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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

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.