Improve the Accountability of Public Services in Priority Sectors, by Developing Channels for Real-Time Citizen Engagement and Rapid Government Response (ELG0004)
Action Plan: Elgeyo Marakwet County, Kenya Action Plan
Action Plan Cycle: 2017
Lead Institution: Office of the Governor
Support Institution(s): Government: Communications Department WIll be in charge of monitoring feedback channels and keeping track of initiated and completed service feedback. Responsibilities include: Monitor Service Feedback WhatsApp groups daily; Assign incoming requests with a reference number and log them into the Service Log; Conduct frequent evaluations of stakeholder satisfaction to guide process iterations. Sub-county and Ward Admins As the government officials closest to citizens, these Admins will play a large role in collecting and monitoring feedback for the county in a format that is accurate, organized and actionable. They will also serve as the main contact to help filter feedback to the county, by helping to resolve public concerns that need not be escalated to the County Headquarters. Responsibilities include: Listen to citizen needs through multiple channels; Collect the necessary information for departments to fulfill requests; Formalize citizen needs into official Service Feedback requests; Post Service Feedback requests into the correct department’s Service Feedback WhatsApp Group; Department Directors To monitor and oversee that feedback is incorporated into their respective department’s service delivery. This can be achieved through appointment of Feedback Coordinators whose responsibility is to ensure that feedback provided by citizens is acknowledged and processed by providing accurate information originating from concerned departments Responsibilities include: Coordinate & update with Ward Admin through department’s Service Feedback Group; Work with department to proactively surface and implement solutions; Guide request to satisfactory completion. Civil Society, Private Sector: CSO Network: An organization that works closely with many CSO’s throughout Elgeyo Marakwet County. To provide information that they may come across during their independent engagement with the public that will prompt service delivery improvement. PRIVATE SECTOR: The media: To aid in dissemination of information/responses by the County Government to the wider public on varied issues. International Partners: To aid in expertise exchange and where possible resource support
Policy AreasE-Government, Local Commitments, Public Participation
Issue to be addressed: Citizen feedback is currently collected sporadically through various informal channels, but there are no institutionalized processes to surface, coordinate around, and respond to citizen concerns. This leads to inconsistency in response and creates a perception of distrust, suspicion, and government indifference. Primary objective: To enhance transparency and accountability by creating a feasible and responsive communication channel that empowers citizens and government to engage in a productive dialogue focused on improving service delivery. To achieve this main objective the County plans to: Concentrate citizen feedback to alleviate current internal coordination burdens and streamline responsiveness of government. Create a channel to send citizens an official, accurate and organized response from government. Develop a record of successful response which can be used to communicate and motivate government staff and the citizens they serve—reinforcing the use of technology to increase accountability in service delivery. Short description: To institutionalize previously informal communications channels to collect, filter, and relay citizen feedback to key County departments to improve service delivery. OGP challenge: The proposed institutionalization of WhatsApp Messaging platform as a rapid response citizen engagement channel within the commitment provides an innovative example of how the OGP principles can be localized to a particular context based on citizen needs. The proposed WhatsApp protocol will enable the government officials closest to citizens, Ward Admins, to surface feedback that is accurate, organized, and actionable leading to more effective citizen participation and government accountability Dissemination of public information of what the county government does through technology to allow the citizens to influence decisions and conduct effective public participation.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Commitment 4. Improve transparency and accountability of public services
'Improve the accountability of public services in priority sectors, by developing channels for real time citizen engagement and rapid government response'
Main objective: To enhance transparency and accountability by creating a feasible and responsive communication channel that empowers citizens and government to engage in a productive dialogue focused on improving service delivery.
To achieve this main objective the County plans to:
· Concentrate citizen feedback to alleviate current internal coordination burdens and streamline responsiveness of government.
· Create a channel to send citizens an official, accurate and organized response from government.
· Develop a record of successful response which can be used to communicate and motivate government staff and the citizens they serve - reinforcing the use of technology to increase accountability in service delivery.
