For information and communication technologies and skills to be more effective in rural areas, ICT training must be conducted to equip the rural population with knowledge on how to fully utilize the different available ICTs accessible to them. Training in ICTs, to a greater extent, narrows the digital gap between rural and urban communities. The rural population should not only know about the ICTs but be able to use them, for the ICTs to be effective and fully utilized, there must be a systematic effort to understand the exact challenges of the rural dwellers and identify the best innovative ways to address them.
WOUGNET with support from Indigo Trust UK is implementing a project to enhance the effective use of ICTs and social media for citizen engagement with leaders for improved service delivery in Northern Uganda. The project is being implemented in the project districts of Apac, Kole, and Oyam. The WOUGNET indigo project targets the community members commonly known as the VSACs and the duty bearers known as the leaders who work hand in hand with WOUGNET to improve service delivery in the selected areas. It focuses on sectors like education, health, infrastructure, security, water and sanitation, and agriculture among others.
One of the key activities in the implementation of the project is the ICT training that is carried out in the project districts to equip the VSACs and duty bearers with knowledge on the operation of the SMS platform and social media and their importance to service delivery.
Analysis of the system usage shows the SMS platform registered over 5,000 service delivery issues in the above sectors since the time when WOUGNET introduced the platform to her community reporters the VSACs. Complaints were forwarded to leaders and actions were taken on some by responsible duty bearers. On the platform, the VSACs in the project districts reported irregularities on the procedures used to select beneficiaries under government programs and how inputs under such programs are given out to the selected beneficiaries; absenteeism and late reporting by teachers and some medical personnel’s to the workplaces; poor access to most community access roads; drug stock out in most public health facilities; disease outbreak in some areas, water source negligence and poor accountability of water collection fee by water source caretakers, shoddy work in construction projects like classrooms, latrines, health center buildings among others.
Besides the increasing number of service delivery issues reported, the SMS platform at the project start encountered resistance from the duty bearers with the view that the WOUGNET project had come to witch-hunt the leaders and expose their weaknesses to the public. There was also fear that the project would empower the local citizen and open their eyes to demand and hold the leaders accountable for their actions hence exposing corruption scandals and shoddy work in most public sectors. Even the citizens, the VSACs who are the prime target under the project never believed in the system and they thought the platform would not effectively give them the answers to service delivery gaps in their community even when reported. In many encounters, VSACs expressed fear that for long they had service delivery challenges in their communities and efforts were made to report such issues to the leaders but the leaders hardly respond to them. For this, they wondered how the platform would motivate and move the leaders to respond and take appropriate actions on service delivery gaps reported to them using the SMS platform.
However, with continuous training and engagement with the VSACs and the duty bearers in all levels of service delivery, many have started to appreciate the contribution of the SMS platform in improving service delivery. Duty bearers have started to embrace the system by responding to the issues forwarded to them and on receipt of the complaints they have labored to reach the scene to ascertain the magnitude of the problem before appropriate action is taken. The overwhelming responses by duty bearers on issues reported have moved VSACs and other community members to report more service delivery challenges in their community on the system and they are now witnessing the contribution of the platform in addressing such reported gaps. The interaction also indicated that the WOUGNET SMS platform is building a good working relationship between the leaders who are the duty bearers and citizens who are the right holders with the notion that communications are being made silently and things are seen happening.
The WOUGNET SMS platform enables WOUGNET to receive complaints of service delivery reported by the VSACs and other community members and the complaints received are forwarded to the responsible duty bearer for action. Since the kick-off of the Indigo project, the SMS platform has registered an increasing number of complaints reported. This is due to the fact that the system is user-friendly since the application is customized in such a way that it supports the use of a toll-free SMS application used by all mobile devices. The levels of information exchange between the target users, in this case, the members of the community with their leaders in the local languages or in English have contributed to the increase in the number of people sending complaints on the system. The platform plays mediation role through text messaging to create a mobile and web-based “Question and Answer Forum” space where community members use their phones to ask questions or raise queries in their local languages or in English and sends it to the system and the system administrator forwards the query or question to the responsible duty bearer. Feedback is then received from the duty bearers onto the platform which is then forwarded to the complainant. In case of delayed feedback by the duty bearers, they are then followed up by the technical assistance through phone calls.
For this system to work effectively, both the duty bearers and the VSACs have to be registered onto the system by typing the keyword KIC DISTRICT SUB-COUNTY NAME and send it to SMS number 8228, for example, a VSAC from Apac district, Ibuje sub-county in the names Odoch John will type KIC APAC IBUJE ODOCH JOHN and send it to 8228. After registration, they are then able to send in complaints by typing the keyword WOUGNET followed by the complaint then sending it to 8228. This intervention is initiated by WOUGNET to help raise awareness in communities to provide better service delivery through duty bearers who have responsibilities to serve citizen’s demands.
WOUGNET created the WOUGNET Indigo project Facebook page, the Twitter and WhatsApp group to support the project team and the VSACs, raise more awareness to the leaders and the general public, issues of service delivery through online media. Since the setup of these online media accounts, WOUGNET has registered an increasing number of service delivery issues reported online. The project social media accounts managed by the technical assistant are supported by 3 District Coordinators, one per the district, 9 Sub-County Coordinators, 3 per district. They have been responsible for documenting issues of poor service delivery and report them on the project social media pages. A number of poor service delivery issues have been documented and have been posted on the pages. For example, there has been an increasing number of users on the project Facebook page through making posts, liking and commenting on issues posted.
The use of social media increases citizen participation and engagement with leaders in the improvement of service delivery.
Peter Ongom Tech Support Officer Apac and Letowon Saitoti Abdi Senior tech support officer