India and Mobile/Data first governance

modi pic

Guest Post by Jonathan Allen

Six months after his successful campaign for the assembly elections, mobile app platform, AppMakr believe that the world’s leaders could still take a few notes from Narendra Modi’s campaign playbook.

In chatting up with the team at ContractIQ, I believe the data-first, modern startup-like approach is trickling into governance as well.

According to Business Standard, the former Chief Minister of Gujarat won by the second-widest margin in Indian political history.

Yet what’s truly revolutionary about Modi’s campaign is the way he successfully married social media strategy with our modern world’s appetite for mobile technology. Much like Barack Obama’s presidential run in 2008, Modi’s success depended heavily upon social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to spread his message. Indeed, President Obama is the only politician currently more popular on Twitter than Modi, whose account boasts well over seven million followers.

On the surface, Narendra Modi’s victory represents something we already knew: that in the modern world, you can no longer win an election without social media savvy. But the insight that Modi’s campaign offers to future world leaders is that social media is now mobile. The digital electorates are no longer at their desks. Far from being just another campaigning tool, social enabled mobile apps can eliminate many of the physical barriers between a government and the political will of people in the most remote parts of the nation.

The candidate used holographic and video technology to appear at 1,000’s of the country’s many tea stalls, small vending locations that some would argue are the most basic units of Indian society. While these elections have the tendency to ignore the concerns of the more rural, disadvantaged regions of India, Modi demonstrated that a very modern approach to campaigning could overcome the obstacles of class and geography. Through technology like this, as well as a drive to reach sections of the electorate that might otherwise have been overlooked, his campaign was able to reach 14 million new voters.

The trend of mobile-first and data-first approach continues in governance of the central government and user-acquisition for his party. Missed-call based enrollment into the party, open access to government bodies’ employee attendance patterns removed several frictions in what are otherwise opaque transactions.

The Prime Minister pushed on the pedal of mobile adoption by making several websites of the government, responsive (perhaps in what could be a first, even if you take into account the western nations).

By involving the crowd for ideas to replace the planning commission (a monolithic body that sets the wheels of 5-Year plans for the country’s development), the Indian Government has set out a new referendum type initiative, only that the people vote in digitally (though technically it isn’t a vote but more of sharing ideas).

The government’s ambitious plan to make India cleaner, through its ‘Swachh Bharat’ mission finds a last mile resonance through the mobile app downloadable from here again underlining the government’s keen understanding of the role of mobile in disseminating nation-scale ideas and campaigns.

How effective these data and distribution approaches are, is anybody’s guess, as these are still early days. However for a government known for its red tape and archaic approaches to citizen involvement, the last six months have been nothing but a sea change.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed, for data-driven, mobile-first governance is one of those aspects of mobility that can truly change the world.

Note: ContractIQ does not endorse any political party.

About the author: Jonathan Allen is the President of Longneck & Thunderfoot, a brand publishing company and which is part of the Columbia Startup Lab, an incubator program based in New York City. An early player in mobile social media, Jonathan is also co-founder of Moblog:tech, a pioneering tech company that created a smartphone photography platform that played a notable role in the emergence of citizen journalism.

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