East Africa has an urgent need for innovative accountability mechanisms, as many public services are inefficient and corrupt. SEMA helps to improve the quality of public service delivery, by gathering real-time citizen feedback and presenting this data in digestible formats. We use low-tech tools, such as custom-made hardware devices and interactive voice response technology, that help citizens from all backgrounds to have a voice in evaluating their public services.

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Millions of citizens in East Africa rely on public services that are inefficient, ineffective and corrupt. This is a huge problem, since public services are essential in the lives of citizens: think of victims seeking help from the police, or mothers applying for birth certificates to enroll their children to secondary school. What we see is that the quality and accessibility of these services often depends on the efficiency and integrity of civil servants, and the good governance of public institutions. According to Transparency International (2018), almost 40% of Ugandans reported paying bribes to access a public service. Corrupt public services disproportionately impact the most vulnerable, who cannot afford to pay bribes, and therefore often cannot receive the necessary public services such as police assistance. According to the HiiL Justice Needs in Uganda Report (2016), citizens generally do not trust formal service providers in solving their justice problems (compared to informal service providers). SEMA’s data (n=9762, 2018) demonstrates that a.o. women have to wait longer in order to be helped at a public office, and more often do not receive a resolution to their problem. Uganda’s government sees the problem, too: the Second National Development Plan listed “poor public sector management” as the country’s most binding constraint to development.

At the same time, only minimal concrete solutions to improve service delivery are introduced. For instance, there are no solutions for combating corruption at public service level proposed in the fourth strategic vision for the Justice Law and Order Sector of Uganda, although it is part of their core mission (SDP-IV, 2018). Civil servants and public offices do not feel they are held accountable for inefficiency, discriminatory practices or taking bribes while delivering services. Citizens lack effective ways to raise their concerns about public service delivery in their own communities. Currently, the only way in which citizens can give immediate feedback to their local offices is through a wooden suggestion box that is never emptied.

A commitment to comply with SDG 16.6 (‘to create transparent and accountable institutions at all levels’) is translated in national strategies that advocate for policies that improve service delivery. For instance, the SDP-IV of the Ugandan Ministry of Justice has as one of it’s main goals to increase public satisfaction and trust with all its services.

If local governments - such as the Ministry of Justice of Uganda - have the data that shows them which services receive higher public satisfaction rates compared to others, they can make targeted interventions and evaluate their programmes over time. If public offices would be given monthly feedback from citizens on how they are performing (compared to other offices, compared to other months), and by receiving concrete suggestions on how to improve and guidance on how to go about this - public services can improve their quality and lower their corruption rates. Moreover, if local civil servants feel they are being held accountable (by citizens and their managers), and rewarded for good performance, they would be directly incentivised to improve their client care.

All of these are assumptions which we have tested and continue to test to date. We have piloted a combination of three citizen feedback mechanisms at 8 public offices in Kampala (5 police offices and 3 municipality offices):
(a) a locally produced (IoT) rating device where people can press a button on a scale from 1-5 (smiley faces), placed at public offices
(b) an Interactive Voice Response line that allows people to give feedback in their own language over the phone, toll-free; and
(c) a face-to-face interview with one of our trained volunteers stationed at public offices.
Since March 2018 over 15000 citizens have given feedback through these mechanisms. Moreover, we ran impact surveys and have seen how different methods of gathering and presenting citizen feedback to local public offices and local government can incentivise quick improvements leading to higher citizen satisfaction rates within four months at 3 out of 8 offices.

We believe that by 2050 every public institution in East Africa should use a citizen feedback tool that helps them improve their services. Working with low-cost and easy-to-use technologies, public-private partnerships that allow for fast iterations, and smart data-to-action strategies that incentivise real changes, we believe we can easily scale this solution across the region in the coming 5 years.

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Year: 2018
Organisation Type: Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)

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