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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Luwero District Local Government ready for the ICT platform for social accountability



The Deputy District Chief Administrative Officer, Mr. Oketayot C.  James assured a team of Civil Society Organization under CEW-IT consortium, that the District is willing to embrace the e-society platforms for social accountability.
James, stated that as long as the platform assures verification of the content uploaded, its a good contributions to enabling receiving feedback on service delivery from the citizens to whom the District serves.
This was supported by the District Chief Finance Officer (CFO) Mr. Segawa Godfrey who asked the CSOs to raise awareness about the project from not only the civil servants but the Political leaders and the Citizens who own the District. He preferred that this sensitization should be in local languages and embracing all the media channels.
The CFO asked the District Information officer (DIO) Ms Nakibuuka Stellah to prioritize the e-society components costs such as contribution to website hosting, e-library in her department budget when the CSO contribution ends in December 2014.
On their part, CSO representative led by Ms Rose Nanyonjo from FRHI and Mr. John Silco from RIC-NET assured the District civil servants leaders that their organization commit to develop a dynamic website, e-library, a bulk sms platform, a citizens voice (feedback) platform and support training of the District staff to maintain these platforms. The domain name registrations and hosting charges for all theses platforms will be met by the CSO with support from HIVOS and EU for 24 months. The CSO asked the District to request for the originally Domain name www.luwero.go.ug from UCC so as the district identify is continued. At this point a question was asked about the linkage between this project and e-government initiative of the government to which CSO members said that he two projects are complimentary.
Members of the CSO fraternity assured the District that this is part of the project that is enhancing Social Accountability in 25 Districts of the 5 regions in Uganda. The informed meeting that its regional implemented by RWECO, FHRI, ACORD, PAC Uganda and CEFORD in Rwenzori, Central, Teso, Acholi and West Nile regions respectively. All these effort are coordinated by CEW-IT (Citizens Election Watch –IT ) and RIC-NET is the ICT partner of all the consortium members.
The DCAO ended the roundtable discussion appreciating the efforts of CSO towards the District on Social accountability and promised the District leaders will sign the MOU with FHRI when properly printed as they had found no problem with the draft that was provided.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SMART PHONES EASES ACCESS TO INFORMATION ON PLANT PESTS AND DISEASES.


As the struggle against plant Pests and Disease control in the Rwenzori region is continuing, RIC-NET has finally started the use of smart phones in gathering information on control of major Plant Pests and Diseases. The project is being piloted at Busongora Rural Information Center-Kasese Municipality. Busongora Rural information center mainly deal with farmers. Busongora County is mostly affected by Banana Bacteria wilt [BBX], cassava wilt, maize weevil. The farmers had been frustrated by low yields due to plant pests. With an increase in population in the areas and farmers shifting from subsistence to commercial farmers, pests and disease control had become an issue of concern.
About 20 IDEOS Smart phones have been procured and given to modal farmers and plant Doctors to help in information sourcing and sharing in the rural villages. Working with farmers, the plant doctors are using their smart phones to photograph diseased plants, they immediately send the photographs to the local research centers where experts will examine the photograph and identify the diseases. The findings are thus shared through the SMS text message on the phone back to the Plant Doctors.
According to Kagumire Gertrude and Bahunguli Astaluzi one of the plant Doctors attached to Busongoora Rural information center and operating in sub counties of Kilembe, Rukoki the said “Smart phones have reduced on the time spend to attend to the farmers”. This service has improved farmers access to agricultural information with the intention of reaching out to about 6000 farmers in the region [Busongora County]. Timely solutions to farmer’s problems have been handled, improved better practice of farm management and reduce on the cost of transporting samples to the research centers. The plant doctors express concern that farmers should constantly use the available information at the centers and if possible use the mobile phones to get the services.

WHY PUBLIC LIBRARIES.


