Using crowdsourced data for neighbourhood change
We started Safecity 18 months ago to document evidence of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. Currently this data does not exist officially as people tend not to report to the police. In a way, we are bridging a gap that exists and making this data in turn available to the public.
In order to understand, how we can use this data I then decided to volunteer with an organisation that mobilises communities around an issue. So I volunteered in a suburb of Mumbai - Bandra where the issue was not so much sexual harassment but chain snatching and robberies.
Almost every week, there was someone or other being robbed or attempted at being robbed. The robberies would take place even during broad daylight as most of the streets were quite lonely and deserted targeting men and women after studying their pattern of behaviour. Most often, the “victims” would not report the event to the police as they were worried about interacting with the police and found them intimidating. In cases where people did report to the police, they found them to be unhelpful and bureaucratic.
I realised that residents had poor knowledge of their legal rights and in most cases didn't even know of the rampant problem of these robberies. We decided to focus our efforts to create awareness, document evidence and have brainstorming sessions where residents would decide what solutions to implement. After all these interventions, we collected evidence of 20 stories that had not reached the police and made a representation to them. The police accepted the data and changed their beat patrol timings. The residents also got the municipal corporation to fix the poor street lighting and they managed to get funds from the local councilman to install CCTV cameras at key junctions.
In addition, they educated their building watchmen who were provided a whistle which they were supposed to blow every time there was an incident which occurred within their sight. They had a protocol – every evening at 6,7,8,9 pm the watchmen blow a short blast in series starting from the first building on the road till the end, to indicate everything is ok. If there is an untoward incident, the watchman is supposed to continuously blow on the whistle and alert the other watchmen and the residents.
I am happy to say that there have been no more robberies or chain snatchings in the area but instead we have a closer knit community who watches out for each other.
Thus I was convinced that online crowdsourced data even if it is anonymous and unverified can be a powerful tool to identify trends at the local & neighbourhood level. Interventions would depend on the data outcomes as well as the extent to which a community would want to get involved to bring about change. This is very powerful and can be used simply but effectively.