The language of citizen engagement

By Mwazvita Machiri: MobiSAM Project strategist and evaluator

As a member of the MobiSAM team one of my core tasks have been to attend a number of Municipal meetings and forums including: communication forums, the inauguration of councillors, municipal public accounts meetings the Water and Sanitation forum and the Kowie Catchment management forums to mention just a few.

One of the most common observations that I have made is that of the relatively poor attendance of these events by citizens. As such both the number and demographic of those usually present at these meetings do not offer a representative sample of local residents. This means that many groups and communities of people are never represented at these public gatherings.

These public platforms organised and managed on the part of the Municipality aim to function as places in which municipal representatives and elected officials are able to hear and respond to comments and feedback from citizens. As citizens this process requires our buy-in as a way of engaging local government in ways which force them to listen and respond to the people they have been elected to serve. The lack of residents present at these meetings and public fora made me wonder if we as citizens actually know what citizen engagement means and how it stands to benefit you and me as citizens.

Definition?

Citizen engagement can be understood as the two-way communication and interaction between the local government and the citizens. Therefore communication with the aim of assisting government in making decisions that are supported by the public. Citizen engagement can be shown and therefore understood through the relationship between civic action and user feedback as shown in the diagram below.

civicengagementvennd_peixotofox2016_forblog

Civic action is more of a collective action and is therefore public, compared to user feedback which is individual and undisclosed. An example of this is the reporting of an issue by a CSO to the public whilst user feedback is the act of providing information as an individual to an institution like a local municipality which usually takes the form of an undisclosed report. In light of the above, MobiSAM can be understood as a true representation of what citizen engagement should encompass as it aims to involve both individual and civic action by providing real time access to mechanisms to report issues to all stakeholders. This allows the policymakers to identify and address service delivery problems from a more informed position. Added to the above, the benefit of the current system is that through collective “critical mass” action there is a higher chance of overall responsiveness on the part of local government. The ideal state of affairs would be as is depicted in the centre of the diagram where these two processes overlap and allow for useful Citizen Engagement. Therefore by engaging with an institution in this case Makana Municipality MobiSAM can encourage and foster a higher degree of responsiveness to issues of service delivery.

The evidence so far indicates that most of the ICT platforms similar to MobiSAM that manage to leverage responsiveness somehow directly involve government. As such many public agencies are using mobile phones and social media to disseminate information efficiently. The Makana Municipality has therefore signed an agreement with MobiSAM as a way of engaging with the citizens and promote transparency and accountability to improve service delivery.

But it’s important to bear in mind that citizen engagement does not always only assist official or municipal structures and processes, but citizens too as it promotes and enables;

  • Reducing the chances of receiving unwanted or unnecessary services therefore promoting better quality in the delivery of services;
  • Empowering local citizens through making local information freely available and promoting participation in local decision making processes;
  • Logging a database of service delivery issues and responses which enables citizens to hold government accountable with recent and relevant evidence if and when complaints are not dealt with adequately;
  • It removes the distance factor, as mobile technologies allow people to connect and share information across diverse geographic terrain.

As such the main aim guiding the project and the various civic and municipal partnerships and interventions that MobiSAM has launched and will continue to monitor and develop into 2017 rests on the following: “Improved citizen engagement has the potential to improve service delivery.”

This post first appeared on the MobiSAM blog. You can find it here:
http://www.blog.mobisam.net/2016/11/the-language-of-citizen-engagement/

Connecting the Dots: The Coordination Challenge for the Open Government Partnerhship in South Africa

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete Commitments from governments that promote transparency – the implementation of these Commitments is then monitored by an independent review mechanism. South Africa has been a founding member of the OGP since 2011, having submitted three National Action Plans (NAPs). But change will only happen through a mechanism such as this if its implementation is effective. What can be done to get government departments coordinating on the OGP to make its projects a reality?

This research seeks to address specifically how implementation might be improved, through enhancing inter-departmental coordination on open data commitments. Worryingly, very little of the OGP conversation so far has practically considered how we can get a variety of departments (and not just lead agencies) to coordinate to make OGP commitments a reality.

