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U-Report

Sabina Panth's picture

Yet another performance monitoring tool has been introduced that directly engages citizens in the decision-making process regarding public services.  The project, called U-Report, solicits citizen feedback via SMS polls and broadcasts the results through radio, press, face-to-face meetings and websites.  The method of using both modern and traditional media devices to inform and solicit feedback from the public is expected to enable both the donor and the citizens to identify priority areas for development interventions and get an overall picture about how services work in a given community. 

Sponsored by UNICEF and currently being piloted in Uganda, the project provides a toll-free short-code for citizens to use SMS-services to receive messages and respond to polls.  Topics for information exchange have included health care services, school dropout rates, law and order, youth employment, water point availability, and agro-business activities, to name a few.  The provider has claimed that U-Report is a worthy competitor to sophisticated and more expensive smart phone apps because it can easily collect demographic and location-specific data about the users through SMS-scripted dialogue, at a fraction of the cost.  The provider aims to use the collated information to assess gaps in services and plan for interventions that address identified problem areas.

The project has connected with a permanent base of local partners and volunteer organizations to reach out to citizens and cultivate discussions and awareness around pressing issues in the community.  An interview posted on the project website reports how the Boy Scout Association was able to play a more constructive role in the society by using UReport to identify and carry out missions. For instance, The Boy Scouts were interested in water sanitation and hygiene in the community and made use of UReport to gather the information of where needs were greatest. UNICEF itself has used this information to facilitate development interventions in the community while, at the same time, the community became more educated on the issue and was able to directly participate in improving the facilities.  Thus, the partnership initiated by U-Report has proven mutually beneficial to all parties involved.

To aid inclusiveness, the free-of-charge SMS short code has been made to work from all major telecoms providers in Uganda.  According to the project website, 8,500 citizens are currently members  of UReport .  Incentives, such as offering solar chargers and publicly thanking participants through radio shows and websites, have been tested  to increase membership.  The project claims that the membership of U-Report has increased from 18% to 30%  in just a few months because of these experiments, as has been reported in Mobile Active.

Given that U-Report can collect demographic and location-specific data, as well as solicit direct feedback from citizens through polls and surveys, the tool can be used for both qualitative and quantitative assessment of development needs and opportunities.  By leveraging the connection and reach of local civil society organizations, national and international public service agencies can utilize the technology offered by U-Report to improve efficiency in public services by showcasing their accountability and transparency.
 

Photo Credit: whiteafrican (Flickr User)

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