Covid-19 has affected almost the entire world, causing widespread disruptions in economies and healthcare services. India too experienced disruptions for which citizens looked up to the government for guidance and leadership. The government’s response has also been somewhat similar to those of other countries, focusing on minimizing the impact on people’s health, lives, and the economy.
The Smart Cities Mission, launched by the government in 2015, has been a key enabler for several cities to effectively leverage technology in improving citizen services and improve the overall quality of life. The pandemic has been the latest instance where it played a critical role in shaping the government’s emergency response. Many of the Indian smart cities used the Integrated Command and Control Centre, which forms the “brain and nerve center”, as Covid-19 War Rooms to plan and manage their pandemic response strategies. This move helped them coordinate and monitor the activities of various state and city agencies.
As highlighted in Technology and Data Governance in Cities: Indian cities at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19, cities faced many challenges while formulating their response strategy, but were able to quickly address these:
- Technology-knowhow to repurpose existing smart solutions for Covid-19 response was a key challenge that cities addressed with support from their consultants, academia and local businesses. For example, Bengaluru was supported by the Indian Institute of Science and other locally based IT organizations in setting up its war room.
- Staff to operate the war room had to be quickly trained for which cities partnered with local organizations and consultants. The Surat Municipal Corporation, with the help from local organizations, arranged training sessions on Covid-19 protocols for healthcare workers and doctors manning the war room.
- The city administration had to quickly deploy staff from other government agencies and onboard volunteers for operating the war room. Pimpri Chinchwad deployed municipal officers, health workers, city police and volunteers in their war room.
- Sharing of knowledge was important for cities to learn from each other’s experience to reduce the learning curve. Cities like Bengaluru shared their experience in setting up the war room through various webinars. Solution providers too played a key role in sharing Covid-19 related solutions already implemented in one city with other cities.
Taking a cue from the experiences of both Indian and global cities in responding to the pandemic, the following measures are likely to be key for ensuring sustainable effectiveness in responding to similar emergencies going forward.
- Cities need to formulate technology management policies for ensuring standardization and interoperability to enable seamless sharing of data and analytics between various agencies’ systems.
- Policies need to be framed and standard operating procedures developed for handling and managing data, addressing privacy norms, ownership and security issues.
- Mechanisms for information sharing among cities and state agencies need to be in place.
- Getting the right skill set and expertise to operate the city data cell by including professionals in areas such as data architecture, security, privacy, and analytics is important.
- Using multiple channels for citizen outreach like help desks, call centers, citizen portals and mobile applications.
The experience of Indian cities has clearly demonstrated that technology and data-driven decision making are critical for ensuring effective citizen outreach and service delivery. To institutionalize this transformation, governments would need to adopt the right institutional coordination mechanisms and invest in capabilities and processes supporting technology and data-driven service delivery.