Back in the day, the word ‘crowdsourcing’ was coined (apparently while a story idea was being pitched to an editor at Wired Magazine) to explain the phenomenon of outsourcing work to an internet-using ‘crowd’. Although the word itself was used to describe businesses employing the practice, over the years it has evolved and adapted itself to various uses.
Since the idea was based on sourcing work to a ‘crowd’, it is no surprise that the ‘crowd’ itself takes the tool in its own hand at times. Wikipedia, a widely used online resource, is for instance a creation almost in its entirety, by netizens.
Safetipin is another such initiative, which uses crowdsourcing to generate safety information on a city. Delhi, for instance, tops the list of mega cities in this country for nearly all major crimes – whether it’s murder, rape, or abduction. While the government and police fail to deal with it, it isn’t surprising that citizens have taken initiatives to make the city safe for themselves. And they are using the power of crowdsourcing to achieve this.
Safetipin uses nine parameters such as lighting, transportation, gender diversity, even the ‘feeling’ of safety, to generate a safety score for an area using a set of four apps. These apps help perform audits using each of these parameters. So, if you’re walking down an empty lane and the street-light isn’t functioning, you can set a score for both people density and streetlights in the area using these apps.
To ensure that this data is also available to app users travelling to an area that has not been audited by individual users, Safetipin also facilitates audits through community volunteers. The safety information is then used to urge the administration to improve infrastructure in their area. So far, Safetipin has conducted audits in partnership with NGOs and their volunteers to mobilise women to conduct audits in a region of Delhi. They have also done audits in Karnal in Haryana with the assistance of the Karnal Police.
“Audit training sessions were held for both male and female police officers, and local volunteers. Together they conducted around 600 manual audits covering the entire city,” says Kriti Agarwal, who works on data analysis at Safetipin. Similarly, female architects from the New Delhi Municipal Council conducted audits around metro stations in the NDMC zone “to improve last mile connectivity.”
The one concern one may have with the apps is whether they might promote people taking precautionary measures, which can put a woman’s autonomy at stake. However, co-founder Kalpana Vishwanath says that although the apps were envisaged to help individual women make safer decisions, the larger goal is to “share the data so as to get stakeholders to improve urban environments.”
In Badarpur, for instance, Agarwal told YKA, an audit was done by women from the local community facilitated by Safetipin and another NGO. This move resulted in local authorities improving lighting in the area. This also happened in Sunder Nagar.
In the age of smartphones, crowdsourcing data could be an effective tool in solving a problem and this is rising trend around the world. Producing impact, however, is not always easy. According to Vishwanath, while authorities are responsive when comprehensive data is shared with them, it takes time to get public authorities to respond. The worldwide use of the app also remains a hurdle as organised audits have been done only in and around Delhi. However, with Delhi’s crime rate, this is probably an important first step. Furthermore, when the power is with the people, one can at least hope for change.