To keep the traffic flowing, mum’s the word

To be more effective, regulatory bodies can use the type of network goods that function better if kept discreet. 

Bangalore traffic police launched a unique application called Public Eye last year. Public Eye provides a platform for people to capture images of traffic violations and raise complaints while being anonymous. This application is the best example to show how certain network goods are more beneficial if kept discreet.

Network goods refers to the goods whose values increases with the increase in the number of consumers. For example, the Uber app on your phone is a network good as the success of the app relies on how many consumers and drivers are on the platform. The large number of user base, thereby, helps in reducing the asymmetry between the demand and supply for transport alternatives.

A commonly used technique to increase the user base is by publicising the good. For instance, Uber ads can be seen on all mediums like newspaper, billboards etc. However, there are a certain type of goods that acquire a larger consumer base if kept discreet, for example voting. Voting as a tool is more effective if the voter is allowed to be confidential about his or her preference. This confidentiality helps the voter to not be under the fear of being pressurised or being compelled to follow the dominant opinion.

The discreetness followed is also desired for other reasons, such as the novelty value. For example, many tourists are attracted to less famous places as it allows them to escape the crowd. The other reason can be the social perception towards the good. Example being a website like the infamous Ashley Madison, an infidelity-based dating service. In the case of Public Eye, the Bangalore traffic police used similar discreetness to increase compliance with road traffic rules by allowing citizens to post about the violations anonymously.

Providing such platforms that help in supervision while keeping the user discreet has two positive impacts. First, it helps the government to delegate its task as an overseer. Second, it provides platform for the largest cost bearers to do something about it. The confidential nature of such an app thereby helps in building trust within the community that the information revealed would not affect the user directly. This particular nature of the app incentivises people to take the required steps even if they have no skin in the game.

An interesting example will be to test if similar platform will be effective if used to keep a track of bill payments. For example how effective will it be if the residents are asked to inform the authorities about how much electricity their neighbours use.

Devika Kher is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.

Image source: Design Package, Flickr