Libraries are potential engines for social and economic change; they are trusted local organizations with access to information that can power economic opportunities and community development.
Additionally libraries are important local assets that can provide access to information and technology to everyone, free of charge, thus explained Kaspars Rukilis of EIFL during a three days training workshop on Communication, Awareness Raising and Advocacy for Libraries held in Kampala from 20.08.12 to 22.08.12.
The workshop was conducted by Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), an international NGO dedicated to enabling access to knowledge through libraries under the Public Library Innovative Program (PLIP). The PLIP program on the other hand supports public Libraries to implement innovative community development services.
The workshop that was held at Hotel Africana attracted around 26 participants from PLIP grantees; they included, RIC-NET, Uganda National Library, Kachumbala Area Cooperative Enterprise Community Library, Maendeleo Foundation, Busolwe Public Library, National library of Uganda, Lira and Masindi Public libraries.
The purpose of the workshop was to bring PLIP grantees together to share knowledge and information about innovative Library services and advocacy activities in Uganda, and to strengthen country- wide cooperation amongst the Uganda awareness rising group (UARG) and library project teams. 
Alyce from RIC-NET presenting on group work
During the workshop participants were taken through several library and advocacy related topics, they included; how to market libraries before policy makers and funders (awareness rising, creating messages and stories), how to make libraries more relevant to the community (turning libraries into social and IT centers from the traditional book stores), working with the media (the different types of media available, and the do’s and don’ts), and advocacy target audiences and partners (how to identify them and how to work with them) to mention but a few.
Explaining advocacy and target audiences, the facilitator Kaspars noted that by understanding how one’s target audience thinks and feels about the library, one can determine the best way to approach and connect with their target audiences to encourage their involvement for support of libraries.
In addition to this, participants made presentations on their work. It was learnt that the PLIP grantees were implementing different projects like, Farmer-farmer knowledge-sharing service using ICT, Internet- based local language database for farmers, Teaming up with a telecenters to improve women farmers’ lives, Smart phone service to combat plant pests and diseases, Mobile phone employment information service and combining ICT and drama to provide health information. This helped in creating understanding on who is doing what and how the different grantees can support each other.
In a related development, one Monika Ebert of EIFL also shared results of a recent study on the perceptions of public libraries in Uganda. Monika revealed that majority of the stakeholder groups in Uganda believe that libraries are very important to communities and to individuals and have the potential to contribute to community development, that public libraries are viewed as valuable: 93% of the users learned new skills, 78% obtained new ideas and 71% got helpful information for education.
The study further indicates that 64% of typical public library users in Uganda are young, single male students from a middle class background, aged under 30, while 66% of the librarians are male, aged between 21- 50 years, and that majority of the stakeholders believe public libraries are underfunded e.g only 36% of public libraries have computers for public use.
Monica expressed disappointment about the low percentage of computers in public libraries explaining that EIFL’s approach is one that looks at transforming public libraries into electronic/digital libraries, where the users not only rely on hard notes/information but a place where they can also access internet freely to search and share relevant information. On behalf of EIFL Monica pledged continued support to the public libraries in Uganda in realizing this dream and more so to PLIP grantees implementing Library related projects.
Among others I learnt that if public libraries are transformed into social centers and equipped with computers connected to reliable internet, they will become more relevant to the community and the number of users would increase; hence facilitating increased access to information/knowledge and consequent community development.
In a nutshell the training helped in creating a deeper understanding on the essential links between impact, evidence and communications/advocacy for libraries and also enabled the participants to agree and also come up with specific activities for the second six-month implementation period of the library projects and UARG.
Other facilitators at the training were Sandra Adomaviciute of EIFL, and Getrude Kayaga Mulindwa, of UARG.

RIC-NET GOES SCOUTING FOR NEW ICT INITIATIVES KENYA AND TANZANIA



Departure on the learning visit with fly 540
Learning is a continuous process and without new innovations and strategies then less impact and relevance should be expected in this fast moving global world. In the bid, to catch up with the ICT trends and to also make RIC-NET’s interventions more relevant in the region, RIC-NET Executive Director, Murugahara John Silco and Information Officer, Alice Mbayahi visited Twaweza (a CSO) in Kenya and Tanzania to learn from their experiences on the use of on-line platforms (Huduma) in amplifying citizens’ voices in service delivery. Twaweza was chosen because of it’s reputable experience and results in the use of the ICTs and citizens’ participation in social accountability.  The learning visit that was conducted between 08.12.12 to 15.08.12 introduced the staff to new innovative ICT communication platforms used in Tanzania and Kenya.

