When eGovernments Foundation was set up in 2003, the mission was to transform urban governance, improve citizens’ interaction and enable smart cities. With the launch of Smart Cities Mission by the Government of India in 2015, an urban renewal and retrofitting program to develop 100 cities across the country, eGovernments Foundation’s mission got further strengthened. Thereby, the approach to fulfill the mission evolved.
For the first decade since its inception, eGovernments Foundation invested its resources to build specific solutions for specific municipalities. They started with the state of Karnataka, India, working in the areas of financial accounting, PGR (public grievance redressal system) and property tax, and extended their services to other cities such as Chennai, Nagpur and Delhi.
Focusing and building for individual states meant engineering monolithic platforms that needed extensive maintenance and support. Furthermore, variation in rules, processes and agencies from state to state and different Urban Local Bodies within states made it difficult to take a standardized approach. Customizability was needed across a wide variety of variables, and given the niche nature of the space the market was relatively unevolved compared to the larger ERP space. All of these factors, limited the speed of implementation, impeding scale and making the model unsustainable. The state by state approach was also rather episodic and not systematic, and was dependant on several externalities like the RFP process, officers being transferred, change in governments, among others . Time and again, the questions, How do we match the simultaneous need for speed, scale and sustainability to address the needs of over 2000 cities and towns across India, while catering to the wide variety of demands enforced by local rules and processes? How do we transform urban governance across the nation and create impact at population scale? How do we solve specific problems yet respond to diversity of the needs of different states?, kept coming back to them.
In this quest of creating impact at population scale, eGovernments Foundation found resonance in the Societal Platform thinking. They realized that catalyzing the existing ecosystem to be part of their mission was quintessential. They began to re-architect the platform and built a minimalistic, foundational infrastructure that enabled different partners to leverage its components to create context-specific, localized solutions. The view was to build for the country, and not for an individual state. The answer lay in not distributing solutions, rather distributing the ability to create solutions. This also signified the need to let go of control and allow different actors to take ownership of the larger cause, and co-creating a national platform for a systemic change that can be used at scale and implemented with speed for impact across the nation. This act catalyzed the ecosystem to contribute towards building localized solutions atop of the platform. Thereby, enhancing the ownership of the government over the infrastructure to make the optimum use of digital infrastructure and cater to local needs. Breaking away from functioning as a silo organization, embracing a collaborative approach to build the infrastructure, co-create solutions and amplify the benefits was imperative.
For eGovernments Foundation, building an Urban Governance Societal Platform translated to creating a digital infrastructure which different stakeholders in the urban ecosystem, from Governments to non-profits, private players to citizens, can use to improve urban outcomes. It also signified the importance of not defining the outcomes or even how stakeholders will use it.
By changing their approach to one that enabled them to catalyze the system to reimagine urban governance, eGovernments Foundation co-created and built networks to resolve the urban governance societal challenge. By creating an infrastructure that lets every actor in the society participate in social innovation, their mission of transforming governance for 2000 cities and towns by 2020, while audacious, appears to be surmountable.