4.1 Build internal buy-in (designate actors from each department as feedback coordinators, form feedback committees to coordinate around service feedback and engage existing initiatives with similar goals)
4.2 Institutionalize a feasible feedback mechanism (design and iterate internal protocols for using WhatsApp to surface and coordinate service feedback, pilot feedback mechanisms, refine, define roll-out strategy for expansion)
4.3 Create effective channels to engage citizens (leverage on non-government actors to promote effective citizen feedback, identify feedback champions and engage CSOs and citizen oversight forums)
Editorial Note: The commitment text above has been summarized to fit this report. The complete text provides specificity on how the mechanism should look like and assigns responsibility to the different actors that will operate the feedback mechanism and deadlines. Details can be found in the Elgeyo Marakwet Action Plan 2017.
Overall Objective & Relevance
Through the Access to Information Act (2016), the County Government has utilized various platforms to disseminate information and collect citizen feedback on development initiatives being undertaken. http://www.ombudsman.go.ke/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/AccesstoInformationActNo31of2016.pdf These platforms include the quarterly bulletin published by the county government, as well as social media pages such as WhatsApp, Facebook and twitter. http://www.elgeyomarakwet.go.ke/index.php/downloads However, citizen feedback is currently collected sporadically, and there are no established processes to coordinate and respond to the concerns raised. The WhatsApp platform has been successfully used, albeit for internal communication only. Vincent Bartoo (Director of Communications, County Government of Elgeyo Marakwet), Interview by IRM researcher, 28/06/2017 These challenges have resulted in inconsistencies when addressing citizen concerns, and have created a perception of government indifference and distrust. https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Elgeyo-Marakwet_Subnational_Action-Plan20161201.pdf
The main objective of this commitment is to enhance transparency by creating a feasible and responsive communication channel that empowers citizens and government to engage in a productive dialogue. The action plan assumes that, in turn, the refinement of information channels could potentially improve service delivery.
This commitment will address the challenges encountered by institutionalizing previously informal communications channels to improve the collection, filtering, relaying of citizen feedback to key County departments and encouraging effective response to citizens' queries and requests. Specifically, the county government plans to:
· Concentrate citizen feedback to alleviate current internal coordination burdens and streamline responsiveness of government.
· Create a channel to send citizens an official, accurate and organized response from government. As a concrete output, the action plan describes the creation of a Service Request and Priority Framework to guide Ward Admins in assessing and prioritizing citizen feedback in order to pass information along to County Headquarters.
· Develop a record of successful response which can be used to communicate and motivate government staff and the citizens they serve - reinforcing the use of technology to potentially increase accountability in service delivery.
The commitment involves different activities under each milestone. With the implementation of the first milestone, the county government plans to designate actors from each department as feedback coordinators and form feedback committees to improve how they surface, coordinate and respond to citizen concerns and engage with other current initiatives that have similar goals, such as the Integrity and Complaint Committees. Specifically, the Feedback Committees will include representatives from the communications department, who are tasked to monitor feedback on a daily basis and conduct evaluations of stakeholder satisfaction. The second milestone aims to establish ongoing designing and iterating internal protocols for using WhatsApp to surface and coordinate service feedback, to pilot feedback mechanisms and processes with selected wards, to refine the mechanism based on lessons learned from the pilot project and to define a roll-out strategy to expand processes to all wards. The activities specified under the third milestone are: to leverage non-government actors to promote effective citizen feedback, to identity ward-based feedback champions to spread the word and to create a CSO network by engaging CSOs and citizen oversight forums at different ward levels. The implementation of these activities would result in the creation and operationalization of a mechanism to collect and organize citizen feedback, and provide a coordinated response on a timely basis. Specifically, the target outcomes (as described in the action plan) are: (1) internal protocols and policies, (2) internal service feedback tracker, (3) service request and priority framework and (4) citizen feedback protocol.
