January 2005

Women and e-Governance

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Electronic governance or e-Governance has been one of the developments that countries across the globe (developed and developing) have recognised as a potential driver (as well as an enabler) in the way governance can be reinvented to address problems in an efficient manner, and to deliver the services in a more responsive and responsible manner. A joint report of the National Performance Review and the US Government Information Technology Services Board, Access America: Reengineering Through Information Technology, issued 3 February 1997, introduced the new term. Initially it was a little more than a general recognition of Information Technology (IT) developments, and the application and use of these technologies by government organisations. That it could well serve as a means to realising more effective and less costly performance of government functions was recognised subsequently. As we have seen and experienced, it has become a dynamic concept of varying meaning and significance.

There is a firm realisation in countries all over that e-Governance is not just a government website on the Internet. The potential benefits of e-Governance would motivate governments across the globe to adopt it as a new mode of delivery of governance. A good start has been made in Europe, the United States and in countries such as Australia and Singapore. In developing countries, like India, a modest beginning is discernable and over the coming years political leaders of developing countries may find e-Governance as a politically rewarding alternative to traditional mode of governance.

e-Government initiatives are faced with a number of challenges. Though there are many emerging programmes and initiatives on e-Government throughout the world at all levels of government, it is generally believed that it would take another decade for infrastructure to be built, policy issues to be resolved, and for interoperability to be established (McClure, 2000). The Indian Government, realising the importance of IT, has created a separate Ministry of Information Technology to promote IT in the country. The Government has also approved the policy of allocation of two to three per cent of the budget for IT. The IT Bill, which would give legal recognition to electronic documents and facilitate online transactional services through the Internet, has already been tabled in the Parliament.

 

 

A few instances of the India's e-Governance initiatives at the district administration or police administration levels bear out the importance of IT as an important agenda of public administration in India. This article describes an experiment by the Tamil Nadu Police to use e-Governance to address a problem whose solution remains elusive, and has more often than not brought criticism. The distinctive feature of this experiment of e-Governance is that the stakeholders are mainly women, and in a sense this is an outstanding example of a case of e-Governance 'for' the women and 'by' the women.

Queen's Award Project of the Tamil Nadu Police
In 1993, the Tamil Nadu Police, as part of a well-defined strategy, began to deploy women officers to newly established all-women police stations. In the next stage, these all-women police units were entrusted with the job of dealing with crimes against women. It was felt that handling cases of crimes against women needed an altogether different approach, and women police personnel would be more suitable to handle such cases, as this function of policing was more of social intervention than normal policing.


The next priority was generation of skills amongst the women police personnel to address such crimes, as these women did not receive any special training for such kind of jobs previously. It was felt that lack of skills in addressing cases of domestic disputes and violence against women might make it difficult for the women officers to take decisions about the best way to proceed, and as such the desired objective would remain elusive. The need felt to equip the officers with latest techniques and knowledge of the subject area led to the conceptualisation of what became the Queen's Award project (It won an award called the Queens Award under the aegis of the UK government).

Project objectives
That skill would be a key enabler was clearly understood, and areas of stress for the purpose of training were delineated after a detailed deliberation involving police officers, project team members, social scientists, and criminologists whose services were used to make the project more functional.

The following areas of skill and attendant training requirements were identified:

  • Interview techniques
  • Dispute resolution
  • Data management including record of demographics and other relevant details of the complainants.

Use of the web for training
The next challenge was how and where to impart training? Women officers, particularly those at lower ranks, found it difficult to leave their stations to attend training courses usually conducted at the State Training Centres in the state capital. Even if training was organised at nearby locations, relieving these officers was often delayed (they were required to attend their office as well). Under these circumstances, it was thought prudent to use the web as the medium to deliver training to the officers in their own workstation (as Internet accessibility was available throughout Tamil Nadu).
The objectives of the project were:

  • To develop web-based training in dispute resolution, interviewing techniques, and use of computer programmes for data entry and analyses. This training would be for women officers deployed in all-women police units
  • To deliver this training to a total of 30 women officers from all three women police units located in metropolitan cities
  • To evaluate the outcome of the training provided online

Induction of other stakeholders: Public Private Partnership (PPP)
It was not possible to execute the project in-house due to shortage of professionals within the police cadres, and the authorities sought help from non-profit, non-government organisations such as Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC). The PCVC team comprising three criminologists was entrusted with the responsibility of preparing the course material and developing a database for recording domestic disputes and violence. These were first prepared in English and then translated to Tamil.

Project implementation
Though the western model of dispute resolution was used as the basis, the course modules had to be tailored to the needs of the local culture in relation to the nature of disputes that were unique to Indian circumstances. This involved considerable time and thought. The experts prepared a syllabus for the course, which served as the basis for further development of the course modules for the project. Two additional modules, covering introduction to family violence and counseling techniques, were incorporated into the course syllabus.


A contact log sheet was prepared. This included questions about the background of petitioner (reporting domestic disputes as well as domestic violence), nature and duration of disputes/violence, and place and parties involved in violence, among others. This was a more detailed questionnaire than the ones in use at the police stations. If the case involved any form of physical and/or sexual violence, the officer incharge would have to make a risk assessment in order to direct the petitioner to proper care. A danger score sheet (which helps to calculate the risk of death) was prepared for this purpose. This would not only help the officers to record the seriousness of the case they were dealing with, but also in reaching a spontaneous decision to help the women petitioners whose lives were at risk. This document contact sheet was then transferred to electronic format. The purpose of the computerised interview schedule was to keep electronic records, to generate information for statistical reports for supervisors, and for policy purposes.

