Levels of Government Responsiveness and the Emerging Role of Active Citizenship
What levels really exist in Government responsiveness when looking at local government service delivery? Typical discussions in the field of digital citizen engagement have often assumed that government responsiveness exists as a single entity that citizens interact with or demand feedback from; yet it is certainly more complex than that – multiples actors, multiple entities. I have often argued with fellow citizens that they need to understand that local government does not operate as an individual person. It actually consists of multiple individuals, that make decisions and communicate at different levels. In fact, we should actually stop saying its ‘MAKANA’s’ fault, as though we are speaking to one person – there are many departments, and individuals, all with a different agenda (unfortunately), that operate in a municipal organisation. We often do not take full cognisance of this.
Before the MobiSAM platform was fully launched in March 2017, we conducted a Baseline Study and Strategy Formulation workshops with local government, and citizens/civil society (separately). We needed to understand the communication ecologies, and build on this knowledge to develop a strategy for the implementation of MobiSAM in Makana Municipality. Figure 1 illustrates the outcome of this process, based on discussions with key actors. We needed to determine and agree on how MobiSAM would work in the municipality. As the diagram illustrates, there are three (3) layers of communication within the municipality. Layer one communicates directly with citizens that lodge a report via MobiSAM [OPEN]. The Communications Department and Customer Care Unit at Makana Municipality then [ASSIGN] the reported issue to the relevant service department in Layer 2. The Clerks at these service departments then pass on these reports to the Technicians at Layer 3, who are required to address the reported issue. Once the issues have been addressed, the Technicians are expected to provide feedback to service department clerks, on whether the issue has been [RESOLVED], or updates on why it is still pending. If it is pending, the MobiSAM website provides a comment section on the webpage of a specific issue, which is communicated directly to the citizen who reported the issue. This feedback is vital, to keep record of reasons around issues not being addressed, and allow for constructive interaction between citizens and local government, rather than growing anger, mistrust and ignorance. Once the issue is addressed, the citizen who reported the issue can then [CLOSE] the ticket – this can only be done by the citizen, and not the municipality, as an indication that the citizen agrees that the issue is addressed. If the ticket is not closed, the citizen can reopen the ticket, and the process begins again.
Figure 1: Illustration of the Strategy for MobiSAM Integration in Makana Municipality
Our Dilemma – Resistance to giving Feedback
Since the launch of the MobiSAM website in March 2017, we have received great support from the Communications Department and the Customer Care Unit. In fact, they have championed the integration of MobiSAM into Makana Municipality. You will notice that reported issues are always [ASSIGNED]. These two units in the municipality make sure issues are assigned to service departments. However, that is where it stops. We just cannot obtain buy-in to effectively use MobiSAM at Layer 2 and Layer 3. Our field of specialisation is on dealing with these challenges in organisations through process reengineering and workshopping closely with departments to reengineer existing processes. The aim is to transform their misconceptions around MobiSAM adding more to their work – and rather work with departments to see how it can actually improve on communication and engagement with citizens overtime. For example, the service departments are expected to provide monthly service reports for council and management meetings, around reported service delivery issues and progress in addressing them. MobiSAM has all this data. We had hoped to engage further, and present these possibilities. However, it is difficult to get buy-in from some departments – we have tried. What currently works most of the time is our WhatsApp Group communication with key services department staff – nonetheless, more effective recording of data on reports exists on the website, therefore any reported issue via Facebook, Email or SMS, is also recorded on the website by MobiSAM staff, and communicated again via WhatsApp to Makana service department staff. What is paramount is that we continue to record this evidence-based data for future engagements with citizens and local government.
From 3-Tier Responsiveness to 1-Tier Responsiveness and Active Citizenship
After conducting a process assessment in the Municipality, and having engaged in various conversations with citizens, government and civil society, it seems we have to consider changing our stance. We do not want to go back to phase 1.0 of MobiSAM, applying an adversarial approach, but rather engage with willing units in local government, and build capacity for active & engaged citizenship. What do I mean by Active Citizenship?:
“…an active and engaged citizen is someone who has a sense of civic duty, feeling of social connection to their community, confidence in their abilities to effect change, as well as someone who engages in civic behaviors” (Zaff et al., 2010)
We have observed how this has actually grown overtime, with active work of civil society and citizens who value their community and want to see change. This is particularly prevalent in Grahamstown.
On the MobiSAM website, where we collect evidence-based data on reported issues, the life of a reported issue moves from being OPEN, ASSIGNED, RESOLVED, and then finally CLOSED. The RESOLVED status has proven ineffective, and we are now considering removing it, to improve the data collected for reporting. What does this mean? This means citizens need to become more active in providing evidence of whether an issue is addressed or not, that they had reported. This is done by [CLOSING] all tickets that have been addressed. This provides clearer evidence on issues addressed by the municipality, and those that require significant attention. Therefore, do not only report an issue, but once you observe it is addressed, you should close the ticket.
Let us become active and engaged to collect data on service delivery, and engage in meaningful discussions with local and national government. Next year, we plan to focus on active and engaged citizenship to grow awareness of MobiSAM. We have managed to engage with some ward committee members who have shown keen interest, thanks to the workshop hosted by Black Sash and PSAM this month. Our next phase will focus on developing key reports or summaries from the data that has been collected, to support any needed evidence-based engagement.