The 2nd of September will see the launch of a year-long pilot project for new initiative MobiSAM which seeks to investigate how mobile phone technology can be used to improve citizen participation in local government.
An initiative between Rhodes University and the Makana Municipality, the project has been driven by Associate Professor in the computer science department, Prof Hannah Thinyane.
“We all know there are problems with things like water in Grahamstown,” Prof Thinyane said. “MobiSAM gives us the ability to help solve these problems by reporting them quickly and easily.”
The technology allows residents to report service delivery problems directly to the Municipality and receive responses via SMS or email. The project goes even further than this by exploring other avenues in improving citizen/government dialogue.
“The MobiSAM platform provides mechanisms to support some levels of dialogue, but sometimes you need more space than just a response to a question or an SMS,” she said. “The project therefore includes working with media houses (such as Grocott's Mail) and providing training on how to monitor service delivery at local government level.”
MobiSAM also facilitates the collection of important data which “can be used for two important tasks by different groups of people: Makana can use it to help them with planning activities such as budgets for future work and citizens can use the information to support evidence based engagement with the municipality,” she explained.
Prof Thinyane and her team have been doing training with Makana Municipality since the beginning of June this year to make sure they are ready to start monitoring reported outages from the beginning of September.
The municipality is enthusiastic about the opportunities provided by this new technology. Municipal Spokesperson, Mr Mncedisi Boma said “This is a very good initiative that will create an interactive system between Makana Municipality and the community.”
“It will be easier for residents to report their problems directly and get instant help from us which is something that never happened before.”
The month of August has been used to increase citizen awareness around the project and the response, according to Prof Thinyane, has been positive. “Makana will only start monitoring reports from the beginning of September, but we have already had a lot of people registering,” she said.
Mr Boma said that the municipality will be using Community Development Workers who are being trained in the technology to assist people with registering on their mobile phones. Those who are able to register on their own are also encouraged to do so.
Further awareness will be created through advertising in local newspapers and radio talks have also been used to spread the word.
The MobiSAM pilot project will focus mainly on water provision and quality, though the application will be able to be used for any number of service delivery complaints.
By Kyla Hazell