Induction of an Application Service Provider (ASP)

Application Service Providers (ASPs) are basically IT vendors who team up with the clients right from the stage of system study, and work in very close collaboration with the users. What makes ASPs different from usual outsourcing is that the project is developed and operationalised right at the workplace.

The use of information technology was integral to the project. In order to process the course materials electronically and to set up a database and design the website, several meetings were held with a local ASP. The service provider and the PCVC team worked closely to make the academic-to-technology link. The project team used the document version of the contact sheet to create a database for entering data, and a web site was created (www.wbtdr.net). The web site contains a home page with an introduction to the Police Training College, and a text box for login. Module buttons were available to the trainees and chat room, e-mails and forums for communication were developed for communication and sharing of trainees' expertise in handling domestic dispute cases in each of the sites. (Passwords for each of the trainees were prepared to prevent intruder misuse). Meanwhile, computers were purchased for the project sites and the necessary software was installed.

Three major cities, Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai were chosen for the project for two reasons:

         i.            Women police stations in these cities were the first to be established (in 1993) and were considered to have officers with greater experience in dealing with a variety of petitions, and

       ii.            These stations allowed a wide geographic coverage.

 

Ten women police officers from each of the three stations i.e. 30 were selected for the project. A majority of the officers had good working knowledge of English. Fifty percent of the officers had a Masters degree, 20 percent had a Bachelors degree, and 30 percent held a high school diploma. In terms of ranking, 20 percent of the officers were of Inspector and Sub Inspector rank, and the rest were police Head Constables and Constables. The age ranged from 25-48 years (mean 37.9 years), and experience ranged from 4-26 years (mean 17 years). The project was under the direct supervision of a senior police officer (also the overseer of the Police Training College in the state).

The 30 officers were brought together for a fortnight to the training college situated in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. This not only enabled the officers to meet their counterparts in other stations, but also helped them to grasp the purpose and nature of the course, and their requirements to fulfill the training programme. The officers were given orientation to data management, interview techniques, and dispute resolution. They were given basic training in computer usage (both with English and Tamil keyboards). The Indian Center for Mediation and Dispute Resolution located in Chennai provided an orientation on dispute resolution and its use in the Indian context.

The women officers were given permission to use their on-duty time to use the computer in order to fulfill the training requirements. An unintended effect of the programme was that these officers were seen to be privileged over other officers. To help resolve the tensions thus created, the chief inspector incharge allowed others to watch and learn what the project officers were doing. A pre-test was given to the trainees in order to check their level of theoretical and practical knowledge in dispute resolution and their ability at handling domestic violence cases.

The project was inaugurated in the first week of October 2002. Several problems were encountered in the first phase. For example, though the database created by the IT team was tested earlier, for many reasons it did not work onsite in the first instance especially in the Madurai and Coimbatore. It was found that after data was entered, the officers did not know how to save and generate printouts. Two sets of training were required for this project:

         i.            an online dispute resolution course, and

       ii.            training in interviewing procedures including data entry.

 

 

In the first phase, the course module on understanding the dynamics of family violence went online (in Tamil and English versions). This was to help the trainees to understand the seriousness of violence against women at home. It was also designed to help officers distinguish between serious domestic violence (involving a threat to the life of the petitioners) and small petty disputes, because the officers needed to know when to initiate action against the perpetrator. In the second phase, the module on 'Introduction to Dispute Resolution' dealing with negotiation, mediation and arbitration was introduced. Due to work pressure, the trainees were slow in using the computer and reading the modules.

In developing countries such as India, the strength of the police is proportionally very small compared to the population. These women officers were not only dealing with cases of domestic violence but were also fulfilling other duties as bandobust (escort), along with other law enforcement duties. Officers were given training on data entry using the contact sheet prepared by the PCVC team. The PCVC training team visited the three sites twice in the month of October 2002 and installed the contact sheet and trained the project officers on entering and maintaining data using the database. The project director and the PCVC team made enormous efforts in convincing some of the older trainees to accept the necessity of having professional skills in dispute resolution and to use the computer for data entry. After a bit of practice, the trainees started recognising the value of computer usage in their profession. They were able to consult and discuss with other officers in their stations and began to provide suggestions for improving the contact sheet. Their feedback was important because officers like them were eventually going to utilise the system (if implemented on a large scale). They were also able to request for the appropriate font to be used. All these showed their eagerness and motivation to learn.

After several revisions of the website using feedback from the trainees, the project was launched full-fledgedly. By end-May 2003, three modules on mediation, arbitration and counseling techniques were covered. As per the latest information, the project was completed on schedule (September 2003). An impact assessment is underway.

Key learning
Although the impact of the project is yet to be studied in full scale, certain key learning could be derived:

  • The project is an apt example of how IT can be used as a medium to address a serious problem by involving key stakeholders (in this case primarily women as a matter of project design)
  • An e-Governance project usually tends to be evolutionary. Constraints and tension would be different at different stages
  • Project planning and management hold the key to successful implementation.
  • Involvement of officers (those who would actually use, as well as the involvement and support of senior officers) is a key enabler to e-Governance
  • Since the project was not developed in a laboratory (there was a meaningful partnership between users, professional experts and the application service provider), this confirms the importance of Public Private Partnership(PPP) for e-Governance

Apart from being an outstanding e-Governance initiative in itself, this case proves that e-Governance has no gender bias. Women can be successful partners in harnessing ICT to make meaningful contribution to the Society.

The authors wish to acknowledge with gratitude the assistance provided by the Tamil Nadu Police.

References

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