A Center for Research and Computation on Society Seminar featuring Prof. Rajesh Veeraraghavan from Georgetown University
Abstract: How can development programs deliver benefits to marginalized citizens in ways that expand their rights and freedoms? Political will and good policy design are critical but often insufficient due to resistance from entrenched local power systems. The book is an ethnography of one of the largest development programs in the world, the Indian National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), and examines in detail NREGA’s implementation in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It finds that the local system of power is extremely difficult to transform, not because of inertia, but because of coercive counter strategy from actors at the last mile and their ability to exploit information asymmetries. Upper-level NREGA bureaucrats in Andhra Pradesh do not possess the capacity to change the power axis through direct confrontation with local elites, but instead have relied on a continuous series of responses that react to local implementation and information, a process of patching development. Patching development is a top-down, fine-grained, iterative socio-technical process that makes local information about implementation visible through technology and enlists participation from marginalized citizens through social audits. These processes are neither neat nor orderly and have led to a contentious sphere where the exercise of power over documents, institutions and technology is intricate, fluid and highly situated. The book throws new light on the challenges and benefits of using information and technology in novel ways to implement development programs. While focused on one Indian state, the implications for increasing citizen participation and government transparency have global relevance.
Bio: Rajesh Veeraraghavan’s research combines bodies of scholarship and practice that come together in the field of Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICT4D), which embraces the ethos of marginalized citizen-centered design and applies it to global human development. He has leveraged his technical and sociological training to develop technology-enabled information interventions, employing a method that is half-participant observation, half-interventionist activism. First, he is interested in developing digital technology-enabled interventions to address inequality that respects the potential and limits of such designs within particular social contexts. Second, he is interested in critically examining the role of algorithms and technology and its potential harms for marginalized people. He seeks to engage in critique both through a sociological lens as well as constructive design using data and communicative technologies.
Veeraraghavan is currently an assistant professor in the Science Technology and International Affairs (STIA) Program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University and was previously a Fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard University. He consulted for the Gates Foundation and Open Society Foundation. Previously, he worked as an associate researcher at the Technology for Emerging Markets group at Microsoft Research, India. In his prior life, he was a software developer at Microsoft. He has a PhD from University of California, Berkeley’s School of Information, a master’s degree in computer science from Clemson University, a master’s degree in economics from Cleveland State University, and a bachelor’s degrees in economics and management from Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani, India.