The commitment is relevant to the OGP value of civic participation, access to information and technology & innovation for transparency and accountability. In essence, it aims to improve communication between citizens and state actors by strengthening already available communication channels as well as promoting the creation of new ones such as the feedback tracker. These channels would streamline and increase the amount of government information to citizens through electronic platforms. However, it is not considered relevant to public accountability. The activities specified aim at facilitating an effective feedback mechanism between citizens and government, and hence enable citizens to productively relay and demand information to and from the government. However, it does not clearly state how the commitment aims to promote the enforcement of meaningful government response, only improved channels for doing so.
Specificity and Potential Impact
The overall commitment language is of high specificity. The activities are clearly detailed, objectively verifiable and the deliverables are measurable. The action plan text provides detailed responsibilities of the actors involved, including the communications department, the sub-county and ward administrators, department directors, civil society, and the private sector. Additionally, it provides a list of target outputs that could allow the IRM researcher to measure a change in government practice.
Milestone 4.1 is a key internal step to ensure that government staff from other departments buy-in the process for successful implementation of the commitment. Milestones 4.2 and 4.3 aim towards the development and implementation of the feedback mechanisms, and involvement of other actors such as ward administrators and civil society organizations.
Judging by the activities detailed in the action plan, this commitment provides room for direct citizen and government communication and feedback processes all through to the most basic level of the administration, through the ward administrators. Also, as explained by Mr. Vincent Bartoo, the Director of Communications for the County Government, the feedback process is designed to be progressive, such that concerns raised that cannot be addressed by the administrator are forwarded to the next level and so forth. Vincent Bartoo (Director of Communications, County Government of Elgeyo Marakwet), Interview by IRM researcher, 28/06/2017 Additionally, the commitment provides room for the citizens to receive responses by the relevant government authorities in real time. The mechanisms spelt out in the action plan provide for daily monitoring of feedback to ensure timely response by government.
The IRM researcher considers the commitment to have the potential to significantly change the citizen feedback process. If implemented fully, the County Government could create a thorough system with its corresponding guidelines and protocols, in order to properly channel citizen feedback and improve responses from ward to county level. Timothy Kiprono of the Center for Innovations commended the progressive future look of the commitment idea, i.e. use of WhatsApp and web-based systems which provide real time interactive interface between citizens and government. Timothy Kiprono (Executive Director, Center for Innovations in Open Governance, and formerly Programme officer with Kerio Center), Interview by IRM researcher, 16/08/2017 Additionally, Edwin Ronoh, from the Network for CSOs, believes that the implementation of this commitment could enable CSOs to collect data for relevant social audits and subsequent follow ups with government. Edwin Ronoh (Coordinator, Elgeyo Marakwet Network for Civil Society Organizations), Interview by IRM researcher, 23/08/2017 Furthermore, the activities in this commitment are in line with recommendations from the World Bank Working Paper No. 6 on Devolution and Public Participation, which suggests that counties should develop and monitor robust complaint handling and recourse systems that track citizen comments and county government responses, as a practical approach facilitate public participation. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/21663/94497.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y However, for it to have a transformative potential, this commitment could explicitly propose the creation of obligations for civil servants to act upon citizen requests, suggestions or claims. Although citizens would be better informed on how government members classify or respond to feedback, there is no clear obligation to act upon these. Therefore, the Government could continue work as usual without significantly changing policies or improving service delivery. Therefore, the IRM researcher considers this commitment to have a moderate potential impact.
The IRM researcher considers this commitment to be substantially completed; most of the activities corresponding to the three milestones have been implemented, albeit with variations from the commitment text for milestone one and two.
Milestone 1: Completed, with variations from commitment text
designate actors from each department as feedback coordinators, form feedback committees to coordinate around service feedback and engage existing initiatives with similar goals
In implementing this commitment, the government utilized pre-existing platforms to improve its citizen- government feedback systems.
