How Ugandans are improving procurement with data and dialogue

Silas Okumu leads the parent teacher association at a primary school in Kisenge, a small community just 600 meters from Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. In October 2018, he travelled six hours by bus to the capital, Kampala, to talk to the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), a non-profit that works on contract monitoring, about a construction project at the school where his four children are students.

Recounting the details from neat handwritten papers, he explained that new classrooms and an administrative block had been built (with support from the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank), but the community had unresolved concerns: there weren’t enough classrooms for all the students, the school lacked teachers’ housing, a fence and electricity, and the new classrooms weren’t furnished.

AFIC’s staff had visited Kisenge primary school when construction was underway, checking the quality of building materials and following up when things weren’t going well with the contractors. When Okumu told them about the community’s other requests, they advised him to write the details down and promised to inform the relevant authorities. Okumu had come to Kampala to deliver his letter in person, so AFIC could share it with various government offices and follow up to ensure action was taken.

Demanding accountability: a network tracking public contracting across Uganda

AFIC is part of a network of passionate Ugandans who dedicate their time to tracking public contracting processes across the country, helping citizens like Silas Okumu to ensure their communities get the goods, services and works they need, and public officers have the information and resources they need to purchase those items at the fairest price. The group is diverse, but shares a common goal: “value for money, value for many.” They believe this occurs most effectively when people understand the contracts that affect their communities and participate in decisions made about those deals — from companies wanting to do business with the government to citizens who benefit from the services.

Before open contracting was established, citizens made complaints and requests about contracts on an ad-hoc basis, they didn’t know whether any action was taken, and there was often little clarity about which government office was responsible for what processes.

The strength and collaborative nature of this group has helped them to advocate successfully for the government to adopt open contracting — a best practice approach designed to improve the management and performance of public contracting through open data and public engagement. It’s an ambitious project — corruption is endemic in Uganda, especially in public procurement, the anti-graft laws are poorly enforced, freedom of speech is often restricted, and government agencies are under-resourced. Unreliable IT infrastructure and technology make setting up stable digital resources a challenge.

But there are early signs this network’s efforts seem to begin paying off. The government has used open contracting to begin making its public procurement portal more useful for a wider range of people. Civil society has created their own platform that displays procurement information in a way that’s easy for community monitors to understand, drawing on open data extracted from the government’s portal and supplemented by FOI requests. The public procurement agency is using open contracting data to identify potential irregularities in procurement processes. Public access to contracting documents has improved since open contracting reforms were introduced, as have communication channels between citizens, civil society and public servants. Meanwhile, the government is drafting an amendment to the procurement law, the PPDA Act, that would improve transparency and accountability in the sector. There have also been notable improvements reported in some procurement policies and practices; in particular, public officers say contracting data has helped them to plan and budget better, and open contracting has been embedded in anti-corruption reforms within the country’s largest procuring entity.

Towards a new, more collaborative and open approach to public contracting

AFIC’s executive director Gilbert Sendugwa recalls reporting anomalies to the national procurement oversight body, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), as early as 2011, when he was the chairman of a board of governors overseeing education development projects in Rushenyi county. He says the PPDA didn’t respond to him directly, but speaking to beneficiaries sometimes revealed that complaints had been addressed.He continued to share information with the PPDA informally, before they signed a formal agreement with him. When a coalition of procurement monitors was established, PPDA began hosting their meetings and training them on the agency’s processes. Now “we work very warmly and very openly in a strong partnership,” Sendugwa says

In 2015, the PPDA launched the Government Procurement Portal (GPP), an online platform to systematically publish contracting information. But despite its good intentions, civil society groups found it difficult to use. The platform featured data on procurement plans, tender notices, winning bidders’ names, awards, contract status and suspended suppliers. But many procuring entities didn’t publish their data, and contracting processes lacked unique identifiers so they couldn’t be followed through different stages of the procurement cycle. Important data were also missing — such as detailed bidder information, award criteria, implementation milestones and amendments, and procurement plans for local district governments (see detailed data mapping) — and the data formats weren’t user-friendly.

