The beginning…

So this is the story of how MobiSAM began.  In 2011, a friend of mine and I were lamenting the state of the water in Grahamstown over a cup of tea.

She had a young child and was saying that he was actually dirtier after he came out of the bath than when he went in (see the picture below taken from the day we started brain storming about MobiSAM).  I remember saying to her that maybe the water quality is terrible, because we all complain to each other about the state of water rather than complaining to the municipality.

the bath that started it all

the bath that started it all

My friend and I started chatting – my background is in Computer Science, particularly in designing mobile phone based tools, specifically for developing countries – and her background was in social accountability monitoring.

We put a proposal together and within three weeks, everything had lined up: Ford Foundation, a large funder happened to be visiting Rhodes University; we happened to get a time to chat to them; and they gave us a 3 year research grant to investigate the use of mobile phones to increase citizen participation in local government.

The 3 year grant (which was later extended to 3 ½ years) ran from mid-2011 to end of 2014.  It encompassed two quite distinct sections: firstly there was the technology part, which provided a way to support two way communication between citizens and local government; and then the social accountability monitoring part, which aimed at strengthening local media capacity to monitor local government.

The initial MobiSAM project (which we now refer to as MobiSAM v1.0) took an adversarial approach, presuming that if there was enough citizen pressure, then a municipality would be forced to communicate more and improve the quality of services that it provided.  Those who are familiar with Makana Municipality politics, know that there was a big shake-up at the end of 2013, and the progress that we had made with our pilot evaluation was put on hold.

We spent 2015 evaluating the MobiSAM project, trying to understand what went wrong in v1.0 that we could improve on.  One of the biggest lessons we learnt was that in order to see any progress in communication to citizens, we would need to help the municipality to first improve its internal communication.

So now it’s 2016 – we have been awarded some more generous funding from Making All Voices Count, to again look at using technology to increase citizen participation in local government.  We’ve changed our focus though this time – as I mentioned earlier, we are looking at first improving communication within the municipality and then with the residents.

You may have heard of our baseline survey that we have undertaken just recently, so we can get an understanding of how people currently use technology, and how they currently participate in local government.  If you were one of the 430 participants, we would like to thank you for the time you took to help us with that.

We are now doing some initial capacity building within the municipality to strengthen communication, and then we will release MobiSAM v2.0.  As of 1st September 2016, this version will be rolled out in Makana Municipality.   Stay tuned for more updates on our progress!

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