Prior to the action plan, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ), national bodies mandated to implement programs and activities geared towards integrity assurance in public service delivery, had supported the county government to establish a Complaints and Compliments Committee, comprised of points of contact and charged with the responsibility to respond to citizen complaints, queries and compliments. The complaints and compliments structure in the county government is guided by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), and the Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ). The EACC and CAJ are national bodies mandated to implement programs and activities geared towards integrity assurance in public service delivery. Specifically, the EACC's mandate is to combat and prevent corruption and economic crime in Kenya through law enforcement, preventive measures, public education and promotion of standards and practices of integrity, ethics and anti-corruption, while the CAJ is mandated to inquire into allegations of administrative injustice, which includes an act, or decision carried out in the Public Service or a failure to act when necessary.
For more information about EACC, see http://www.eacc.go.ke/default.asp?pageid=3
For more information about CAJ, see http://www.ombudsman.go.ke/scope-of-our-work/ and http://www.ombudsman.go.ke/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/CAJ-Complaints-Handling-Guide.pdf
For the completion of this first milestone, the government decided to designate as feedback coordinators the already existing points of contact of the complaints and compliments committee. Now, as feedback coordinators, they were tasked to coordinate government actions and responses to communication received from the feedback channel to be created as part of this commitment. To fulfill the second part of the milestone (created a feedback committee that would oversee the work of the coordinators), the government established a seven (7) member steering committee to serve as a convergence point for all the different initiatives and mechanisms created to receive or respond to feedback, complaints, compliments, etc.
Finally, with the support of the EACC and GiZ, the government organized a training on how to handle complaints effectively. It was held on 28th August 2017 for the complaints and compliments committee members, and other government officials.
Milestone 2: Substantial with variation from commitment text
Institutionalize a feasible feedback mechanism (design and iterate internal protocols for using WhatsApp to surface and coordinate service feedback, pilot feedback mechanisms, refine, define roll-out strategy for expansion)
To implement this milestone and institutionalize a feedback mechanism, the government acquired a communication hotline meant for citizens to communicate with the government through WhatsApp, text messaging as well as direct phone calls. To raise awareness, the number was disseminated through social media (Facebook) https://www.facebook.com/elgeyomarakwetcounty/ posted November 29, 2017 , and the public notice boards.
All communications received on this line were captured in logsheets The Logsheet can be found here https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0ByGU03hIyT02a3g1MXpMYkRzM28 , giving details of the communication request, message content from the sender and government response. Although the plan text indicates to first carry-out a pilot run in selected wards, the government, through the directorate of communications, rolled out the designated number across the county without performing a test-drive. The IRM researcher noted that the hotline acquired and utilized was a variation of what was expected from the action plan text, where the government had intended to provide and monitor feedback through use of WhatsApp groups that included CSO members. This was meant to ensure accountability and correct use of the mechanism. Mr. Maritim explained that this was changed because the guidelines for WhatsApp use had not been developed. However, the government showed the IRM researcher a rough draft of the ICT policy which includes guidelines on use of technology for communication. By the end of the period under review, these were still underway.
In conclusion, although the government successfully developed a mechanism, they did not test it prior to the roll-out and lacked important features as explained above. Therefore, the IRM researcher considers this milestone was substantially completed, pending its refinement based on lessons learned.
Milestone 3: Completed
Create effective channels to engage citizens (leverage on non-government actors to promote effective citizen feedback, identify feedback champions and engage CSOs and citizen oversight forums
To further support this commitment, the government committed to leveraging on CSO engagement to spread the information on the citizen feedback channels, promote citizen communication and ensure accountability. The Elgeyo Marakwet Network for CSOs facilitated community meetings to select ward based champions for each of the 20 wards that were tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the use of the WhastApp mechanism The champions were competitively elected from the sub-location representatives who attended the meetings. .
Additionally, the network also facilitated the establishment of nineteen (19) Citizen Oversight Forums, spread out geographically to reach all wards, to provide citizens with a different space for open discussions on public policy and governance.
The Network for CSOs organized a series of trainings for ward champions as well as members of the oversight forums. In these trainings, the participants were sensitized on government engagement with OGP, social accountability and budget dissemination, and their roles in enhancing citizen engagement in local governance processes.
