"I Paid a Bribe" uses crowdsourcing to track corruption in India: Part 1 of 2

by Dana Liebelson
Nov 11, 2010 in Investigative Journalism

A non-profit organization in India is on a mission to fight corruption in the country through a new website called “I Paid a Bribe.” The site allows users to anonymously distinguish whether they paid, accepted or declined a bribe in various sectors of society. They can also submit the time, type, location, frequency and value of a bribe.

The ultimate goal of this "crowdsourcing" project, sponsored by the Bangalore-based organization Janaagraha, is to provide a window into corruption across the country. Eventually this could provide the government a tool to better target its anti-corruption efforts. T.R. Raghunandan, the creator of I Paid A Bribe (IPAB), recently told IJNet about the initiative. Raghunandan has 26 years of experience in the government of India and of Karnataka State. His interview will be published in two parts.

IJNet: Could you tell us a little bit about IPAB’s launch story? How does the project align with Janaagraha’s goal of improving the quality of life in India’s cities and towns?
Raghu: The IPAB idea emerged and evolved over time. It commenced with a discussion between a board member and the co-founders of Janaagraha a couple of years back as a simple means of tracking the market price of corruption. This was more in jest than anything else. In fact, two years back, a small experimental website was put up to test the idea. Then over time, but particularly over the last six months, we worked on the idea extensively and added a lot more features. We decided that the website had to be a multifaceted site, providing a variety of services to people. We launched the new, redesigned website on August 15.

IPAB aligns with Janaagraha’s goal of making a measurable difference in the quality of citizenship in cities. It does this by adopting the strategy of empowering citizens using a “net-plus-roots” approach – we use a net-based platform for recording the grassroots experiences of citizens. Through this approach, IPAB aligns completely with Janaagraha’s key goal of increasing the number of citizen change agents in the city. We believe that every citizen who reports a story on our website about paying a bribe is angry enough to begin to resist it. Of course, it goes without saying that somebody who has resisted paying a bribe and reported the story is already very much on the path of being a citizen change agent.

About how many users submit bribes reports every day? Could you tell me a little bit about how IPAB processes this mass amount of data?
The number can vary, but we get a total of about 25 to 50 reports in our ‘I paid a bribe’, ‘I didn’t pay a bribe’ and ‘I didn’t have to pay a bribe’ sections every day. There are days where reports have spurted; this typically happens after we have been featured in the press! It is interesting to note that the percentage of bribes paid, bribes resisted and didn’t have to pay reports has been consistently at 85%, 10% and 5%, since the website was launched!

Apart from these reports, we get about 20 questions on the “Ask Raghu” column every day. In addition, there are about 20 to 50 reports and comments logged in on the various forums and the administrator’s blog.

IPAB displays bribe-related reports in two ways. First, the raw report, as provided by the individual logging in, can be seen under the headings ‘ I paid a bribe’, ‘I didn’t pay a bribe’ and ‘I didn’t have to pay a bribe’. We have also introduced analytics on the site. If you go to the ‘bribe patterns’ button, these analytics can be seen. We provide sortable data on the numbers of bribes paid, the amounts paid and averages.

Apart from these, we have commenced work on more detailed department- and transaction-level analysis of corruption. The idea is to bring out quickly compiled but insightful reports for the general public as well as for the government, showing the patterns of corruption and giving suggestions as to what changes must be brought about to reduce the opportunities for corruption. These reports, termed ‘Janamahithi’ (Jana = people, Mahithi = information) reports, will also contain information on how citizens can avoid paying bribes by taking some simple precautions, doing their homework and paperwork in advance and adopting certain styles of behavior. Our Janamahithi reports on motor vehicles and registration related-corruption will be released shortly. We will also formally submit these reports to the government, for the purpose of taking action to make the necessary process changes and keep citizens informed about the progress made by the government.

Visit the site at http://ipaidabribe.com/.

Part 2 of this interview will explore how citizens can use IPAB to combat corruption in their communities.