Using Crowd-Sourced Data to Study Public Services: Lessons from Urban India
As cities throughout the developing world grow, they often expand more quickly than the infrastructure and service delivery networks that provide residents with basic necessities such as water and public safety. Why do some cities deliver more effective infrastructure and services in the face of rapid growth than others? Why do some households and communities secure better services than others? Answering these questions requires studying the large, politicized bureaucracies charged with providing urban services, especially the relationships between frontline workers, agency managers, and citizens in informal settlements. Researchers investigating public service delivery in cities of the Global South, however, have faced acute data scarcity when addressing these themes. The recent emergence of crowd-sourced data offers researchers new means of addressing such questions. In this paper, we draw on our own research on the politics of urban water delivery in India to highlight new types of analysis that are possible using crowd-sourced data and propose solutions to common pitfalls associated with analyzing it. These insights should be of use for researchers working on a broad range of topics in comparative politics where crowd-sourced data could provide leverage, such as protest politics, conflict processes, public opinion, and law and order.
KeywordsCrowd-sourcing Public services Water India Street level bureaucracy Frontline worker
This research was funded by a “DIL Innovate” Grant from the Development Impact Laboratory, Blum Center for Developing Economies (USAID Cooperative Agreement AID-OAA-A-13-00002, Alison Post and Isha Ray Principal Investigators), U.C. Berkeley, and a dissertation fieldwork grant from the Institute for International Studies, U.C. Berkeley. Tanu Kumar and Isha Ray, U.C. Berkeley, are co-authors of the impact evaluation project described in this paper. We thank Maria Chang for research assistance. We also thank NextDrop, the Public Affairs Foundation, and the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) for their support of our research. We are grateful for comments from Thad Dunning, Agustina Giraudy, Tanu Kumar, Katerina Linos, Aila Matanock, Isha Ray, and seminar participants at U.C. Berkeley and American University.
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