Fariha Raisa, Feedback Labs | July 6th, 2022
Imagine a platform where you not only have access to information but can also contribute by sharing content to inform others. It is a platform where your voice can have a powerful impact on the community. That’s exactly what Gram Vaani is about. Meaning ‘voice of the village’, Gram Vaani is a social technology company incubated out of IIT Delhi. It started in 2009 to reverse the flow of information to make it bottom-up instead of top-down. Using simple technologies and social context to design tools, Gram Vaani has impacted communities with more than two million users in India, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Namibia, and South Africa.
Gram Vaani presented at a LabStorm to facilitate a discussion around their service, Mobile Vaani. Mobile Vaani is Gram Vaani’s answer to building a free social media platform equivalent to Twitter for rural areas. It is easily accessible using a basic feature phone and is a platform for rural voice-based social media. Mobile Vaani provides a facility for reaching out to low-income families with development messages, employment alerts, and conducting market research studies. Through Mobile Vaani, it has become possible to survey users in rural areas and collect data on topics like sanitation practices, energy usage norms, and expenditure habits. In the LabStorm session, discussions were focused on using this data to promote local democratic practice and policy advocacy while ensuring the privacy of the user community.
- Using community insights in local democratic practice. Since Mobile Vaani has enabled crucial survey data from the communities, discussions were centered around effective ways to share these data, learnings, and insights back to the communities. Gram Vaani aims to use this data to potentially lead to conversations that could be spurred to improve and positively influence accountability within the local democratic systems. LabStorm attendees suggested having data as the centerpiece to drive conversations in community discussions. Recommendations also included organizing events such as radio shows or online panels with local representatives who need to address the issues. Another idea was to focus on closing the feedback loop by inviting the local authority and decision-makers to discuss what could be done about the user-gathered information.
- Achieving policy advocacy. Gram Vaani sought suggestions on using the bottom-up, community-driven data to drive policy conversations. Ideas from the participants included the importance of producing clear, actionable reports including recommendations from the user-generated data. Emphasis should also be placed on imparting these in the proper forum, as sharing the relevant data with the right people is key. Attendees also talked about adding a separate section on the website with tools that provide infographics. Adding a possible registration process will allow Gram Vaani to see who is accessing the platform. Participants concluded with the possibility of an annual report to share with the government and a one-on-one discussion for policy intervention.
- Addressing data privacy-related concerns of the users. While drawing inferences from the collective data and sharing the information and user voices with relevant stakeholders, Gram Vaani wanted to know the best practices to ensure the data privacy of the user community. Participants emphasized figuring out the minimum level of personal data needed to offer the services successfully. Since voice recordings are used, voice recognition might pose privacy concerns. It was suggested to allow the voice to be obscured, which cannot be tracked back to the user. Another idea was to have someone else read out the transcripts.
At the end of the session, Gram Vaani reiterated the next steps following the actionable ideas from the discussions. The first step includes presenting the data to the community and driving conversations around the data for promoting accountability in local democratic practices. In addition to that, they took the idea of arranging radio shows using the findings for further engagement and discussion with the local authority and community at large. For this purpose, they would also emphasize ensuring that the intended audience is listening and the right stakeholder is reached for policy intervention. Lastly, they concluded by shifting focus to the minimum personal data required while offering their services to protect the users’ privacy.
Learn More About LabStorms
LabStorms are collaborative problem-solving sessions designed to help organizations tackle feedback-related challenges or share what’s working well in their practice.
Presenters leave the experience with honest, actionable feedback and suggestions to improve their feedback processes and tools.
To learn more about participating in a virtual LabStorm, please visit feedbacklabs.org/labstorms.