After a several months of extensive research ODAC believes that one of the answers lies in driving departments to work together on both the OGP more broadly, but also in relation to specific commitments. Inter-departmental coordination has never been an easy ambition – but ODAC have posited some simple strategies, within the OGP process, that will help in moving open government ambition to open government reality.

You can download the full report here

MobiSAM sister project launched in Malawi

By Rachel Sibande, Malawi Coordinator

It is expected that inefficient mechanisms for citizen engagement in service delivery are not unique to the home of the social accountability monitoring tool MobiSAM, in the Makana Municipality, South Africa.

A sister project to MobiSAM has thus been launched in Malawi in late August 2016. The project is being piloted in the three main cities in Malawi; Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu.

Titled, Mzinda meaning “My City” in Malawi’s populous Chichewa language, the project seeks to enhance citizen engagement with locally elected Councillors, City councils, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), and the Water Board on the delivery of essential services such as waste collection, sanitation, water and electricity at the local level.

Prior to the launch over 80 community block leaders from Blantyre and Mzuzu were trained on how to use the web-to-SMS platform through “Deepening Democracy” boot camps organised by the Story Workshop Education Trust.  Twenty four of twenty six Councillors from Lilongwe City were also trained on how to use the Mzinda platform on 25 July, 2016.

Nine community campaigns were conducted in prime locations within Lilongwe City such as Ntandire, Mtsiliza, Phwetekere and Senti. During these sessions, more than 1,000 citizens were sensitised on their rights to engage with duty bearers and service providers.

Citizens were also introduced to the web-to-SMS based Mzinda platform through which over 122 verified and approved SMS reports on service delivery issues were sent to the platform by citizens within the following categories:

  • Water
  • Electricity
  • Sanitation
  • Waste Collection
  • Roads

Some reports translated from Chichewa to English read:

“Here in Mtandire; waste is dumped here but not collected.”

“There is no toilet in Kaliyeka Market”

A baseline study has been finalised to understand ways in which citizens currently engage with elected councillors, service providers and the city council. The baseline also seeks to understand how citizens use technology and gauge their willingness to use technology to engage with duty bearers and service providers. Comprehensive results from the analysis of data collected from the baseline study will be made available end of September, 2016.

Expectations

The ultimate test for any citizen engagement initiative lies in the rate of responsiveness from the state, duty bearers or service providers. It is expected that the purpose of such initiatives as Mzinda and MobiSAM is not only to amplify citizens’ voices, but to also enhance responsiveness and corrective measures. It is thus important to enhance the feedback loop from Councillors, city council and service providers rather than advocate for citizen’s voices alone. On the other hand; duty bearers have also expressed the need for citizens to use the platform productively and not for malice.

“I hope that Citizens will have the willingness to use the Platform constructively and resist from malice. I believe if Citizens report on real issues and with all honesty, we too as their representatives will be more than willing to assist,” said the Mayor of Lilongwe City Council, Willy Chapondera in his speech at the launch of the platform.

On the other hand, service providers such as the Lilongwe Water Board and ESCOM have fully embraced the platform. For example, Lilongwe Water Board has been posting water rationing schedules and tips on how to save water and prevent leakages through the platform. The board has also actively taken note of citizens reports on water issues and taken swift action where possible.

Lessons learned so far

One of the key lessons we have learnt so far is that, beyond access and use of technology; there exists a need to enhance citizen’s awareness of their rights to engage with duty bearers. This is corroborated by one of the key insights from the baseline study we conducted in the three pilot cities of Mzuzu, Blantyre and Lilongwe. The study reveals that 31.8% of citizens do not think their views matter or that they can make a difference at the local level; 65.3% have not participated in a community meeting. 80% have not reported any matter to their Councillor and 64.3% have not reported any service delivery issue to the city council, yet 72% are willing to use the mobile phone to engage with these entities.