The Ministry of Health’s latest procurement plan on the Government Procurement Portal (GPP)

AFIC began advocating for open contracting with the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) five years ago, as a way to make information about contracts more accessible, useful and timely. With the help of fellow transparency advocates from Nigeria and elsewhere, AFIC used open contracting mapping tools to assess the quality of the procurement agency’s data against international standards, and how the GPP could be improved to allow better monitoring by civil society. In 2016, they compared a sample of GPP data against the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), a universal schema for organizing the most important information about contracting processes, from the planning stage to award and implementation.

The OCDS made gaps in the data apparent, such as planning and implementation milestones, bidder enquiries, and tender updates. After hearing AFIC’s findings and recommendations, the procurement agency asked the civil society group to expand their assessment to cover all the portal’s data and agreed to redesign the portal in line with the OCDS. The PPDA was convinced because they could see the benefit of open contracting to their work — improving disclosure, public participation, and public sector responsiveness would improve their capacity to monitor public procurement, and create better practices among procuring entities, who often had a reputation for failing to follow procurement rules, in some cases awarding contracts based on personal or political preferences rather than value for money. Now, PPDA data shows 402 procuring entities are registered on the GPP, 202 of which disclosed procurement plans for the 2017/18 fiscal year, compared to 97 entities registered in 2015/16 before the redesign. Each contracting process has a unique identifier across the procurement cycle and data is in accessible and reusable formats (Excel and JSON).

Edwin Muhumuza, performance monitoring manager at the PPDA shares: “… for citizens to be engaged in promoting accountability for effective service delivery, they must have information related to the contracts that are being implemented in their localities. Our commitment to open contracting is also intended to leverage the capabilities of other stakeholders such as civil society organizations in monitoring public contracts. Making public procurement information accessible to the public also enables us to take advantage of the civil society organizations’ networks that can supplement and complement our efforts in contract monitoring. We have seen the fruits of such collaboration, and they have encouraged us to promote open contracting.”

Putting open contracting data to use: Identifying red flags

With open data, the PPDA has enough complete records to flag and investigate anomalies, such as incorrect award methods, overpricing, and time overruns. For example, an officer at the PPDA noticed that the bid process was restricted for a valuable contract for supervisory services at the Kabaale International Airport. Normally Uganda would run an open competitive procedure for a 21.3 billion shilling (US$5.7 million) contract, according to Edwin Muhumuza. But after making further enquiries, Muhumuza told us, the PPDA found the direct award was legal, because it was requested by the international funder and international agreements take precedence over other procurement legislation (the PPDA Act).

AFIC has extracted data from the GPP to build their own tool specifically designed for civil society and citizens, Budeshi.ug, which it released in October 2018. The GPP data in Budeshi is further supplemented by contracts and information obtained through Freedom of Information requests. The tool is an adaptation of one developed by AFIC’s partners in Nigeria, the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC). Like the Nigerian platform, Budeshi.ug offers powerful analyses focused on information of interest to citizens and civil society in particular. It allows users to search projects by procuring entity, contractor, procurement method, project type, and year, and run basic analyses on the aggregated data. AFIC also plans to upload other data sets, such as budget and spending data, to perform further analysis. This cross-referencing of data sets can lead to powerful insights. For example, Emanuele Colonnelli, an academic and researcher collaborating with the PPDA, said he requested Uganda’s tax registry data manually and combined it with GPP data to reveal 45% of firms doing business with government never pay taxes (study yet to be published).

Budeshi.ug and key visualizations

A shared mission for better procurement: building relationships between civil society and government

Members of civil society from AFIC and UCMC have repeated their evidence-based advocacy approach to earn the trust of other institutions who had been unresponsive, even when the civil society groups invoked access to information laws. Their monitoring work serves several purposes: to increase communities’ understanding of individual projects — looking for signs of common problems like potential fraud, collusion, diversion of funds, or inflated costs — and to motivate government agencies to engage more actively in open contracting, which in turn increases the amount and quality of data on the GPP.

Through this work, we have seen that proactive disclosure and collaboration have improved among district governments where civil society monitors contracts and the PPDA has trained procurement officers in using and uploading data to the portal.

Before their first monitoring report was finalized, AFIC shared their draft findings and recommendations with the relevant agencies and incorporated their input in the final report. They invited elected officials who have an oversight role, accounting officers and the heads of departments. This helped to improve accountability, but it also gave different stakeholders a chance to raise concerns about capacity or resource needs.

