There has been a lot of buzz lately around open development, and new initiatives seem to be popping up everywhere. My colleague Maya talks about what open development means exactly in her blog and Soren Gigler discusses openness for whom and what. Soren points out that “openness and improved accountability for better results are key concepts of the Openness agenda.” However, he cautions that openness is not a one-way street. For positive impact, citizen engagement is crucial and it’s important to “close the feedback-loop” through the facilitation of information flows between citizens, governments, and donors.
In light of this, a prime example of a successful initiative with an innovative citizen-feedback mechanism is “Check My School” (CMS) in the Philippines. Launched by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) just a little over a year ago, it has managed to get real results on the ground. The results and lessons learned were shared at an event held last week at the World Bank. The speaker was Dondon Parafina, ANSA-EAP’s Network Coordinator.
CMS is an interactive and hybrid online platform used to validate the government’s educational services on the ground, report on issues, and provide solutions. With access to the Department of Education’s database, citizens can monitor funds and report on any discrepancies that are fed back into the platform through various channels, including Facebook and SMS. For those who don’t have internet access, CMS has mobilized infomediaries to interact with stakeholders, and facilitate community involvement. CMS has also attracted a thousand plus volunteers, including students, to disseminate and validate information offline.
For easy monitoring, the platform is using Google Maps to map schools. So far 8,687 schools have been mapped (out of some 44,000+ schools) and 251 practical issues have been raised from 84 schools. Data variance was found in a number of areas, including textbooks, seats, toilets, teachers and computers. To report on discrepancies, volunteers wrote letters and took pictures that were fed back into the online platform and brought to the Department of Education’s attention for action. Requests so far have been responded to fairly quickly.
There are several contributing factors to CMS’s success, which were addressed at the event. First of all, the strong commitment and support from the people behind the initiative as well as the use of technology have been invaluable. Also, ANSA-EAP’s level of influence has been helpful as well as the initiative’s efficiency and effectiveness. For example, they have been very effective in building on previous partnerships with the government. It was mentioned that at first there was resistance from the government as they thought CMS was merely duplicating the existing database. However, once the benefits were specified, including a feedback-mechanism that was missing from the pre-existing system, a Memo of Understanding was agreed upon. This has allowed CMS to work directly with officials in the government.
Parafina presented some specific lessons learned from the CMS:
- information and innovation on using ICT must adjust to people, not the other way around
- Government could be convinced of benefits of opening up information to citizens
- citizens need some handholding to optimize access and use of information
- community-based initiatives are the most effective ways of transmitting the measure of transparency and social accountability
Other countries, such as Moldova, Indonesia and Kenya, are currently looking into replicating CMS. For a similar system to take off, however, there needs to be an enabling environment. As a preliminary step, political economy analysis can help identify domestic opportunities and threats, as well as provide solutions to implementation. This can be very useful in building both public and political support for similar initiatives. Also, a stakeholder mapping exercise can be used to specifically identify support and buy in from different stakeholder groups. CMS was very effective in this regard. It was particularly effective in engaging and mobilizing various citizen groups.
The bottom line is that for openness to provide real results on the ground there needs to be a mechanism in place to engage citizens. CMS in the Philippines has generated a great amount of excitement, and for a good reason. It’s truly remarkable what this rather small initiative has been able to accomplish in a short period of time. Its model is an inspiration for other social accountability initiatives.
Photo Credit: moyerphotos on Flickr