Citizen Activism

CGNet Swara

Who are we?

CGnet Swara is a NGO with a voice-based online portal that allows people in the forests of Central Tribal India to report local news by just making a phone call. As the world's first cell-phone-based news and current affairs network, CGNet Swara caters to villages with limited to no access to cell phones or Internet and gives a voice to the neglected regions of rural India.

In the four years since it went live, CGNet Swara has transformed the way news is shared among the rural poor in central India. More than 300,000 reports have been called in by the new citizen journalists of Chhattisgarh (where only 0.7 percent of homes have access to broadband Internet and less than 20 percent of people own cell phones).

Using low-end mobile phones, users can call CGNet Swara to report stories of local interest and to listen to stories that others have recorded. Submitted stories are reviewed by a team of moderators, and approved stories are made available for listening. CGNet Swara then distributes these stories to interested listeners. In the case of grievance reports, CGNet Swara finds social activists (typically smartphone owners living in urban areas) who contact local police and politicians to lobby for that grievance to be resolved. To date, CGNet Swara has helped solve 266 grievance reports.

What you can do: Engaging Social Activists

To reach out to social activists who might be willing to act upon grievances, CGNet Swara currently posts grievance reports to social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, and mailing lists. Activists who subscribe to CGNet Swara's news feeds see grievances that they feel passionately about, and take action.

Currently only ~10% of CGNet's grievance reports are eventually solved. If a large number of activists spend just a few minutes per day making phone calls to advocate for grievances, a much higher fraction of grievances could be resolved.

To more effectively advocate for these grievance reports, CGNet Swara would like better ways of identifying and engaging with social activists. Technology could play a crucial role in (i) helping CGNet Swara identify the right social activists to proactively reach out to, (ii) making it easier and less time consuming for activists to make calls and participate, and (iii) incentivizing activists to invest their time.

Level 1: One-Click Phone Calls
Most of CGNet's social activists access the Internet through smartphones, and primarily use Facebook to read about CGNet's grievance reports. In order to act upon a grievance report, users currently have to manually type in the phone number(s) listed in the grievance report and make the phone call. Even this small inconvenience creates a high mental barrier for people who might be otherwise willing to take the time to make the phone call.

It is possible in HTML5 to make phone calls with a single button click. For this project, students will create a pipeline that outputs dynamically generated HTML5 pages that can be viewed on smartphones or laptops. These HTML5 pages should include information about the grievance report, and should allow users to make a phone call to a public official with a single click. This HTML5 page could be hosted on CGNet Swara's server. (Unfortunately Facebook posts do not currently support single-click HTML5 phone calls).

Level 2: Tracking Completed Phone Calls
CGNet Swara does not (currently) proactively reach out to potential social activists; passively reading the CGNet Swara Facebook feed is the main way that readers become aware of grievances.

If CGNet Swara could proactively send out easy-to-act-on grievance reports via WhatsApp messages or emails, they could significantly increase engagement from social activists. For proactive messages to be effective, CGNet Swara would need to know which messages to send to whom rather than broadcasting all reports to all potential activists.

For this project, students will build in analytics into the HTML5 pages described above. They will design a method to collect information on what the grievance report is, who is receiving messages about it, whether the recipient makes a phone call, and if possible, free-form notes from the recipient describing the details of the phone call. Then, students will build a website that CGNet Swara can use to view these analytics and make smarter decisions about future messaging.

Level 3: Gamifying Participation and Facilitating Coordination
Social activists might be more motivated to participate if they had visibility into the impact they (and their friends!) are having: which grievances have been resolved, how many phone calls they have made so far, how many grievances they have played a role in resolving, which grievances remain unresolved, etc.. Additionally, social activists could dedicate their time if they could coordinate amongst themselves about the current status of unresolved grievances and what remains to be done.

For this project, students will create a Facebook App or Game that will allow CGNet Swara citizen activists to view and show off these analytics. The app should also allow users to coordinate and comment on the status of current unresolved grievance reports.

Recommended Skills
  • Web Development (HTML/CSS/Javascript)
  • Scripting Laungage Experience (Python)
  • Facebook API Experience (Nice to have)
  • Android Development Experience (Nice to have)
  • Additional Note:
    CGNet Swara operates on Indian time since it is based on the other side of the world, so weekly meetings will occur in the evenings instead of the usual daytime.