In Tanzania and Kenya the team met with Justice Rutenge and Ali Hassan respectively. They shared the different ICT platforms and strategies that Twaweza uses to engage the citizens in social accountability.  First, they shared that Twaweza doesn’t directly relate with the community but rather uses five established networks; media - radio, TV and phones, fast moving consumer goods like pens, books and gum boots and already established institutions dealing with large numbers of people like the teachers unions and religious institutions. 
Explaining the use of frequent moving consumer goods, Justice and Hassan asserted that they work with the companies that manufacture these goods to include a particular message that they want to send out in the goods, although the type of goods used also depends on who they are targeting at a time.
meeting Twaweza Staff in Nairobi in HIVOS offices
Other goods and channels that Twaweza is also planning to explore is the transport sector; playing video documentaries in the buses and lobbying the airlines to make larger tickets that will carry their messages on them.  According to Justice, the channels in question are used so that the consumer/citizen can get information at their convenience without having to hustle looking for it.
Explaining their work with the media, they noted that Twaweza signs media framework agreements demanding that they –media tailor their reporting and programs to community related news stories, and improving the quality of news by being people/community centered and not the usual stories the media runs based on prominent personalities only. Similary, the media is tasked to give media alerts to Twaweza on any interesting and important community related stories for further advocacy.
About the type of information shared, Justice noted that their focus is only in the three sectors of water, health and education. And that the information disseminated to the community is usually packaged in an interesting and challenging way; comparison and stories of change which are largely fictious. This information is usually intended to annoy, challenge the citizen, give them discomfort and task them to think of solutions to the problems raised and also trigger them into action i.e to hold their leaders accountable; this is locally called “citizen agency”.
Hussein shared an example of the messages/information shared with the community; “45% of the children in Kenya drop out of school even after the introduction of free/universal primary education”.  Accordingly Twaweza doesn’t offer solutions, it only provides you with the information that you need to know about your community and possibilities. “We believe that the people understand their problems better and as thus the solutions lay within them” Hussein asserted.
Sharing about the limited impact of the daraja/huduma platform previously used, Justice blamed it on the fact that many people do not love texting or even others do not know how to sms, due to illiteracy. Similarly, the availability of too many short codes gets to confuse the people and they end up not responding to anything when asked to, and lastly, the 350sh charged per sms also demoralized the citizens because it was way too much compared to the usual 45sh charge for other sms. He believes that if the charge is made a little lower than the usual sms fee, then citizens could use this platform more often.
meeting TWAWEZA staff in Dar es Salaam
In addition to this, Justice mentioned the failure to measure the direct impact their information is making in the community as one of the biggest challenges faced; “tracking/monitoring the impact is still a problem, however a survey is yet to be done country wide to establish this” he remarked, while Hussan revealed that she is equally not sure of what messages - negative or positive appeal/provoke the people more?
Other organizations visited were HIVOs and SODNET in Nairobi and Get Real Training in Dar es Salaam. SODNET shared with RIC-NET some ways in which the huduma platform can be made more effective and relevant; Kip and Phillip noted that the first step is building partnerships/public relations with large institutions that offer public services everyday like national water and Local governments. This is geared at gaining their trust and making them understand why huduma and how it can make monitoring the impact of their interventions a lot easier.
Similarly Phillip and Kip suggested that an inception meeting of all key service providers to introduce them to this platform and also create understanding why they need it and how it works could also pave way for its effectiveness.
Talking about their experience with huduma, the duo revealed that in the places where huduma has been understood and embraced, a lot of improvement in assessing the impact of interventions, evidence based reporting, citizen engagement and provision of services to the citizens has been registered. Accordingly today signing of performance contracts for civil servants in Kenya is now based on the use of huduma; “huduma has proven to be a planning, early warning and assessment tool”, they asserted.
From the visit a number of lessons were learnt, these include;
  1. The use of ICT/on-line platforms is one reliable and effective way of reaching and engaging masses fast and easily because a large percentage of citizens have phones, radios and TV sets, on the other hand they are a good channel of amplifying citizens’ voices.
  2. An effective bulk sms platform is one that has a feedback mechanism too; because it is through this that one can receive feedback from or get the opinion of the community. This basically guides interventions and also informs one on the impact of his/her implementation.
  3. Whereas citizens do not send messages because of the fee attached to them, it is not wise to suggest that this fee should be scrapped off so as to have more reporters, because on the other hand the attached fee ushers ownership and attaches value to the platform. Maybe, the fee should be made a little lower than the usual sms rates.
  4. If the functionality of huduma platform is strengthened and fully embraced, worries of limited citizen engagement, evidence based reports and timely reporting will be erased because huduma provides all that with just a click of the button.
In a related development, some recommendations/action points were developed and agreed upon by the visiting team;
   RIC-NET to hold an inception meeting with key stakeholders/service providers that they work with to introduce the huduma concept to them and also strengthen partnerships with them.
  Additionally RIC-NET to consider the printing and sharing of posters about huduma to offer publicity and also create understanding on the platform amongst the users.
Ø  In future, RIC-NET will exploit the strategy of using frequent/fast moving consumer goods because, they reach many people.