Furthermore, the Institute of Economic Affairs reported to be impressed with the government initiatives in OGP and decided to engage further by facilitating another training for government directors and other staff of social accountability on 28th- 29th September 2017 The Report of this workshop can be found here https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0ByGU03hIyT02a3g1MXpMYkRzM28 . These trainings aimed at capacity building for government officials with the main result being empowerment of staff on complaints handling and social accountability mechanisms.
Early results: did it open government?
Access to information: Marginal
Civic participation: Marginal
This commitment aimed at addressing the challenges facing citizen feedback processes in the county. Within the action plan timeframe, the government anticipated to implement the activities between January and August 2017. The government aimed at transforming the feedback system by providing a formal channel for the coordination of citizen feedback to the government, to create a channel for the government to send official and accurate responses to citizens' concerns raised, as well as reinforce the use of technology to increase accountability in service delivery.
Although protocols for use of WhatsApp and other technologies have not been finalized, the implementation has resulted to changes in government practice; prior to this commitment, citizens would communicate to the government either through public forums such as public participation exercises, through the governor's personal contact number, or by physically visiting the government offices. However, government responses in such cases were not coordinated, and most importantly, there was no room for real time communication. This meant that citizens could not communicate concerns as and when observed; communication would be delayed until the opportunity arises.
The highlight achievement of this commitment is the real time nature of communication between government and citizens. During the assessment, the IRM researcher noted an example where a patient lodged a complaint about lack of drugs at the county hospital; this concern was forwarded to the cabinet executive member in charge of health, and the same citizen reported the next day that the drugs had been availed, and necessary changes had been made to address the problem Screenshots of this concerns and government response can be seen here https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0ByGU03hIyT02a3g1MXpMYkRzM28 . Also, the Director of Communication, Mr. Vincent Bartoo, informed the IRM researcher that the government has been able to disclose and improve the quality of information provided to the public through the designated communication number. Through this telephone number, government official stated that they receive and respond to citizen queries on a real-time basis, and concerns raised are responded to with the urgency they deserve. Also, the communication line has been adopted by citizens. However, the IRM researcher received anecdotal evidence to confirm this.
The IRM researcher considers the, the main shortfall to be lack of mechanism to ensure follow up of citizen concerns. Upon receipt of citizen queries or complaints, the communications department would direct it to the complaint to the respective department, and inform the citizen that his/her concern had been forwarded; however, there was no clear arrangement to follow up to ensure those specific concerns were actually addressed, and that government took responsibility for its actions. Because of this, the IRM researcher considers the commitment to have marginal results in opening up government. This is supported by comments from Timothy Kiprono, the Director of CIOG (CSO involved in the OGP process in Elgeyo Marakwet). According to Mr. Kiprono, the government achieved a positive change by creating a platform for citizens and government to interact, which was inexistent prior to the commitment. However, he argued that substantial change in government practice could not be assessed since the processing of comments raised by citizens and government responses remained largely, an internal activity for government officials. CSOs did not have direct access to the communications therein. Mr. Kiprono explained that the variation in commitment implementation, i.e. by designating a telephone number for all modes of communication as opposed to WhatsApp platforms had limited the observable change in government practice. The WhatsApp forums were meant to be more interactive and innovative, allowing all parties to observe the comments raised by citizens and the efficiency with which government responded. However, with the designated telephone number, all communication and correspondences were limited to the respective individual and the government officials. He also argued that by using the telephone number/ hotline, government was not able to develop and implement protocols on the nature of concerns citizens would raise.
· If this commitment is carried forward, the EMC could seek to improve accountability mechanisms: government could leverage on this commitment to achieve two important goals: (i) where citizen concerns fall within the mandate of the county government, government could - apart from forwarding the concerns to the relevant department - commit to establishing mechanisms to follow up on concerns raised by citizens to ensure that they are fully responded to and citizens acknowledge the solution or responses provided; (ii) commit to establish mechanisms to hold government accountable over concerns raised by citizens.
· Develop Information and Communication Policy: Fast-track the development of the ICT policy to provide frameworks for use of technology in communication and information management and dissemination.