen’s voice at age 16, she has finally found a medium through which she can enable citizen’s engagement at scale.
Civis has a two-fold approach to enable citizen participation in the process of law making. First, Civis helps citizens understand these laws / policies and their impact on them. Second, Civis will enable the government to understand citizen’s priorities and gather feedback on policy decisions in real time.
Citizens will be shown a summary of new legislation / policies / schemes on their web-based app – free of legal jargon and ideological bias. This will help them understand the new laws / policies proposed and share their feedback, providing real time inputs. Through dashboards, citizens can view their legislator’s voting patterns and actions and compare it to their own needs, building accountability. All this will be done through a mobile application and IVR-based calling mechanism where connectivity and literacy are a challenge. Civis will reach out to citizens through extensive outreach programs, such as radio shows, media, etc. They are also currently working on building citizen traffic to their platform.
Civis will present evidence for citizen-centric policy-making through detailed analytics. The aim is to empower bipartisan action on crucial issues that impact the quality of our democracy, such as transparency in political finance. With a focus on opportunity for development and control of shared resources, the voice of underserved communities will carry equal weight. The current strategy is to focus on urban issues, and move towards the rural issues in time. The goal is to initially leverage citizen participation at municipalities before moving on to state / national laws. In the longer term, Civis plans to expand its reach to rural areas.