“By introducing an automated customer management system we took a noose and put it around our own necks. We are now accountable!”
This reflection from a manager in the Nairobi Public Water and Sewerage utility succinctly captures the impact of MajiVoice, a digital system that logs customer complaints, enables managers to assign the issue to a specific worker, track its resolution, and report back to the customer via an SMS. As a result, complaint resolution rates have doubled, and the time taken to resolve complaints has dropped by 90 percent.
MajiVoice shows that digital technologies can dramatically improve public sector capacity and accountability in otherwise weak governance environments. But is this example replicable? Can the increasingly cheap and ubiquitous digital technologies—there are now 4.7 billion mobile phone users in the world—move the needle on governance and make bureaucrats more accountable?
Teachers’ attendance can be improved if they are monitored by head-teachers using mobile technology, but only if the associated reports trigger bonus payments.
Can high-stakes decentralized monitoring improve civil servant performance, or will it lead to collusion between the monitor and civil servant? And what happens to the quality of information when we raise the stakes of reports?
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Digital News Report 2016
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
This year we have evidence of the growth of distributed (offsite) news consumption, a sharpening move to mobile and we can reveal the full extent of ad-blocking worldwide. These three trends in combination are putting further severe pressure on the business models of both traditional publishers and new digital-born players – as well as changing the way in which news is packaged and distributed. Across our 26 countries, we see a common picture of job losses, cost-cutting, and missed targets as falling print revenues combine with the brutal economics of digital in a perfect storm. Almost everywhere we see the further adoption of online platforms and devices for news – largely as a supplement to broadcast but often at the expense of print.
Food Security and the Data Revolution: Mobile Monitoring on the Humanitarian Frontline
Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
Obtaining real-time and actionable information on the needs of affected populations has long been a priority for humanitarians; so keeping up with new technologies that could improve existing data collection systems is also a necessity. Innovations such as mobile phones and the Internet have already profoundly changed the nature of humanitarian work. They are proving to be faster and cheaper than legacy information systems, increasing the amount of information that decision makers have, and ultimately enabling them to save more lives. However, what is truly transformative is their potential to reach previously ‘invisible’ populations.
In a democracy, a critical element in the engagement between citizens and state is “accountability”. There are several definitions—one among them from the World Bank reads: “Accountability exists when there is a relationship where an individual or body, and the performance of tasks or functions by that individual or body, are subject to another’s oversight, direction or request that they provide information or justification for their actions”.
Citizens and civil society organizations seek accountability from the state. Where this builds on broad-based civil society engagement, we hear of “social accountability” whose advocates believe that a regular cycle of elections alone are not enough to hold the state to account. For instance, a decline in the quality of public services or cases of denial of (social) justice call for mobilization outside of the electoral cycle. But how does the state respond?
When the state is under sustained pressure to reform, it could take one of these positions: (1) respond to civil society using physical force and/or its legal prowess; (2) stoically “do nothing”; (3) formulate a response that emphasizes form over function; and (4) undertake genuine reform. These options represent a sliding scale of state response, and on any given issue, the state might change its position over time, depending on how the context evolves.
The reality is that more often than not, status quo rules: the space for citizens seeking accountability relies primarily on the willingness of the state. It is not in the nature of states to do this of their own volition, and often, a sustained campaign by a strong coalition of interests is required to influence them.
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
- Audience Research
- Religious Communication
- Community Media
- political communication
- development communication
- crisis communication
- Freedom of the Press
- media policy
- media legislation
- public diplomacy
- Public Relations
- Strategic Communication
- Media Assistance
- Journalism Training
- Media (R)evolutions
- Information and Communication Technologies
A section of a footpath is swept away by landslide near the international airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. The roads are slippery and difficult to walk on or even drive due to potholes and delayed maintenance in the valley. These are just few difficulties that I endure during my everyday commute, but what do I actually do about it? I complain about it with my friends, we all nod in agreement and we get on with our everyday chores.
