How India’s City Changers Have Unlocked the Power of Complaining

It may be Britain that styles itself the "nation of complainers", but it looks like recently India has been getting in on the act too, with the development of a successful online platform that actually encourages people to voice criticism about their local communities. But it doesn't stop there: this bunch of whiners is actually getting stuff done.

Author Marisa Pettit, 10.14.15

It may be Britain that styles itself the “nation of complainers”, but it looks like recently India has been getting in on the act too, with the development of a successful online platform that actually encourages people to voice criticism about their local communities. But it doesn’t stop there: this bunch of whiners is actually getting stuff done.

At some point in your life you’ve probably tutted and moaned about an inconvenience that you’ve come across in your every day life: whether its constantly-overflowing bins, broken streetlights or, my own pet annoyance, badly placed street signs, we all know how infuriating they can be. But how many people actually do anything about it? The usual reaction is to grumble on the inside and then do absolutely nothing.

But in the south Indian city of Bangalore, residents have recently been provided with a space where civil society and politics meet, a forum where they can make their voices heard and hopefully get things changed for the better: the online platform called I Change My City. The way it works is like this. If a person in Bangalore sees something in their neighbourhood that they think could do with improving, they sign up online and post a short description of the issue on the website – whether it be potholes in a road, discarded rubbish on their street corner, or literally any other civic issue. If they’re using a smart phone and the app, they can even take a photo of the offending area and upload it to the online community directly. Similar to Facebook’s Like button, with one single click, other users can then “vote up” the issue, meaning the more resonance it finds among other people in the community, the higher up it is in the list of priorities. Janaagraha, the organization that set up the initiative, sends all complaints directly to the relevant civic authorities, who then have the job of sorting them out.

Whereas in the past, people who wanted to make a complaint about something in their local area had to stay fired up about it long enough to write a strongly worded letter and then stick it in the post, the internet now makes it so much easier and more instant. And with India now the country with the second highest number of internet users in the entire world, it’s not surprising that the idea has really taken off. At the time this article was written, over 30,000 complaints had been posted, over 19,000 of which had also been marked as resolved.

By allowing the people of Bangalore to come together like this and collaborate on making their city a better place to live, I Change My City really does transform the average citizen into an agent of change. Millenials are used to feeling like part of things and very aware of the power of their online presence: whether it be when they’re forming public opinion on social media or signing successful online petitions. But there’s something special about this initiative because the results of it are so very visible, and – often quite literally – so concrete too: the website features a number of success stories, proudly showing off newly tarmaced streets and clean alleyways now free of rubbish and waste. Simply put, it’s democracy made visible.

And while it’s true that rapid urbanization is creating huge problems for India’s governments, they don’t have to tackle them alone. Basic infrastructure and services are essential for a good quality of life, but its not just the responsibility of officials to ensure it. Active citizens have the power to facilitate positive action, and to bring about change on the ground. It’s a reminder that everywhere around the world, the democratic process certainly doesn’t end after the votes have been counted. As a famous Indian man reportedly once said: Be the change you want to see in the world.

To see one of the initiative’s success stories, take a look at the short video below.

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