Numbers and the Government

Numbers and the Government

Swaniti Initiative | March 3, 2015 | The Swaniti Blog

In 2013-14 India spent approximately 1545 billion rupees on healthcare, education, rural development and agricultural security, however the Statistics and Census programs are only allocated only 9.8 billion rupees to collect data and gauge the effectiveness of the programs (.6 percent of the budget). We are a country of big numbers. Now consider this, in this budget if we did not propose numbers but instead goals then how would that fair?

Our rail budget announced that this year we will aim to increase efficiency by ensuring that eighty to ninety percent of our trains reach on time by investing X crore in train and track maintenance and Y crore in staff efficiency? Or the union budget announced, this year we will have Z percent of rural India computer literate by investing Q crores in our Digital India Campaign where teaching would be A percent of the budget and infrastructure would be B percent? Suddenly the commitments AND deliverables would be clearer. Numbers would make sense.

The role of data has always been valued but controversial. People have questioned the intent and authenticity of numbers. However, no one can doubt providing data insights about the existing state of programs can be tremendously valuable and help provide us with direction. Recently I came across an example of that: in 2012, a Mayor of a major American city swore that he would reduce the number of car accidents in his city. In order to do so, he setup a task force. The task force began by collecting data from police stations about reported car accident sites. On geo-mapping the crash sites, they were able to map out the location with most accidents. Immediately the error was rectified in accident-prone areas through, stop signs, lights and caution signals. In a few instances, police cars were also deputed. Two months later, the rate of car accidents almost halved. The data based insights yielded immediate results.

For the past few months, the Swaniti team has been working with Ministries, State Governments and MPs on providing data insights. You might have noticed our Jigyasa platform as well, that aims to provide insight on development performance of various governments. Through our experiences we some movement in the data space but we are far from where we can be in effectively using data. We believe that the future holds bright.

For us, we want to imagine a world where MPs and MLAs have available to them data dashboards that provide them critical quantitative insight about the state of their constituency, targets on how much they should improve to be an exceptional community and a timeline on how long it should take to complete this task. If we can develop such dashboards in the private sector then why not for the public sector?