“Initially in these districts they were not cooperating, giving us information and contracts,” said Sendugwa. “We had to get some of them through the PPDA. But after our first report, when we shared results, that’s when it opened doors to establish formal relationships.”

Shortly after, three districts signed MoUs with AFIC to share their contracting information. Six months later, when AFIC conducted their second round of monitoring, they gathered more than three times as many contracts (98 contracts, 37 of which were accessed via the GPP, compared to 29 contracts in 2017, all accessed via FOI request) and all five districts’ procurement plans (three via the GPP). The other two districts signed MoUs after the second monitoring period. After this improvement in data disclosure, PPDA registered 43 additional procuring entities to the GPP and trained 86 officers from these entities on using the open contracting data portal.

The PPDA and Ministry of Finance also adopted AFIC’s recommendation to enshrine open contracting in the procurement legislation. An amendment to the PPDA Act is currently being drafted by the First Parliamentary Counsel.

Road work in Uganda. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

At the agency level, open contracting has been embedded in important measures to address endemic corruption in the largest procuring entity, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) (a commission of inquiry in 2016, for example, found the agency had misappropriated more than 40% of its road construction budget over seven years). According to the PPDA, the entity has begun publishing additional procurement information, such as procurement plans, via digital platforms and traditional media, and engaging more with contractors and other stakeholders. This has helped potential bidders to plan better and make more competitive offers, according to the UNRA’s Procurement Director John Omeke Ongimu. Several people interviewed from government and civil society also said bids per tender at the UNRA have increased and come from a wider range of firms and countries. Reported improvements like these represent an encouraging first step in the right direction, and the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) hopes to conduct a quantitative evaluation of them in the near future.

Better planning and budgeting

Officers from central government agencies and district governments told the OCP that compliance has improved and procurement processes are more efficient and transparent since the GPP was updated. For example, timelines and automated notifications of delays help them to track processes; the list of blacklisted suppliers helps them evaluate proposals; and bid notices can be printed by providers, rather than collected in person after being prepared manually.

Procurement plans have become more realistic and within budget, according to the government officials interviewed. A procurement officer at the Ministry of Education, Richard Ahimbisibwe, said the ministry’s budgeting has improved, because they and the PPDA can monitor actual spending against procurement plans more efficiently. When the ministry’s initial procurement plan for the 2017/18 fiscal year was over budget by 200 billion shillings, the PPDA followed up with the procurement unit, who took a second look and found they were able to remove some unnecessary items and cut costs of others to bring the plan within budget.

Construction of new classrooms at St. Matia Malumba Primary School. GPE/Livia Barton

Civil society has observed improvements in procurement planning, too. Only 21 percent of the contracts obtained by AFIC for their first monitoring reportin October 2017 were included in the government’s approved procurement plans (6 out of 29 contracts), which could indicate a diversion of funds. Their second report, in April 2018, revealed a significant improvement — 86 percent of contracts were in the plans (32 out of 37 contracts analyzed). AFIC has added information on the contracts obtained via FOI request to the Budeshi monitoring platform.

Between the two monitoring periods, PPDA trained procurement officers in the districts and updated the planning template in the GPP to ensure a link between planned contracts and those being awarded and executed. Now, if a contract is not in the procurement plan, it cannot be entered in the GPP. And government has a better understanding of who in government buys what, from whom and when.

Next steps and embedding a change of culture

While the story so far shows the promise for open data and open contracting in Uganda’s public procurement, it’s also very volatile. The GPP was down for half of 2018 and a new e-procurement system is in development, which could derail some of the progress, as it’s unclear to what extent it will integrate open contracting and the work already invested in the GPP.

At the institutional level, major weaknesses in the enforcement of legislation and procurement processes continue to allow for corruption and impunity, according to representatives of both government and civil society.

“Government has made progress in disclosing contracting information,” said Sendugwa. “Several investigations and commissions of inquiry have been made in procurement-related scandals. However, these efforts are undermined by lack of action against the big fish when [they] are involved in corrupt practices.”

