Big Problems, Simple Solutions: Why Open Source Govtech is the Need of the Hour

By Rahul Kulkarni, CTO, Samagra

Since its launch in 2013, the amount of direct benefit transfers (DBT) initiated by the government stands at Rs 22,13,911 crore. Last year in September, on average, more than 15 lakh unique taxpayers logged into the income tax portal every day, and more than 1.5 crore returns were filed. Four years after its rollout, 66 million GST returns have been filed so far.

In the Indian context, any number with the suffix crore looks normal for the course. But viewed from any other vantage point, these numbers are staggeringly large and should speak to appreciation of the massive technological systems that are powering the implementation of these governance reforms.

Over the past decade, India has made leaps and bounds on the digital and S front. Systems like UPI, CoWin and the ones mentioned above are all innovations that work on a scale unthinkable for the most countries. Although these are still evolving, they have all made life for the common man much easier.

As we continue down the path of larger-scale digital transformations, it’s also important to pause and ask ourselves if we’re doing enough to solve the long-term technology challenges of governance – the routine operational tasks that government officials must perform. and which are critical to maintaining system operation. For example, data collection – what would be a reliable way for agricultural extension workers to collect data during farm visits? Or data-driven decision-making – what can be done to make it easier for district and block managers to visualize education or health data on intuitive dashboards to make timely decisions? appropriate? Or tracking the wait – can there be an automated system to trigger escalations to department heads when junior officials fail to meet timelines for processing requests for government programs or services?

All of these problems are real, faced regularly by millions of government officials at state, district and bloc levels. Addressing these issues can improve system efficiency, instill accountability for results, and make evidence-based decision-making the norm.

Several states like Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Odisha are already at the forefront of solving these long-tail problems using open-source technology tools.

In Haryana, a District Education Officer (DEO) can view student learning level data across schools in their district using a customizable dashboard. Additionally, the DEO can easily slice and dice the data in a way that can yield information as accurate as the number of 3rd graders in the district who are unable to do a 2-digit subtraction.

In Himachal Pradesh, block-level officials responsible for visiting schools to observe classroom teaching are using an app to gather information. The app gives them a standard set of questions (subjective and objective) that can give a comprehensive insight into the quality of the teaching-learning process. This application data feeds into a visible dashboard at the state, district and block level. Being GPS-enabled, the app ensures that tours actually happen and the data captured is reliable.

In Odisha, during field visits, agricultural extension officers use an open-source application to collect information from farmers on crops grown, pest attacks, record their questions and comments.

All applications, platforms and dashboards described above were created using open source tools, tailored to serve GovTech’s use cases. But why open source?

First, open source makes it possible to reuse already existing tools, tested and perfected over time. Why build from scratch, navigate a maze of insects, when you can (literally) build on the shoulders of giants. Second, open source codes ensure 100% transparency, which builds trust and enables audits that help find and fix security issues. Third, and very important in the government context, open source tools can be wired together into working products at negligible cost and time, compared to the development of proprietary technology systems. India is already developing standards and protocols such as National Digital Education Architecture, Beckn, Open Network for Digital Commerce, National Digital Health Mission and Desh Stack which will bring open source solutions to long tail problems in agriculture, digital transactions and commerce, health and skills. , interoperable with each other.

Going forward, these are the pillars that have the potential to transform governance in India. If the best tech minds in the country engage with the GovTech ecosystem, the promise of open source can be realized faster.


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