We can therefore start making inferences which indicate that in the presence of technology, with low levels of citizen particiaption in local governance, there could be potential in the technological factors that will enhance citizen engagement. There are likely to be social, cultural and political factors that facilitate citizen participation. Several authors have alluded to this notion and suggested that social, political and cultural factors need to be considered when seeking to employ technological tools as way in which which citizens could engage with local government successfully, (Gigle & Bialur, 2014). Therefore it is important to note that part of the purpose of the research conducted by Mzinda is aimed at establishing which factors influence or inhibit the use of technology as tools for the engagement between citizens and local government.  that influence or inhibit the use of technology as a tool for citizen engagement.

The beauty of having MobiSAM and Mzinda run side by side in the two different countries and contexts is that there are lessons to be learnt based on the different contexts and scope of the two deployments. A comparative analysis of the social, technical, economic, cultural and political factors that may enhance or restrict citizen engagement through ICTs in such different contexts may be relevant to the emerging discourse on ICTs for citizen engagement. Such lessons would be useful for academics, researchers, practitioners and technology developers to consider in subsequent deployments of ICTs for citizen engagement initiatives.

The Mzinda project is funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. It is being implemented by Citizens for Justice and mHub with technical support from the MobiSAM Project at Rhodes University. Follow @mzindawanga on twitter, find us on Facebook or SMS your service delivery report to +265 888 242 063 and access the web platform at http://www.mzinda.com
First published on http://www.blog.mobisam.net/2016/09/mobisam-sister-project-launched-in-malawi/

Technology can boost active citizenship – if it’s chosen well

Indra de Lanerolle, University of the Witwatersrand

Civic technology initiatives are on the rise. They are using new information and communication technologies to improve transparency, accountability and governance – faster and more cheaply than before.

In Taiwan, for instance, tech activists have built online databases to track political contributions and create channels for public participation in parliamentary debates. In South Africa, anti-corruption organisation Corruption Watch has used online and mobile platforms to gather public votes for Public Protector candidates.

But research I recently completed with partners in Africa and Europe suggests that few of these organisations may be choosing the right technological tools to make their initiatives work.

We interviewed people in Kenya and South Africa who are responsible for choosing technologies when implementing transparency and accountability initiatives. In many cases, they’re not choosing their tech well. They often only recognised in retrospect how important their technology choices were. Most would have chosen differently if they were put in the same position again.

Our findings challenge a common mantra which holds that technological failures are usually caused by people or strategies rather than technologies. It’s certainly true that human agency matters. However powerful technologies may seem, choices are made by people – not the machines they invent. But our research supports the idea that technology isn’t neutral. It suggests that sometimes the problem really is the tech.

Code is law

This isn’t a new discovery. As the technology historian Melvin Kranzberg put it:

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

US legal professor Lawrence Lessig made a similar case when he argued that “Code is Law”.

Lessig pointed out that software – along with laws, social norms and markets —- can regulate individual and social behaviour. Laws can make it compulsory to use a seat belt. But car design can make it difficult or impossible to start a car without a seat belt on.

Our study examined initiatives with a wide array of purposes. Some focused on mobile or online corruption reporting, others on public service monitoring, open government data publishing, complaints systems or public data mapping and budget tracking.

They also used a range of different technological tools. These included “off-the-shelf” software; open-source software developed within the civic tech community; bespoke software created specifically for the initiatives; and popular social media platforms.

Less than one-quarter of the organisations were happy with the tools they’d chosen. They often encountered technical issues that made the tool hard to use. Half the organisations we surveyed discovered that their intended users did not use the tools to the extent that they had hoped. This trend was often linked to the tools’ specific attributes.

For instance: if an initiative uses WhatsApp as a channel for citizens to report corruption, the messages will be strongly “end-to-end” encrypted. This security limits the behaviour of governments or other actors if they seek to read those messages. If Facebook Messenger is used instead, content will not be encrypted in the same way. Such decisions could affect the risks users face and influence their willingness to use a particular tool.