The PPDA’s Executive Director Benson Turamye has expressed similar concerns, noting in a statement for Uganda’s 2017 Anti-Corruption Week that despite procurement reforms having some success, “serious challenges persist including corruption, non-compliance with the procurement act and regulations, un-standardized procurement processes across procuring and disposal entities, continuous delays in delivery of supplies and services, and wastage of resources through uncompetitive and closed purchases.” He also mentioned a 2015 PPDA survey that found almost 60 percent of bidders said they had paid a public official to influence the outcome of a tender.

Uganda is working now on redesigning the GPP so that it can hold large amounts of data and remain stable. But where we really need the investment, according to Gilbert Sendugwa, is in promoting use of data by different stakeholders.

“[We want] those who are mandated for oversight to be able to use this data to empower their decision making, [along with] those who are involved in service monitoring…and those who implement contracts,” says Gilbert Sendugwa.

Citizens particularly need more information about what happens to the complaints made, as they develop more confidence in requesting contracting documents and dealing with officials.

What a lively schoolyard can look like. A primary school in Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

The persistence of Silas Okumu, who had been calling AFIC every day, is paying off for Kisenge primary school. Staff absenteeism was a problem because teachers lived far away, so the community asked to repurpose iron sheets from the school’s construction site to build teacher housing. AFIC informed the Ministry of Education who decided that iron sheets at all similar World Bank project sites should be given to the communities for teacher housing. Unaware that the community knew about this decision, contractors started removing iron sheets designated for Kisenge primary school staff accommodation. Okumu immediately called Gilbert Sendugwa, who contacted the district government. He asked them to stop the contractors since they had a letter from the Ministry of Education explaining that the materials were for the community. They didn’t cooperate, so Sendugwa called the local police commissioner. When the contractors continued to take the materials, Sendugwa told the commissioner that he was reporting the situation to the Inspectorate of Government and would inform them that the commissioner was following up to help. After about an hour after the call, Chairman Okumu said the iron sheets had been returned to the school.

“I found it very interesting, but also humbling — the power of information by the community,” said Sendugwa. Open contracting in Uganda is still a work in progress but thanks to the efforts of AFIC, the PPDC and committed local activists, the journey has begun.

This article was originally published by Open Contracting here

 

Additional resources:

Making public contracts work for people: Experiences from Uganda

Enhancing performance and accountability of social service contracts in Uganda Project: Monitoring contracts on health and education works in Uganda

Eyes on contracts: Citizens’ voice in improving the performance of public contracts in Uganda

Uganda open contracting and procurement data use scoping study report

What is civil society for? Reflection from one of Tanzania’s leading CSO thinkers

A recent civil society and government jamboree in Tanzania prompted some interesting reflections from Aidan Eyakuze, Executive Director of Twaweza.

 

This article was originally published on the ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog.

 

Who needs civil society organizations (CSOs)? If government does its job well, responding to citizens’ needs, delivering good quality services, safe communities and a booming economy, then what is the purpose of the diverse range of NGOs, trade unions, religious groups, community groups and others that make up civil society?

I was one of more than 600 people at CSO Week 2018 in Dodoma (Tanzania’s capital). We were there to both celebrate and debate the role of civil society in Tanzania. Lots of speakers from within and outside government spoke with almost universal praise for the role civil society plays. But not far below the collegial surface lurked a significant divergence of views.

The most important was conflicting views on the primary purpose of civil society. Government officials acknowledged the positive role of CSOs, but with a strong whiff of ambiguity about their value and scepticism about their integrity.

Government ministers and senior officials revealed a clear preference for CSOs focused on uncontroversial service delivery activities (providing healthcare or education or clean water), over those working on raising citizen voices and advocating for better policies. They said that CSOs that focus on service delivery are supporting the government as the people’s legitimately elected representative. They are giving people the help they need, and can attract additional aid dollars into the country for development. However, those CSOs that monitor and critique government, advocate for civic space and promote human rights, may in fact be pursuing foreign agendas or wasting resources by working in areas that do not resonate with citizens’ needs, such as public services and livelihoods.

I also heard many CSOs worrying that limiting their activities to providing services makes them little more than handmaids to government and reduces citizens to mere subjects. Championing the causes of social justice, equality, shared responsibility and rewards has them working to ensure people are free citizens.

