In the medieval age, public councils were convened by monarchs to find solutions to the state’s problems. Under modern democracies, the councils gave way to civil servants, and with it, the idea of people becoming an active part of governance was once again given the short shrift. A few non-profits did work to bring issues to the fore and provide a few bottom-up solutions, but the system can never replace the mandarin network. Now, councils are making a comeback. But, this time round, they are being called hackathons and the commons are all invited to be part of these. Already, a common culture in corporate organisations—Microsoft, Google and Facebook have all used this to find smarter solutions—the same is being now used by cities across the world. In most cases, it is private players, in association with the government, that organise these events; the solutions that emerge from these hackathons can get adopted by the government to take care of city’s problems if they can be scaled. Who better to ask about the problems of a city than the city’s people themselves!
Take the case of this year’s Flipkart’s Gridlock initiative to brainstorm on Bengaluru’s traffic woes. The event not only got the city’s smartest people together, but it also gave three start-ups a new lease of life. But Bengaluru is not the only city to take such an initiative. Earlier this year, Vizag announced a similar effort for its smart-city solutions. While private companies are still taking the lead in providing these solutions, state and local governments need to come forth and host such hackathons. The smart-city initiative provides ample opportunity for this. With the government planning to create 100 smart-cities and equip them with the essentials of the future, an excellent way to start can be hackathons. This approach will not only ease the burden of the over-pressured bureaucracy, but also get ingenious solutions from start-ups. The first hackathons were started to solve problems related to trade; it is the time that governance via hackathons is brought back in vogue. Not only would it help the government achieve more from limited resources, but it would also pave the way for the emergence of a new start-up ecosystem which can employ thousands. More important, if the public is part of the solution, then the bureaucracy gets an advantage in administering. As technology takes hold of more aspects of life, it is only fair that governance shares some part of it. With the government already incorporating views from the people on various reports, it would not be too difficult to get solutions from them for the problems they highlight.
The author is a former journalist.
Views are personal