Other applications, like YouTube and Vimeo, may differ in their consumption of data. One may be more expensive than the other for users. Organisations will need to consider this when choosing their primary platform.

It’s not always easy to choose between the many available technologies. Differences are not transparent. The effects of those differences and their relevance to an initiative’s aims may be uncertain. Many of the people we spoke to had very limited technical knowledge, experience or skills. This limited their ability to understand the differences between options.

One of the most common frustrations interviewees reported was that the intended users didn’t use the tool they had developed. This uptake failure is not only common in the civic tech fields we examined. It has been noted since at least the 1990s in the worlds of business and development.

Large corporations’ IT departments introduced “change management” techniques in answer to this problem. They changed employees’ work practices to adapt to the introduction of new technologies. In civic tech, the users are rarely employees who can be instructed or even trained. Tech choices need to be adapted for the intended users, not for a structured organisation.

Try before you buy

So what should those working in civic technology do about improving tool selection? From our research, we developed six “rules” for better tool choices. These are:

  • first work out what you don’t know;
  • think twice before building a new tool;
  • get a second opinion;
  • try it before you buy it;
  • plan for failure; and
  • share what you learn.

Possibly the most important of these recommendations is to try or “trial” technologies before making a final selection. This might seem obvious. But it was rarely done in our sample.

Testing in the field is a chance to explore how a specific technology and a specific group of people interact. It often brings issues to the surface that are initially far from obvious. It exposes explicit or implicit assumptions about a technology and its intended users.

Failure can be OK. Silicon Valley’s leading tech organisations fail regularly. But if transparency and accountability initiatives are going to improve their use of technology, they are going to need to learn from this and from other research – and from their own experiences.

The Conversation

Indra de Lanerolle, Visiting Researcher, Network Society Lab, Journalism and Media Programme, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Quality Public Services a Right for All in SADC – Says New Regional Partnership

In the lead up to the 36th annual SADC Heads of State and Government Summit, a group of leading civil society organisations (NGOs) has launched a new project to improve the delivery of public health and agriculture services across Southern Africa.

The newly formed Partnership for Social Accountability Alliance is led by ActionAid together with PSAM, ESAFF and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Reflecting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, the project will build the capacity of state officials and parliamentarians to more effectively manage public funds, and support civil society organisations, small scale farmers and the media in holding leaders to account.

“Quality public services are a right for all. Service delivery across Southern Africa depends on transparent and accountable management of public resources. Governments have a responsibility to effectively plan and allocate resources, parliaments must provide effective oversight, and citizens and the media must be free and able to monitor and hold them to account. By strengthening state and civil society, the project will improve public services in our region, particularly in health and agriculture,” said Ms. Nalucha Nganga Ziba, Country Director of ActionAid Zambia, at the launch of the project on 16 August 2016 at the 12th Southern Africa Civil Society Forum in Swaziland.

In the first three years (2016 – 2019), the project will focus on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. In each of the target countries, the partners will provide training on public resource management, support for critical social accountability monitoring, and platforms for collaboration and learning.

“Social accountability is vital to sustainable development in the Southern Africa region in meeting the goals and objectives of SADC, especially poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth. We are committed to effective management of public resources across the region, and thus enthusiastically welcome this project, in line with the priorities of the Revised Regional Integrated Development Plan (RISDP) 2015 – 2020, the African Union Agenda 2063, as well as the UN SDGs,” said Mr. Maxwell Mkumba, Regional Coordinator of the SADC Regional-National Linkages Programme at SADC Secretariat at the project launch.

The Southern Africa Civil Society Forum and Peoples’ Summit are taking place in Swaziland this week, while the SADC Heads of State and Government Summit will be hosted by the country towards the end of the month.

Editors’ notes
For more information on the project ‘Strengthening Social Accountability and Oversight in Health and Agriculture in Southern Africa’, contact Julie Middleton, Consortium Project Manager, ActionAid International, julie.middleton@actionaid.org or +27 82 403 6040.
The PSA Alliance consists of: PSAM – Public Service Accountability Monitor, Rhodes University – www.psam.org.za; SAfAIDS – www.safaids.net; ESAFF – Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum – www.esaff.org; and ActionAid – www.actionaid.org.

