Mira: a community led tech movement to enable participatory governance of Bangalore Lakes

We're creating digital infrastructure to enable citizens to protect and rejuvenate their local lakes: a hotspot for biodiversity in the city

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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.

Initiative's representative name

Anu Sridharan

Initiative's representative date of birth

June 15, 1987

Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • India

Headquarters location: city

Bangalore

Where are you making a difference?

SAME

Website or social media url(s)

https://www.facebook.com/bcld5/

Date Started

April 1, 2016

Project Stage

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working toward the next level of expansion)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €10k - €50k

Organization Type

  • Nonprofit/NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

It started with the construction of a power plant near Jakkur lake, in Bangalore. There was an active citizen group, Jal Poshan Trust, who had taken over the maintenance of Jakkur lake from the government, with help from the environmental NGO Biome and Friends of Lakes, lake restoration network. Jal Poshan approached ATREE to understand how the power plant would affect the lake. ATREE’s data models showed that the lake water levels would drop substantially in the dry season. That helped Jal Poshan negotiate for minimum releases into the lake. This led to the realisation that to make impact we need “science in action” - research and data on concrete problems that could be communicated properly to help citizens take better action.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Despite years of research and considerable citizen engagement, the health of Bangalore's lakes has continued to deteriorate. Overall, there are 3 key problems faced by citizens who would like to participate in lake rejuvenation: -Lack of metrics and data on assets of lakes (including water, structures and biodiversity) -Difficulty in coordination and project management within and between agencies and citizen groups -Lack of evidence-based solutions on what works and does not work

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our solution allows every citizen and organization to be a changemaker. We do this by: 1) Boosting citizen’s contextual understanding of the lake, by improving documentation and tracking of lake assets 2) Making it easy to discover and take part in lake development activities, including data generation 3) Establishing lakes as “living labs” so that new innovative solutions can be evaluated and tracked with respect to improvements in lake assets The digital solution proposed is centred around viewing the lake as a set of assets. To accomplish the above objectives, we create a digital model of the lake, breaking the lake into many assets. Any common resident of Bangalore can interact with the lake asset registry using a user friendly mobile app which acts as a guide to the lake. The user can view data on assets, contribute to improving assets by participating in activities, and track changes on specific interventions to develop an evidence base on solutions over time by creating “data stories”. This guide will be available in English and Kannada.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

One of the main innovations this solution revolves around is breaking the lake into assets, creating an asset registry, and tracking lake assets over time. This asset registry model has been borrowed from the blockchain movement, and has already been applied successfully in many fields. By applying this idea to lakes, we allow for increased transparency and coordination. The second innovation is creating a pathway to participation, similar to what iNaturalist has done for biodiversity science at large. We are creating a more use friendly interface to help the average citizen take part in preservation activities around the lake, and more fully understand and enjoy the biodiversity around the lake.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

One of our biggest investments in the last year, has been to build a community of several organisations that have been working in a somewhat coordinated manner to strengthen the grassroots efforts of the citizen lake groups. ATREE represents the scientific community as it has been conducting cutting edge primary research and modelling around lakes for the past decade. Biome is a grassroots organization working directly with citizens who want to protect their lakes. Friends of Lakes is a group, which liaises between corporations, citizen groups, and government agencies. NextDrop is a technology organisation which specializes in building software for the water sector. We are also actively engaged in discussions to integrate our digital platform with the India Biodiversity portal and the Karnataka State Urban Observatory. We are also in the process of signing an MOU with the Indian Institute of Science to help share data and model results with their Bangalore Urban Floods project

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

We enable citizens to turn data into action. Initially, we had created a dashboard which has live data for 4 lakes around Bangalore. We are training citizens to collect water quality data, and have volunteers who are tracking lake health every month. The goal is to empower citizen groups to engage with agencies with better data and science. Data has been collected on water quality and water levels, and the results have been disseminated back to the citizens. To do this we have also created a Facebook page to disseminate information and content around lakes. From 2017- 2019 we reached ~40,000 people on social media. We also engaged directly with ~1500 people over 20 events, ranging from public lectures to docent training for “Backyard Biodiversity walks”, to information sessions for school students. Our work has helped improve public understanding of lakes and answer questions of policy interest such as the Jakkur story in question 1.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

We are focusing on scaling via geographic spread. The more lakes we have enabled on the app, the more impact we can create. Our pathway to scale is to partner with citizen groups. There are currently around 50 citizen groups that have “adopted” about 100 out of the 127 officially recognized existing lakes in Bangalore. To grow in users and engagements, we believe that tie-ups with companies, schools and colleges for engagement will be possible. Next is growth in app development. We will open source the code and build a community of open source developers associated with the App.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

Our theory of value creation for society, is that if we increase the level of citizen science, coordination and participation in lake development activities, we will have an impact on overall lake quality, lake health, and biodiversity. We take a “living labs approach to science, encouraging lake groups to collect data around interventions so the evidence base can be built over time. At present, much of the participation is restricted to a few committed citizens. We believe participation could be greatly enhanced to many more citizens, if the number of activities was expanded, the time commitments were clear and bounded and the experience is “gamified”.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

The project is funded in the short term by a CSR grant from Oracle -- but the Oracle grant mainly supports the data collection and community building efforts rather than the App itself. Therefore, the main funding needed is a one-time investment in development of the App. After the initial investment, the platform will need modest funds to sustain itself. Once the app delivers in terms of data and participation, so that the best projects are identified and tracked by communities and CSR donors receive recognition for their contributions, we will be able to charge corporates a modest “finding fee”. This will be enough to cover app maintenance costs.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Currently, we have 4 part time technologists working on this project, ranging from UI/UX designers to full stack engineers. We also have scientists overseeing the knowledge interpretation and dissemination aspects of the project, along with grass roots community workers who have been working with the citizen communities over the years (all involved with other projects). Over time, we plan on involving more citizen groups, and more technologists as we build out the app.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

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Attachments (1)

mira-introduction-note-finalV1.pdf

This is a more in depth look at the problem, solution, innovation, and impact.

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Photo of hamidu ibrahim

Anu Sridharan, the use of a digital media to enhance a digital model creation and co creation is impressive. Well thought.
Gathering data to optimize decision making is a very sustainable approach.
you can also review my project Beekeeping integration into crop farming (Green Honey).

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