Unraveling the Mindsets of Stakeholders

By Professor Caroline Khene: Co-Director & Strategy & Evaluation Manager and 

Joshua Osah: Project strategist and evaluator

When we think of strategy we try to think of some sort of plan, some sort of direction in getting somewhere. What has been typical of many ICT4D related or IT projects within the resource constrained contexts of developing countries is that we always assume we know what end users need or want.

Sometimes we assume end users are not capable of articulating what they need because we are dealing with technical processes or technology that they are not familiar with.

However, we have got it all wrong, and no matter how many times researchers and practitioners argue about the significance of local participation, in reality it is a farfetched concept.

In digital citizen engagement initiatives, the end users mainly consist of citizens and government officials themselves. They understand their contexts better than any interventionist. Therefore, it it is up to the interventionist to devise ways in which to engage with these stakeholders to understand what their actual needs are and how technology may best work within their contexts. Therefore an important component in the MobiSAM implementation model, is Strategy Formulation.

The MobiSAM project conducted two workshops in September, for each group of stakeholders that can best represent the end-users of this initiative – citizens and the municipality (local government).

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The strategy team decided to conduct two separate workshop to elicit the different views of how best MobiSAM can work to support citizen engagement and government responsiveness. The idea was that separate workshops would provide an environment for citizens or municipal staff to freely express their opinions without any judgement from the different groups, which has unfortunately been quite typical of many public meetings. With both workshops, participants engaged actively, by making suggestions of how best MobiSAM can work within the municipality, as well as making individual commitments to possible contributions towards ensuring that MobiSAM’s integration and use is successful.

The Citizen Workshop consisted of Civil Society Organisations in Grahamstown, local media, and community activists in Makana Municipality. For the first time in a while, different CSOs could come together and share their perspectives to develop a strategy for the operation and integration of the MobiSAM app to support citizen engagement. Furthermore, they could also learn from each other on how best this initiative can work in the different communities they engage with in Makana Municipality. The workshop aimed to gather consensus on a strategy for MobiSAM, from the citizen perspective.

Another separate workshop was also held with Municipal staff involved in communications, information technology and the Department of Engineering and Infrastructure. The workshop was centred on how best service delivery reports from citizens via MobiSAM may be communicated effectively and efficiently within the municipality. MobiSAM and the municipality have agreed to work on a ticketing system that will be aligned with MobiSAM app requests to support internal communication . The Municipality workshop also allowed staff to engage in strategic activities to identify the processes or communication structure (centralised) that would support internal communication and attempt to address some of the existing challenges of communication within the municipality.

So where to from here?

Now that the two workshops have taken place, and vital information has been gathered from key stakeholders to support the development of a strategy for the operation of the MobiSAM app in Makana Municipality, these separate perspectives need to merge in order for the initiative to be relevant to both groups of stakeholders.

Having facilitated both workshops, it is already apparent that a number of similarities exist between the perspectives of citizens and government. The MobiSAM strategy team is currently collating this into one strategy, which will be communicated to all stakeholders in a joint workshop in November, so as to obtain consensus and commitment to making MobiSAM work best in the communities and the Municipality itself.

The outcome of this strategy formulation process has not only been a learning activity for citizens and government, but also for the MobiSAM team itself. A lot can be discovered when supportive techniques are applied to facilitate and unravel the mindsets of stakeholders to work towards consensus and collaborate to achieve citizen engagement, coupled with effective government responsiveness. With significant insight gained from the separate workshops through the engagement of stakeholders, it will be interesting to see whether there will be as much dialogue when both parties (Municipality and citizens), are brought together in a joint workshop.

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