Conference Presentation Title: From Pipes to Platforms: Designing a Country-Scale Project
Author: Ranjit Singh
Panel: Coded citizenship. Biometrics, identity and de-socializing technologies in South Asia
Venue: The 25th European Conference on South Asian Studies (ECSAS), Paris
Date: 25 July 2018
This paper draws on ethnographic study of Aadhaar, India’s biometrics-based national identification project, to engage with the core design challenge of implementing a project that aims to, quite literally, touch the entire resident Indian population of 1.3 billion. This focus allows me to engage with the crucial question of how the design team of Aadhaar conceptualized and knew its sociotechnical and bureaucratic enterprise of building a biometrics-based unique identification number for every Indian resident. I will elicit two different models that Aadhaar designers have specified as different mechanisms of knowing their enterprise and exercising bureaucratic control in the design of government services (in this case, providing an identity document that forms the foundation of a new way of interacting with the Indian state). The first is the pipe model wherein control is embedded in designing end-to-end vertically integrated solutions that are carried out by various government departments in coordination with each other. The second is the platform model where the government controls specific parts of a service and opens up the space for innovation in horizontally integrating these parts with other market services, which are specifically created and regulated for delivering the government service. Documenting a shift in the sociotechnical imaginary of governance in India from pipes to platforms, this paper elaborates on the design and technical choices made by the design team to turn Aadhaar into an identification platform and by extension, turning the Indian government into a platform of services, which leverages the core competence of Information Technology companies in creating information infrastructures for governance.