Pranish Thapa, on the other hand, is an exception. A 17 year old student, he has complained on issues ranging from public infrastructures, abuse of power, the quality of education, good governance or the lack of it, etc... His complaints have gone beyond 3000 over the last five years. He lodges his grievances through Hello Sarkar, which literally means Hello Government in Nepali.
Pulled by the abstract of the event organized by Martin Chautari, I decided to see how the case of Grievance Redress Mechansim (GRM) is working in Nepal. The event information stated: Hello Sarkar aims at making the government more accountable to the people by addressing citizens’ grievances on public service delivery directly. It is located at the heart of the state machinery, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. Concerned citizens can approach the system via phone (toll-free number- 1111), mobile texts, email, social media or website.
There are few better ways to reveal whether a government’s rhetoric matches reality than examining how it raises and spends public money. Are funds being spent on the things it said they would be? Are these investments achieving the outcomes that were intended? In short, are government budgets accountable?
The traditional model for how accountability functions is rather simple. "Horizontal accountability" describes the oversight exerted over the executive arm of government by independent state bodies such as parliaments and supreme audit institutions. "Vertical accountability" describes the influence citizens hold through the ballot box.
Between elections and outside of formal institutions, however, opportunities for influencing how governments manage public resources are limited. As a consequence, this simple vertical/horizontal model has proved increasingly inadequate for capturing how budget accountability works (or doesn’t) in the real world; this is especially true in developing countries, where democratic processes and formal oversight institutions can be somewhat fragile and ineffective.
As Blair Glencorse states, “bureaucrats and civil servants can serve citizens in the way that they are supposed to.” With this in mind, the organization he founded, Accountability Lab, created Integrity Idol, a global campaign run by citizens in search for honest government officials. It aims to “highlight the good people in the system” as way to establish a culture and expectation of honesty and personal responsibility in government postings. Integrity Idol began in Nepal in 2014, spread to Liberia in 2015, and now includes Pakistan and Mali.
The process of selecting an Integrity Idol is participatory from beginning to end. Local teams of volunteers travel across their countries gathering nominations from citizens, hosting public forums and generating discussion on the need for public officials with integrity. From the long list nominees, five are selected in each country with the help of independent panels of experts. These finalists are then filmed and their episodes are shown on national television and played on the radio for a week, and citizens can vote for their favorites through SMS short-codes and on the website. The winner in each country is crowned in a national ceremony in the capital.
Here, Glencorse discusses Integrity Idol back in 2014, when the program was just getting started in Nepal. Nominations are now open in Pakistan, Nepal, and Mali. To nominate a candidate in one of these countries visit www.integrityidol.org.
“What good is the law if laws are ignored or never enforced?” a young civil society activist asked us as part of a group discussion recently. We began to explain that the law should provide a framework through which power can be constrained and policies implemented- but the conversation had already moved on to a loud and frustrated debate about the myriad ways that lawmakers abuse their positions, steal public money and undermine governance through the law itself.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Curbing corruption and fostering accountability in fragile settings - why an imperilled media needs better support
BBC Media Action
An independent media is one of the most effective assets we have in efforts to curb corruption and foster accountability. Yet it is deeply imperilled, particularly in fragile states and often poorly understood by the international development sector. This policy working paper argues that unless development strategies begin to prioritise support to independent media, corruption may continue to go unchecked and the accountability of states will diminish.
Africa’s digital revolution: a look at the technologies, trends and people driving it
World Economic Forum
We are at the dawn of a technological revolution that will change almost every part of our lives – jobs, relationships, economies, industries and entire regions. It promises to be, as Professor Klaus Schwab has written, “a transformation unlike anything humankind has experienced before”. In no place is that more true than Africa, a continent that has yet to see all the benefits of previous industrial revolutions. Today, only 40% of Africans have a reliable energy supply, and just 20% of people on the continent have internet access.