Understand water reforms in Shimla through Procurements: A Data Comic
Since its very inception, CivicDataLab has engaged with the questions of fiscal flows in government systems, actively working to strengthen timely access to data and improving civic engagement in the governance processes. Accessible knowledge about the use of public funds can help citizens make better-informed decisions about their representatives and hold them accountable for the delivery of their promises, further strengthening democracy.
As convincing as these arguments may sound in principle, how exactly can large and often complex, government datasets speak to their citizens?
In an attempt to answer such questions, we started off by presenting government budgets and their analysis across the scales (union, state and districts) in interactive and accessible forms. However, the budget alone cannot give a complete understanding of fiscal flows. It is important to also understand how the allocated funds are spent. For this, we developed a unique tool where citizens could explore both budgets and spending data of state governments and district treasuries in an easy to comprehend and simple to use manner.
Following this, by the end of July 2020, we signed up for the presidential hackathon 2020 organized by the Open Contracting Partnership and the Government of Taiwan. It was a five-week hackathon at the end of which, we needed to present a working prototype exploring Public Procurement data — either releasing open contracting data or analyzing it or building on top of it.
In this process, we moved towards understanding expenditure and procurement data for the state. How the government spends money on public goods, services, and infrastructure is referred to as Public Procurement. This data is imperative to understand government priorities and advocate for better spending. Our work on the subject, which started as a hackathon project, then turned into a strong partnership between CivicDataLab and Open Contracting Partnership to improve policies related to public procurements to become more inclusive and data-driven. We have since been working on building open source tools to track, visualize, and analyze this information across multiple states of India.
To a lot of citizens, all of this may still seem like distant, abstract numbers having nothing to do with their everyday lives. That couldn’t be far from the truth, procurement data holds within it information of everyday lives of ordinary citizens, things that directly impact their world. To elaborate on this, we share here an example of Shimla.
2018 Water Crisis in Shimla
Shimla is a well-known hill town in India and the state capital of Himachal Pradesh. As popular as it is to people for its scenic beauty, it also is infamous for water scarcity. The news even made national headlines in 2018 when the city administration had to appeal to tourists to stay away owing to a water shortage.
However, as of last year, we are suddenly seeing stories of Shimla as an example of a good water management case, an inspirational success attained in a short span of fewer than 4 years, not just as seen in media but also heard by the residents. It is but natural to be a little doubtful of such claims. However, with access to data, we can move from doubtful speculation to actual investigation of this narrative. The procurement data that we are looking at dates back till 2017.
In the data comic below, a group of friends discusses it further.
Data Comics — A novel way to tell stories with Data
Data comics consist of sequential art panels with texts and data, combining it with a narrative, which makes it easier for people to relate to. More can be read about the data comics as a medium here and some more examples can be seen here.
As this is our first attempt at the medium, we would love to hear your feedback, thoughts and comments on the same.