Towards equality in school funding

By and
(Photo courtesy of Equal Education)

Apartheid’s legacy of skewed resource distribution continues to impede the realisation of the right to basic education. By the mid-1960s, the apartheid government was spending, on conservative estimates, ten times more on white learners than on black learners. Redressing this injustice is a moral, socio-economic and constitutional imperative.

In this article – the first in a series on public school funding – we outline the constitutional framework that must inform education spending and resource distribution in South Africa.

Right to basic education is immediately realisable

The right to basic education guaranteed in section 29 of the Constitution is different from other socio-economic rights. The state’s duty to realise rights such as housing, social security and health-care may be achieved progressively over time and within available resources.

By contrast, Justice Bess Nkabinde of the Constitutional Court, in a landmark judgment, explained:

“Unlike some of the other socio-economic rights, this right [to basic education] is immediately realisable. There is no internal limitation requiring that the right be ‘progressively realised’ within ‘available resources’ subject to ‘reasonable legislative measures’.”

This means that the Constitution recognises that education is a public good that must be made accessible to everyone immediately: to every learner, without exception. This shows the fundamental importance that the Constitution places on education, which must be given priority in the policies, plans and budgets of government. Education funding models must therefore be based on the target of immediately ensuring that all learners access the right to basic education.

Substantive equality and redress

Substantive equality is a fundamental constitutional value and right. Unlike merely formal equality, which requires treating everyone exactly the same, the Constitution recognises historical imbalances and the need to eradicate systemic discrimination against certain groups. Substantive equality requires that the state provide redress for past disadvantage so that everyone is in a position to equally enjoy all their rights, including education. This is key to to the transformative agenda of the Constitution.

Recently retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke explained in a 2004 judgement that “[a]bsent a positive commitment progressively to eradicate socially constructed barriers to equality and to root out systematic or institutionalised under-privilege, the constitutional promise of equality before the law and its equal protection and benefit must, in the context of our country, ring hollow.”

Section 29 has been specifically interpreted by our courts to impose an obligation on the State to not only provide education but to also simultaneously redress past imbalances caused by the racially discriminatory laws and practices of the colonial and apartheid eras.

Constitution guarantees access to quality education

The Constitutional Court has said that “education is the engine of any society”. It is the main way in which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities.

The right to a basic education provides a way to realise the dignity, equality and freedom of every person. For this to happen, education must be of adequate quality.

A rights-based approach to public school funding

What are the implications of these constitutional principles and rights for funding public schools? At a minimum:

  • The state must prioritise education funding as basic education is an immediately accessible public good.
  • Access to education alone is not sufficient. Substantive equality requires that access to quality education is equalised: no person or group of people should receive a vastly inferior education to anyone else.
  • A progressive funding model is required that lifts the standards of disadvantaged schools up to the levels of resource expenditure (inputs) and quality of learning (outputs) of historically advantaged schools.

The South African Schools Act recognises the need to “provide an education of progressively high quality . . . [and] uphold the rights of all learners”.  It requires the state to “fund public schools from public revenue on an equitable basis in order to ensure the proper exercise of the rights of learners to education and the redress of past inequalities in education provision”.

However, while the legislation is laudable for its recognition of the constitutional goal, the mechanics of education funding are not achieving these aims.

In the next articles in this series, we analyse how basic education is funded in South Africa. Beginning with the distribution of funds among the provinces, and then looking at personnel and non-personnel spending, we will explore various shortcomings in the existing model while highlighting what opportunities there are for achieving greater quality and equality in our public schools.

