Two way stream – MobiSAM caught in the middle

Keeping a close eye on the local elections and political developments in Makana over the past week, I find myself in a situation where I am trying to understand the realities of the current (and potential) relationships between MobiSAM, citizens of Makana and the Municipality.

As MobiSAM seeks to improve citizen engagement and foster better communication networks both in the Municipality as well as within the larger Makana Municipal district there is a need to find a balance between the needs of citizens and the Makana Municipality.

In an attempt at gaining a deeper understanding of the nature of such relationships I recently came across a research paper that talks about how technology can act as a magnifier of what already exists.

The following text struck me:

“Technology projects in global development are most successful when they amplify already successful development efforts or positively inclined intent, rather than seek to fix, or substitute for broken or missing institutional elements.” (Toyama, K., 2011)

This lead me to thinking: ‘did we start off with MobiSAM too soon and should there have been more inquiry to the goals and aims of the application in relation to the context of its implementation?’

As MobiSAM partly tries to substitute for the missing ‘active two way communication’ between citizens and the municipality, should we wait until all conditions are perfect before introducing any technology-based citizen focused engagement tools?

So for example; should we wait until there are effective mechanisms in place to deliver services to citizens before MobiSAM is officially launched?

But that brings to question whether MobiSAM would be required in the first place, given that the birth of the project came from the poor state of communication between citizens and the municipality.

To me then the question becomes:

‘How can we manipulate the context we are working in to amplify “positively inclined intent” and human capacity to meet citizen service needs?’

Already MobiSAM is gearing up and encouraging citizens to amplify their voices through various platforms, such as social media and very soon radio airtime as well.

Through communications technology, citizen concerns and opinions are being exposed and rallied as an amplified push to have their voices heard. More excitingly, citizen education drives on Social Accountability Monitoring (SAM) and training on how the MobiSAM app works are some of the ways in which MobiSAM seeks to build citizen capacity and intent.

However, on the Municipal side things are slightly more complex. At first glance it seems MobiSAM is only amplifying the Municipality’s challenges. With the increasing influx of citizen voices how then will the Municipality cope, given the current internal structures in place?

One can justify that with a high level view of the symptoms citizens are facing; the Municipality is at a better position to meet citizen needs.

Put simply ‘one cannot fix what one doesn’t know’.

Having gone through the Baseline Study data (soon to be written up as findings) and the results of the Needs Assessment sessions it’s becoming clear that MobiSAM is tackling a problem that is embedded in a web of various institutional challenges which will require committed and sustained effort to meet and address adequately.

Facing challenges of lacking capacity, unequal access to technology and digital media as well as tricky geographic and socio-economic contexts the MobiSAM team have and are continuing to learn a host of extremely valuable lessons in creating and maintaining productive working relationships with a host of community and municipal partners and stakeholders.

Despite these concerns, the future does look promising. With the upcoming Strategy Formulation Phase of the project next in line, there is hope that MobiSAM will find its niche in facilitating and maintaining a productive citizen-municipality relationship.

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