From Waste Disposal to Water Delivery: Citizen Empowerment through the Check My Service Initiative
This blog is part of a series on how open government can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The series came out of a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bangkok Regional Hub and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to find practical examples of how open government is helping countries achieve the SDGs in the Asia-Pacific region. For more details on the competition, the blog series, and how open government can help achieve the SDGs, please see our introductory blog post.
When I travel abroad and meet with my foreign counterparts, colleagues, and friends, I always ask them one question. “To what extent are you and the people of your country satisfied with the quality and delivery of public services? Can you receive the service you want?” It’s interesting to know how the governments of other countries serve their people.
Research done by Mongolian CSOs from 2008 to 2010 showed that over 80% of respondents in the country are not happy with the public services they receive. Although Mongolia is on the list of middle-income countries, there have been no tangible improvements in people’s lives yet. Social inequalities are rising, and the gap between rich and poor is widening.
Here are some examples. Mongolia spends around 20% of the state budget on education, but there are 40 to 50 children in a classroom, in three shifts. Too many children are crammed into a small classroom, suffer from a lack of fresh air, and get irritated and distracted. This is the situation our children endure to obtain education. In another example, citizens pay taxes for 9 doctors to staff local family health centers, but only 5 actually work. Last but not least, citizens have to knock on ten doors to get a single document. This was the real situation. I asked myself, “Should the citizens keep silent? Should this situation happen again and again?” My organization said a decisive “No!” and decided to do something to change things, and contribute to the improvement of public services in Mongolia.
To solve this problem, my organization, the Democracy Education Center (DEMO), launched the Check My Service initiative in 2012. This initiative aims to assess the transparency and delivery of public services through the Community Score Card (CSC) tool. In short, this is a community based monitoring tool that demands transparency and responsiveness from service providers, and empowers the service users as well. By June 2016, DEMO had assessed 84 public services through this initiative. These services were monitored through individual feedback portals like Check My University, Check My School, Check My Clinic, Check My Hospital, Check My Kindergarten, Check My Social Welfare, Check My Bus, Check My Water Kiosks, Check My Electricity Supply, Check My Street Lights, Check My Surveillance Camera, Check My Land Administration, Check the Waste Disposal, Check the Wastewater Pits, Check the House Addressing, and many others. In OGP terminology, we had implemented 84 commitments.
It is interesting to note that people in Mongolia used to cast blame and criticize when things were not going well, or public services were not being delivered properly. This was not effective. DEMO has chosen a new path. We teach citizens how to collect information about public services and how to verify service delivery with facts and evidence, show them how to present the results to service providers, and how to constructively engage with the government. I’m very happy to share some of the results we’ve achieved so far. Although they may appear to be small changes, they are important and significant to the people using this initiative.
Before DEMO’s scorecard monitoring in 2012, public information was not disclosed, and citizens were not well-informed about the implications of the Freedom of Information Act and the Glass Account Law. We succeeded to making necessary information – like budget expenditures in assessed organizations – transparent. In one example, financial and performance information of 84 different public organizations is disclosed on public information boards and on websites, and updated on regular basis.
DEMO has been able to disrupt bureaucratic approaches towards service delivery, empowering service recipients to check and claim the quality and accessibility of services based on evidence and facts. Thanks to the Check My Service initiative, ordinary citizens are now aware of their entitlements to public services. 88 intermediaries, all of whom were trained and mentored by DEMO, are now teaching citizens that, before one criticizes the government, or argues with a public official, data must be collected, then complaints must be verified with facts. Only after that can one make a formal complaint and/or demand better services. Intermediaries teach this approach to their family members, friends and relatives as well.
Institutionalized partnership with demonstrated results
The Check My Services initiative uses a constructive engagement approach between citizens, CSOs and the government. At the start of each assessment, a memorandum of understanding is signed with the government service providers clarifying roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders. This is followed by an orientation workshop conducted by DEMO for both service recipients who assess public services using citizen scorecards, and service providers who self-assess their own process using indicators agreed upon by the stakeholders. Once both sets of assessments are carried out, we facilitate an Interface meeting where for feedback and dialogue on findings from both exercise. Unsurprisingly, service providers tend to assign themselves higher scores in their self-evaluation, compared to the score they receive from the service recipients. Reasons for the discrepancies are discussed at these meetings and a joint Action plan for service improvement, with specific timelines is then agreed upon. As a follow-up, DEMO checks the implementation of action plans, tracks changes in public service delivery, and advocates for policy actions if necessary. Often we find when the citizen assessment is carried out subsequently, scores assigned by service recipients show signs of improvement in the service quality or accessibility.
Some of the concrete changes in service delivery that have occurred as a result of the Check My Services initiative include:
LCD computers with large touch screens at local administrative offices: As the result of the implementation of joint action plan commitments for service improvement, citizens can now receive vital information from LCD PCs with large touch screens installed at their local administrative offices. Before, they had to knock many doors and spend lots of time to get that information. Citizens can get registration documents, check their electricity use, see the provision of social welfare services, and other necessary information.
Ticketing machine installed in district-level hospital: Before the implementation of the ticketing system at hospitals, citizens had to arrive at the hospital at 5 in the morning, and wait in long lines to get the ticket for doctor’s appointments. Following the installation of ticketing machines at hospitals, people can come to hospitals at 9 in the morning, get a ticket and get a doctor’s appointment without waiting.
Waste disposal bins installed in 38 households in a non-apartment district: Before, garbage trucks came to pick up trash at inconvenient times, and citizens were unable to take out the trash because they were at the office or away from home. Now, with the installation of waste bins, 38 households do not have to worry about trash collection.
Renovation of water kiosks: In distant districts of metropolitan areas, people would have to walk a long way to get water for their households. After renovation, when the water kiosks started operating, it allowed households who live far away to get water closer to home.
These are just a few of the changes that resulted from empowering citizens, bringing together service recipients and service providers and creating the space and environment for them to have dialogue on how different stakeholders can take action to improve public services.
In the next phase, DEMO is planning to develop and pilot a mobile application, eCheckMyService, for government to receive citizen feedback and requests, and allow citizens to report service issues they are concerned about and monitor the government’s responsiveness. This initiative has been included as a commitment in Mongolia’s 2016-2018 OGP NAP. Also DEMO considers the launch of Check My MP (Member of Parliament) initiative with the aim to monitor the openness and performance of Members of Parliament of Mongolia.