Citizen feedback is essential in improving critical public services, in particular in the justice sector of developing countries. Think about the moment you go to a police station to report a crime, or bail out a friend. Imagine that there is no anonymous way in which you could easily share your experience at that station, except for dropping a handwritten note in a wooden suggestion box that never gets emptied. In Uganda, almost 40% of citizens pay a bribe in order to access a public service, with the police being (perceived as) the most corrupt public institution.
SEMA created a system to give the poorest citizens a voice, while also translating this voice into recommendations that can directly influence public service delivery and reduce corruption. We introduce an immediate feedback loop by installing feedback devices at police stations (rating devices with smiley face buttons), and conducting on-site client satisfaction interviews that provide qualitative data on what to improve and how.
During our pilot with the Uganda Police Force in 2018, we gathered feedback from over 16.000 citizens in 10 months. But how does this feedback lead to improvements at these offices? Below are three things (out of our 10 key lessons) we want to share with practitioners working on citizen feedback loops with public services in developing countries:
- Lower the barrier for citizens to give feedback. We were able to gather more citizen feedback reports in two months than existing platforms in Uganda had done in one year. One of the main reasons for our higher amount of data includes the use of low key technologies: pressing a button (which immediately sends data to the cloud), talking to an interviewer for 5 minutes, or using a toll-free line. Such tools are language insensitive, free of charge and don’t require internet- or smartphone usage for users.
- Bring the data to those who provide the service. We deliver customized citizen feedback reports each month to each police station. And these are simple one-page infographic reports, similar to a ‘school report’, that can easily be interpreted by any civil servant. They see how they perform compared to other police stations, and they can immediately make changes to improve. By installing a continuously present feedback system and providing monthly data results, you can establish a watchdog effect that improves accountability from day one.
- Highlight and reward good performance where possible. A watchdog effect may have its peak at the start of a new programme, but this effect may decline over time. First results of our pilot show that civil servants feel more proud and more encouraged in their work when they receive feedback reports that shows their (positive) performance (over time, and compared to other offices). By receiving recognition or rewards for good performance, they benefit directly from the citizen feedback received, and they form an integral part in closing the feedback loop.
In the end, working on improving service delivery in the justice sector comes down to whom the data is presented to. Aside from presenting feedback data to those who deliver the services, policy makers also need to start seeing the data and making changes across the entire chain of offices. In the end, the effect is that citizens are willing and able to raise their voices, governments are willing to respond, and where the social and institutional design of both the citizen-voice and government-response mechanisms match, improvements to public services are likely to take effect.
Nathalie is the co-founder and CEO of SEMA (www.talktosema.org). She has previously worked at The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, consults with the Dutch Embassy in Kampala on Rule of Law and has over 6 years of experience working with data collection and public sector innovation in East Africa.