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A More Efficient Way of Solving Civic Problems Using Technology

by Mahrukh Sarwar

There is a large open manhole on the road leading to your home. The pungent smell of the toxic sewer gases being released from it makes you want to avoid that area as much as possible. What do you do now?

You report the matter to your union councillor and expect that they will quickly take it up with the municipal department concerned. There is one small problem though. On any given day, the office of your union councillor will receive and forward several such complaints about malfunctioning municipal services. Even if the councillor is fully dedicated to serving the constituency, it is likely that they will find it hard to keep a track of progress on these complaints.

The Punjab Information Technology Board has developed a smartphone application to streamline this process. Named Punjab Fix-It, the application allows ground-level resolvers to efficiently resolve the civic complaints forwarded to them by union councillors. For now, only union councils have been given access to the Punjab Fix-It application which works on both Android and iOS smartphones.

Using the application, the union councillor will be able to take a picture of the manhole (with its location geotagged), select a category, add remarks and then submit it. The application will forward the complaint to the relevant person within the concerned municipal department, in the above case the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA).

“The complaint submission process is quite simple, even for those who are less-technologically savvy,” says Uzair Shahid, Senior Program Manager at PITB. “There are only three fields that have to be filled out in order to make a complaint and the categories fields are in the form of a pictorial list.”

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Once the complaint is received, the system automatically routes it to the concerned person within the relevant department. “It’s the department’s responsibility to assign roles. For example, there is a specific person that is handling sewerage issues within Gulberg and if they receive complaints from that area, then those complaints will go directly to him. This mapping has already been done,” adds Shahid.

The ground level resolver just has to open the application to get all the information about the problem. Then they have two options: they can say that the issue has been resolved and send a picture of the closed manhole or they can say that it is  not applicable if, for example, the problem has been wrongly categorized and the picture attached to the complaint is of kite flying but the category selected is for the open manhole. In this case since kite flying is handled by a different department than the one fixing the open man hole, so the resolver will select the not applicable option.

Every time a complaint is launched, an SMS is sent to three parties. One, to the person who lodged the complaint so he will be able to see which people have been assigned to his problem and get their mobile numbers in order to follow up with them. Two, to the Managing Director of the government department in question and three, to a person at the Mayor’s office who has been nominated to oversee the whole system. This entire process makes sure that there is a check and balance, and problems are getting resolved on a daily basis without delays.

The Fix-It application also contains a dashboard so the administration can see how many complaints have been launched, the nature of the complaints, and the areas from which they have originated. “The dashboard presents all the information in a visual manner so you are able to make effective decisions based on that,” comments Shahid.

Training sessions have been carried out for all the members of the 267 union councils in Lahore where the pilot for Punjab Fix-It is currently being conducted. So far the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC), Metropolitan Corporation Lahore (MCL), and WASA have started using this application but it will soon be expanded to other departments. Shahid says, “If all goes well, this application will soon be implemented throughout Punjab.”

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