Panchayat members turn tech-savvy in Gujarat

Panchayat members turn tech-savvy in Gujarat

It was a challenging task for elected representatives of some villages even in
Gujarat. A Gujarati is known for his business acumen and can read budget like the back of his palm. Now, technology has helped the elected representatives to deal with the problem effectively.

Many villagers in Kutch region have no computers at their homes. They have not perceived it as a drawback. When the oppo­rtunity came their way, they went ahead using social networking sites to the hilt for furthering their interests. The
people in this region, devastated by the killer­-earthquake nearly a decade ago, have travelled a long way into the virtual world.

Duda Chavda, who has been trained on how to use Facebook and Skype, logs on regularly and has realised the importance of this networking site. Having seen the advantages of the social networking sites, now he is using application like Skype. For a man from a remote village in the earthquake-ravaged Anjar block in Kutch, he certainly has come a long way.  He not only manages his fields, but also handles the affairs of his village and shares his experiences on the virtual world with his peers.

He is not the only villager who has logged on to the virtual world. The sarpanch of Bhalot village and several others from the Panchayats of more than 30 villages in Kutch are using these sites to share their experiences of local governance among themselves and seek guidance from the people, who want to help them. “We can now put our work, images of our village on the social networking sites and people can see them from anywhere,” said an elated Chavda.

“Gram Panchayat (GP) members use Skype to conference with one another and Facebook to create collaborative documents,” said Sushma Ayenger from Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan, the organisation, which has initiated the training for the panchayat members. “Using Facebook, a popular social networking site, panchayat members are also able to share photographs and short video clips – documenting developmental tasks undertaken in their villages,” she added.

The empowerment helps them to demonstrate their initiatives in the virtual world and win appreciation for them. It has generated tangible pride among the panchayat members. “It’s great fun to learn what they are teaching,” says Damaji Suthar, Sarpanch of Ner Amarsar village from Bhachau block. “They have been teaching us about how to conduct gram sabhas, prepare budgets and monitor developmental activities in our own villages. We can then put all our experiences on Facebook which others can see and it is great,” he added.

“Gram panchayat members are evolving as a networked community that
reports, shares, collaborates and mentors each other to make tacit experiential knowledge explicit every day,” Ayenger added. The idea of enabling the panchayats to use social network came as a byproduct of empowering the panchayats to handle their issues. The course, which entails three modules, targets the village pancha­yat members to make them accou­ntable and reliable in creating and implementing developmental plans. The course content focuses specifically on budgeting and planning, and developing an awareness of the constitutional rights of pancha­yat members. It has been desig­ned to be interactive and utilise internet-based tools to promote a learning experience that is collaborative, empowering, and sustainable, said Ayenger. The first course for elected representatives that uses technology such as Skype and Facebook, aims to use online communication to develop a community of panchayat members who can easily share ideas on best practices through peer learning approach.

“The system is developed in collaboration with the gram panchayats and with the active involvement of the community in each ward of the panchayats. Thus, the data gets verified and ratified by the gram sabha. It includes a comprehensive range of issues and information that affect the village development and governance such as the location of public resources, the number of unemployed persons in the village, the proximity of schools, functioning and satisfaction with PDS, access to entitlements, status of natural
resources , etc,” she added.

“The idea here is not to provide simple IT training to the panchayat members, but to train them how to use technology for their own issues,” said Parimala Inamdar, the pedagogy consultant of the project. “So while on the one hand we had to train them how to use networking sites like Facebook,  on the other, we also had to teach them how to update their status with all the details, so that it makes complete sense to their peers, obviously, the way urban users use their status message will not make sense to the rural people,” she said.

“We have also develo­ped the websites of couple of villages which were done by the villagers themselves,” she added. “We have also started groups in Facebook where the users share their knowledge in form of quiz series and have fun through peer learning,’ she said.

“They started with the basic issues of development of the village and how we can manage our affairs,” Dudha Chavda says.

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