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Connecting governments with their people: Using technology to bridge top down and bottom up approaches

Sarah Ramadhita|

This blog is part of a series on public service delivery for open government.

In the recent ”Open Government for Improving Public Services in Asia”  workshop in Manila, Making All Voices Count was given the opportunity to share findings, results and interesting insights discovered through the implementation of its projects and how they contribute to the move towards open government.  

In connecting governments to their citizens, Making All Voices Count (MAVC) believes in connecting top down and bottom up approaches, bridging the gap that hinders transparency and accountability through engagement. Technology can play a role in this connection, but to what extent? Through innovation, research and scaling, MAVC has tried and tested different approaches where technology plays a supporting role in making governance systems more open and effective such as: MOPA, a public platform to monitor waste management in Mozambique’s capital and Bumil Risti, an SMS system to reducing maternal mortality rate in Indonesia.

Through engagement and learning with communities and local governments, in a recent publication, MAVC has identified 7 streams of tech-enabled change that have proven to be effective in pursuing accountable governance:

  • The information stream – through greater transparency (e.g. open government measures, use of Freedom of Information legislation, information on rights), citizens get access to more information about their entitlements. For example: the Participatory Monitoring Maputo (MOPA) platform in Mozambique informs citizens about the need for proper waste removal and progress on waste removal, and aims to empower them to request services from the government through the use of a mobile app. The platform opens up inforformation on service delivery to the public, allowing citizens to lodge complaints and share information with the municipal council.
  • The feedback stream – through feedback provided by citizens or users, governments/service providers know what is thought of them and their performance, and can respond accountably. For example: Oil Journey (Infosol), Ghana is an initiative aiming to empower citizens with information regarding using the revenue from Ghana’s oil industry for development projects. People can find development projects within their community, review and rate how well the projects are performing, highlight issues of corruption and ask local authorities to engage with them on the issues raised.The feedback stream allows for collected input to be shared back to project planners and implementers.
  • The naming-and-shaming stream – technologies are used to expose and shame actors responsible for corrupt, inefficient or unaccountable practices. For example, in the Oil Journey example cited above, through a list of completed and uncompleted projects and relevant responsible contractors, recommendations for improvements are made based on the track records of contractors.
  • The conducive innovation system stream – public and private actors invest in stimulating and enabling tech innovation systems that bolster citizen voice and increase government responsiveness. An example of this is Codebridge, Cape Town – A tech hub and hackerspace which aims to increasing tech innovation in social development spaces. The integration of a “public good” approach to stimulate and empower local agents, with technology and connecting them with civil societies and government.   
  • The connecting citizens stream – tech-enabled connectedness can help to mobilise large numbers of citizens, which in turn can achieve greater government accountability or responsiveness. A good examples here is that of Freedom Park and GrassRoot Nation in Johannesburg  collaborating in co-designing the GrassRoot App aimed to organize citizens to organize. The simple initiative connects citizens and activists to make mobilisation more efficient.
  • The infomediation stream – digital hardware or software, ‘experts’ (people who are more data-literate than most) play a facilitating role at interfaces between governments and citizens. They can make inaccessible government data accessible, and turn citizens’ perspectives and stories into data or evidence. A good example here is that of Codebridge mentioned earlier which aims to increase tech innovation in social development spaces, connecting actors from the fields of technology, civil society and government.
  • The intermediation stream – intermediaries (e.g. advocacy organisations, communications media, academic institutions) work with citizens to use technologies to bolster voices to achieve government responsiveness. They also have a role in navigating power relations. For example: the Suara Kita (Our Voice) initiative in Indonesia, aims to support women’s participation in political decision-making. Intermediation was used to build the understanding of women on their entitlements as well as advocating for the validity of their views on local issues in terms of planning.

These streams of change have been built upon the idea of combining direct engagement with technology implementation; they take the perspective of the citizens’ needs, adapting with local context (such as culture and social behavior) and identifying local capacities. Local context allows for directing which approach will have the most impact such as the case in Indonesia where the dominance of men or the “educated elite” within the village context affects the willingness of women or “less educated” citizens to participate in village matters. With this assessment, the approach for engagement was to consider anonymous SMS messaging as a way of presenting a comfortable environment for people to share ideas and opinions; this was an effective strategy as people were then willing to voice their concerns without insecurities. Tailoring tech-enabled approaches to local context closes the gap of information sharing between the government and its citizens.    

Innovation and technology applications towards accountable governance does not have to be complex, and it does not have to be too far out of the box; the solution could be as simple as sending a series of simple texts. The easily accessible use of SMS has proven to be the most effective technology for MAVC project approaches. Since many of our projects work with remote communities, simple communication technology was prioritised so as to have a larger reach of citizens. The goal is to initiate engagement and information sharing between a structured government system, with rules and processes, with the subjective insights and real experiences of citizens. Enabling and strengthening this relationship is how MAVC attempts to move towards open government reforms for the improvement of public services.

You can read more about these streams of tech-enabled change and successful examples of in the abovementioned publication available here.

Read the rest of the Public Service Delivery Asia Series:

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