Engaging Ourselves

One of the ideas I have been thinking over the past few days is what I call “Conversations and Networks.” It stems from the fact that we need to get over our apathy and have a deeper discussion about what’s happening in India. That is the Conversation part. And what if we had, simultaneously, an opportunity to expand our Network – meeting more and new people. How can we do this at a mass scale involving millions in India? This can create the foundation of an emergent democracy.

Here is a possible framework. I would love to get your feedback on whether this will work. If not, what can be done to make it work – and scale.

Imagine meetings that take place in every neighbourhood every week in people’s drawing rooms – at the same time (let’s say Fridays, 6-7 pm). There is a pre-decided topic for every meeting. The meeting begins with introductions from the people who have come. Each meeting probably has 10-20 people. If there are more than 25 at a single meeting, then the group splits into two for the next meeting to keep a manageable size.

A website would have a backgrounders on the topic (video / presentation from an expert) and lays out the themes for discussion. So, there would be a mix of learning and voicing one’s opinions on the topic of the week. Suggestions and comments would then be provided back on the website – thus enabling the collation of ideas from the groups (“wisdom of crowds”).

What this does is starts to get us in Middle India more engaged in the discussion about our own future, and over time, become a large and influential mass that can influence policy-making.

What kind of topics would the groups discuss? A starting point (if one were to begin in the next couple weeks) could be a series of 4-5 discussions about Elections 2009. It would be great to have an intelligent discussion about the various options and then make a well thought-out decision. After that, one could take up education, healthcare, energy (narrower themes of the bigger issues).

What do you think?

71 thoughts on “Engaging Ourselves

  1. As you mention in the post, the topic will be pre-decided. One way to prime the discussion on the topic of the day would be to have a short introduction to the topic — sort of like a brief background.

    Suppose the topic is how to get corruption out of politics. The background information would summarize how much corruption there is, why corruption is bad, and how it undermines the basic structure of democracy. Then the discussion would be on what can be done, what actions can individuals take, etc.

  2. could you share your thoughts on how to translate these discussions into meaningful action on the ground? That is my major concern.

  3. You need to give more details and meat behind this, i get the idea, but dont know how you will achieve, please give an example and some implementations .. 🙂 i don’t want to brain storm

  4. Rajesh – I hate to say but I do not think this idea will work for some good time to come. There is a feeling of apathy and helplessness among all sections of society in India.
    What may work is providing information to people about their rights and what they can do.
    Once people have information they may start the discussions.

    If at all we want it to work there should be some incentive for people to come and brainstorm.
    It is ironic but no one will attend these meetings even if it helps them in long run.



  5. Hi, i just re-read again, sounds very interesting indeed.

    Maybe worthwhile to talk to someone who is doing this in a real world setting and see if one can make it better thru’ these web technologies

  6. Rajesh – The only I can think of having more people converse is to give them more information. A simple information on how say a MP has used his fund ? How much tax payers money a government is using properly.
    Once the population is informed with details then next actions will emerge.
    The information can be disseminated through mobiles.
    What is needed is pin-code based portals which
    you have mentioned before in one of your post. Once the local information is there actions will happen automatically.


  7. On a separate note I think if economics is taught in a way which is understood by masses -literate as well as illiterate then we probably will see a more engaged population


  8. I am not sure if this is a good idea. More often than not, I have seen people while discussing, actually argue about their point. I think they dont understand anything and mostly stick to their prejudices instead of learning. For e.g if you were to discuss why BJP is good with even a very very educated Muslim, he wouldnt agree, coz of his personal preferences. And ofcourse vice-versa. I think discussion has no meaning in general. Yes, if a person of good oratory and knowledge tries to enlighten people, then its a different issue, but then its not discussion. This already happens in news channels and asthaa tv etc…

  9. Rajesh,

    I think Jaanagraha is attempting something similar but at slightly macro level, that is at a locality with in city level. In my view the biggest disconnect exists in the implementation / reaching out the idea’s generated to the concerned person / authority.
    Unless a framework is workout to solve this issue, the rigour and efficacy of idea generation would be lost.

    With special reference to elections 2009. What i would love to see is something like this.

    A Pan India site, which would be maintained by Central Govt (development can be outsourced 🙂 )

    The objective of site would be two pronged – provide details on candidates during election (both state / Centre) – details include Bio, Educational qualification, last three income tax assessment, declaration of assets and liabilities, criminal background (with current state of case), prior track record in politics and parties he had been so far…all candidates would be provided with a blog in their language of their choice to communicate with voters

    Post election it would double up as tracker of selected candidate. He needs to provide a quarterly reports as to his time spent, how he spent his constituency fund and his proposed outlay for the same, number of sessions of assembly he attended..

    well know its an ambitious idea..but i think we need to start ASAP then may be in 10 years we will have a more equitable share between power / responsibility.

  10. Srivatsan -Why do think Government will maintain a Pan Indian site containing all its sins.
    The watchdogs needs to be at Pin code level and
    be some one other than Government.


  11. Apologies for being a sceptic! We as a country have opinions & discussions all the time. The time is for action.

    This country needs structure, continuous measurement & penalties/rewards based on performance. And this requires discipline.

    Only way this place is going to improve. Everything else false next.

    My 2 cents er. paise!

  12. Rajeshbhai,
    I have talked to many friends in USA and everyone wants to see BJP (better of two) in power. Considering 3.2 million Indians in US only, can we have some kind of campaign here so that they can talk to their family members back in India about it. Even a simple email chain will be of great help.

  13. Here is the email which I sent to every one in my database. (Please keep improving on this).
    Sub: Election 2009 – My dues for my Country

    Dear Friends,

    As the election is approaching in India, I was thinking about “How can I Help”. I can think of many ways to help Our Country, but right now the most important thing is “Having a stable, independent government”.
    A group of entrepreneurs have started “Friends of BJP” – http://friendsofbjp.org/

    After going through this webs-site, I decided to be vocal about my choice (silent supporter might not be enough).
    ” I Support the BJP ”

    According to Rajesh Jain “The BJP may not be the Whitest of the parties, but in our view, it is by far, the better, cleaner, more democratic, less feudal and more promising of the two national options.”

    As my dues to my country, I have decided to let everyone in India know about this endeavour. (http://friendsofbjp.org/)

    If you agree, please do the same.

    Virendra Parekh

  14. You have hit the nail on the head! We need to converse more and network through conversations (without a thought whether it will be beneficial to the individual or not). The good intentions of the people conversing is more important. Many a times we are bored to network because we believe things will never change … blah … blah…. When people talk – the network expands and things become better.

    Today, this is what Swami Ramdev is doing – conversing with crores of people through Aastha, he is also talking to groups of people at Hardwar and other Yog Science Camps – the result – is lifestyle change for the better, health, therapy and well-being.

    Similarly such a “samvaad” attitude is required on other issues – this participation will lead to better things – constant improvement.

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