What the Constitution requires How this impacts the budget process
Priority Basic education must be accessible to all immediately. Basic education must be treated as a priority in government budgeting processes.
Quality The right to basic education is a right to an education of adequate quality. Resources must be invested by the state into the basic education system that are sufficient to achieve adequate quality.
Equality Education of an adequate quality must be made available and accessible to all. Among others:

  • no-one may be denied access to education on the basis of their inability to pay fees;
  • all schools must have access to the resources necessary to provide a quality, basic education;
  • schools that were underfunded in the past must receive relatively more resources from the state than schools that were well funded during apartheid.

Nurina Ally is the Executive Director of the Equal Education Law Centre. Daniel McLaren is a Senior Researcher at the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute.


Published originally on GroundUp .


A majority of Africans perceive corruption to be on the rise

For the latest African edition of the Global Corruption Barometer, Transparency International partnered with the Afrobarometer, which spoke to 43,143 respondents across 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa between March 2014 and September 2015 to ask them about their experiences and perceptions of corruption in their country. Shockingly, the findings estimate that nearly 75 million people have paid a bribe in the past year – some of these to escape punishment by the police or courts, but many also forced to pay to get access to the basic services that they desperately need. A majority of Africans perceive corruption to be on the rise and think that their government is failing in its efforts to fight corruption; and many also feel disempowered as regards to taking action against corruption. In Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and Ghana citizens are the most negative about the scale of corruption in their country.

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Does the SJC understand Cape Town’s budget? You be the judge

By Albert Van Zyl and Jessica Taylor

The International Budget Partnership works with ordinary people to understand government budgets in over one hundred countries. For this reason we have worked with both the City of Cape Town and the Social Justice Coalition to support public engagement with the City’s budget.

Recently, we have become concerned with the City’s claims that the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) has misunderstood or misrepresented the City’s budget.

We have verified that all the budget figures that the SJC refers to in its budget submission are technically accurate, so we are not concerned about misreading or misrepresentation on their side. We are a lot more concerned by the City’s allegation because it reinforces the idea that reading and understanding government budgets is reserved for those in government with technical know-how. This is not the case. But don’t take our word for it, judge for yourself. With a few simple guidelines we will show you how to read the City’s budget, and you can see for yourself the evidence upon which the SJC’s concerns are based.

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How to help courts play their part in balancing government spending

Shanelle van der Berg, Stellenbosch University

South Africa’s Bill of Rights enshrines a number of socioeconomic rights. These are crucial for creating a more equal society and include the rights of access to healthcare services, sufficient food and water, social assistance and adequate housing. Their aim is to help everyone lead a dignified life.

The Constitution enjoins government to act “reasonably” in ensuring that these rights are progressively realised. But the government has limited resources.

The judiciary has emerged as a significant player in addressing whether these resources are being allocated in a fair and just manner that redresses South Africa’s inherited inequalities. Individuals or organisations call on the courts when they feel that their rights are not being met.

When courts are asked to scrutinise the government’s budgets and spending priorities, difficult questions arise about whether the judiciary is interfering in the state’s work and obligations.

Research I have conducted suggests that a theory called the capability approach could go a long way to guiding and strengthening courts’ approach in carrying out this work. It could theoretically justify and practically help courts to strike a crucial balance: that between the need to realise socioeconomic rights and to recognise the importance of other areas to which government may need to allocate money.

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Whose voices really matter in the City of Cape Town’s budget?

Most of the city’s residents are excluded from the budget process

By Axolile Notywala

15 April 2016

The City of Cape Town’s budget process excludes those who are most in need.

Cape Town is an extremely unequal city defined by spatial apartheid. A city’s budget is one of the most important mechanisms for overcoming this and promoting equality and justice.

Effective budgets are those that are open and transparent where there is real public participation. Most importantly the voices of those most in need should be heard. In Cape Town, this hasn’t happened.

The City of Cape Town treats the budget process as more of an inspection and comment than a forum for public deliberation.

The City places the budget on its website on the night of the draft budget speech with just 21 days to make submissions. The budget, when printed, is a stack of paper 20cm high full of figures, tables, annexures and lists, which is very difficult to understand and engage with. Access for those without computers or internet is also not taken into account.

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