But this is a simplistic, though long-standing distinction, and I think it misses the point. For the ‘uncontroversial’ services to be delivered well to those needing them most, civic space must, crucially and contentiously, be open.

Without freedom of information and expression, people will not know what they are entitled to. Nor will they be able to voice their opinion on the quality of services or bring other problems to the attention of decision makers. Without freedom of assembly and association, the gap between a distant and powerful government and an atomised population becomes almost unbridgeable. Without citizen participation, services rarely meet citizen needs and citizens feel increasingly powerless and disconnected. Without inclusion, marginalised people are left even further behind. Without human rights and the rule of law, citizens have little protection from corrupt or bullying officials. Those who no longer trust that the game is fair stop trying to play and withdraw to the fringes.

CSOs that work to protect and promote open civic space are also working to strengthen public services and improve people’s lives. We may be doing so indirectly, but our contribution is just as valuable and necessary.

I would go further to argue that even delivering services is a political undertaking. When people are healthier, better educated and have access to water, shelter and can make a decent living, they are more likely to ask for more and expect better. And delivering services has an impact on local power relations. A new well, for example, increases the availability of water for some, changes time allocation, especially for women, and alters patterns of ownership, income and social interaction in a village. Choices are inherently political.

So the question is not ‘are we for services or for social justice?’ The two are inseparable.

Bishop Stephen Munga, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) and Chancellor at Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University expressed this point powerfully last week when he argued that “civil society gives rise to government itself.” “It is civil society that legitimately says whether government is good or bad, laws are good or bad. It is not for government or those in power to assess itself!”

His assertions were both attractive, and unsettling. Who assesses us CSOs? I confess to leaving Dodoma with a nagging feeling that, as CSOs, we did not engage in some important self-reflection. Are we well-placed to deliver a vision of a healthy, wealthy, wise and just Tanzania? Are we trusted by those who we claim to represent and speak for? Are we legitimate in their eyes? How much are citizens engaged in our work, in shaping our priorities and activities, or are we distant, disconnected and self-righteous? And how much are we really contributing to improving social justice overall? Could we do more?

These questions warrant really good answers. Such deep self-reflection can only be healthy for the sector, and for the wider community which we serve. We should not shy away from it.

It should come as no surprise that government and civil society have different views on what the sector should look like, or on the relationship between services and rights. It is only proper that a combination of tension and collaboration should exist, as one party seeks to maintain social order and the other to promote social justice. A society without such tension would slide into decline and decay.

So what is civil society for? It is to improve public services and people’s livelihoods. It is also to raise citizen voices and protect civic space. And it is even, on occasion, for disagreeing with government. I am sure that doing these things makes us all stronger. We will all be better off as a result.

This article was originally published here

Which Citizens? Which Services? Unpacking Demand for Improved Health, Education, Roads, Water etc

By Ruth Carlitz of the University of Gothenburg. Originally posted on the From Poverty to Power blog.

Clean water. Paved roads. Quality education. Election campaigns in poor countries typically promise such things, yet the reality on the ground often falls short. So, what do people do? Wait for five years and “throw the bums out” if they fail to deliver? For many people, the stakes are too high, and they may have well-grounded doubts about the ability of democracy to deliver anything other than a new set of bums. It’s worth asking, then, what other actions citizens take to improve their lives.

Building on Richard Batley and Claire Mcloughlin’s work on service characteristics as well as my own research on the politics of service delivery in East Africa, I’ve identified various factors affecting the likelihood that people will mobilize for improved public services. These include how frequently people experience (problems with) a given service, their ability to pay for private alternatives, and their expectations about the likelihood of improvements in response to their actions.

To better understand such dynamics, I’ve begun exploring data from the Local Governance Performance Index survey implemented in Malawi in 2016. The survey asked respondents what problems they faced with a range of issues related to service delivery. Those reporting problems were then asked if they turned to someone for help with the problem, who they turned to and why, whether and how the problem was resolved, and whether they were satisfied with the response.

Carlitz fig 1The figure depicts the main actors people turn to for help. In general people are most likely to turn to family members, friends or neighbors, followed by village leaders. Higher-level government officials are in a distant third place, despite the fact that they may hold much more sway when it comes to influencing outcomes on the ground.

Next, we can look at how demographics affect the likelihood of people turning to different actors. Wealthier respondents and those with more education are less likely to turn to friends and family, perhaps because they have the resources to solve problems on their own. This may also reflect their ability to exit the public system (e.g., going to a private clinic when the public health system falls short). On the other hand, such people are more likely to turn to other government officials, and to school officials – suggesting they may feel more empowered to approach authority figures. Gender also matters. Women are less likely to turn to village leaders or any other government officials but more likely to turn to school officials with their problems – perhaps because they are more involved in their children’s education. Finally, civic skills (having attended a community meeting in the past year) is positively associated with seeking assistance from all actors.

In neighboring Tanzania, recent survey data finds that nearly a quarter of all respondents took action to improve service delivery (education, health, or water) in 2015. The chart on the right unpacks what people meant by “taking Carlitz fig 2action.” Overall, Tanzanians were more likely to attend committee meetings than take any other action. We also see that people were generally more likely to raise issues in smaller group settings rather than more publicly (e.g., by calling in to the radio). Finally, note the low proportions of respondents who report tracking things like drug stockouts, teacher attendance, or water point functionality – suggesting that the focus of many citizen monitoring initiatives (report cards, etc.) may not jibe with people’s normal way of doing things.

When it comes to which citizens are taking action, we see similar results to Malawi. Specifically, civic skills are associated with increases in all forms of action-taking. Women on the other hand are less likely to take action across the board. Wealth matters, though only for actions related to education and health. Respondents who are more informed (listen to the radio more frequently) are also more likely to take actions of all kinds, though it is interesting to note that education levels do not demonstrate any relationship with action-taking. Finally, internal efficacy (belief in one’s own ability to make effective demands) is positively associated with actions related to all sectors, while external efficacy (expectations of government responsiveness to such demands) only seems to matter for water.

The paper I prepared for Twaweza’s recent Ideas & Evidence event digs into these relationships in greater detail. While preliminary, it highlights the importance of paying attention to the ways in which service delivery differs twaweza conferenceacross and within sectors. This is critical when it comes to supporting initiatives to enhance the efficacy of citizen engagement, which, despite having generated mixed results to date, continue to benefit from considerable amounts of funding.

As a final thought, practitioners may wish to consider which aspects of service delivery might be amenable to influence. For instance, establishing community groups could create greater scope for users to share information and coalesce around shared needs. Such groups will likely be more effective when they build on existing institutional channels rather than set up parallel structures. This implies taking time to learn about people’s existing routines for problem-solving, and supporting those strategies which seem to be generating more results. In other words, working with the (local) grain.

Public goods and services can also be distributed in such a way that reduces the availability of exit options. For example, a recent study of handpump distribution in Kenya advises against clustering, as people will be more motivated to maintain their local water points if they don’t have ready alternatives.

Finally, it may also be possible to shift expectations about the possibility of improved service delivery — in particular, providing information in a way that facilitates bench-marking. For instance, learning that everyone in the neighboring district has water piped into their houses when you are spending hours each day collecting buckets from a far-away tap could serve as a tipping point

Where does this leave us? For those of us who earn our keep by cranking out conference papers and journal articles (and the occasional blog) there is much work to be done. Hopefully, such work can help to guide donors when it comes to making impactful investments, and practitioners when it comes to making actual impact.

Originally posted on the From Poverty to Power blog.

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/

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/

Zambia

Baseline Study of the Zambia Social Accountability Mornitoring Partnership

This is a report on the baseline study of the Zambia Social Accountability Monitoring Partnership as regulated by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) based at Rhodes University Grahamstown South Africa; and three Zambian partners: Caritas Zambia, Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) and the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) hereafter referred to as Implementing partners. The baseline study was carried out in May 2013.

Click here to download the report: Baseline Report Zambia Social Accountabilty Partnership May 2013 Final


Growing the demand for social accountability in Muchinga Province, Zambia

This documentary shares the experiences of how ZGF and its partners grew the demand for social accountability and citizen participation in governance in the Muchinga Province in northern Zambia.  While ZGF fostered community engagement and capacitated community members through training in the PSAM approach, they saw the empowerment of community members to carry out the social accountability monitoring themselves, and slowly recognise their rights as citizens.

You can watch the documentary here