M- Gov Love!

In my last post, I discussed the Service- based Hidden Income Tax, otherwise know as S.H.I.T we pay for government services in the absence of true efficiency and accountability. I made sure to drive home the point that these fees are not necessarily an ill, in so far as they are being used for the greater good and not breakfast for your local corner troops.  And since the government has ramped up on police and military presence all through Accra, I am assured that there has been a spike in S.H.I.T. collection— Increased Waste Management, one might call it. (#HappyBelatedEarthDay).

But we can not stand idly as the government continues on its course of inefficiency, especially where oversight and operations are concerned. I ended last months post with the promise of exploring what I feel is an innovative way of increasing citizen engagement to address poor government service delivery. I am no technologist… though I studied science and technology in highschool, I have never really fancied binary codes and if/then statements <bleh!!>. However, technology for development has gotten me particularly excited.

Take a ride with me to imagination station…

Check out my ride!

Let’s pretend that the year is 2013 and all government documents are synced onto a cloud or central database so that when I fill out an application, it is logged online and therefore trackable as it moves from office to office. Lets also pretend the year is 2013 and I can use my cell phone to file reports when I suspect foul play or if things seems to be taken an inordinate amount of time. Imagine that I can then log into a public online space and give a testimonial of my experiences with every public service available in the country. Let’s pretend that this data is open and free to the public to use and synthesize as they so choose, meaning radio stations and News reports can give daily or weekly round ups of the most impressive or underwhelming reports on the site. Imagine that such an ecosystem existed where the walls between electorate and public servant were broken. Ghana Unchained (The H is Silent).

— oh but wait…

it is 2013 and…

Nope, no such central tracking system to speak of here in our very own Ghana. I was so impressed with the efforts to incorporate mobile phones in the voter registration campaign, but it definitely shed light on government official’s priorities; It seems as if, being effective and efficient in tracking public service delivery only happens during election season (slash when an aid agency is willing to go half on the bill and operational maintenance). Maybe officials should be re-elected every two years instead of four, I am almost certain Ghana would be a different Ghana (maybe an annoyingly more political Ghana)… but I wonder how that might hasten the innovative process and the roll out of efficient public service programs… I digress.

What if all of this was accessible through our phones?!

The mobile phone penetration rate in Ghana is over 150%, this means most people have two phones (largely because of the telecom thugs who are holding our airwaves hostage) but this is still a great statistic. The possibilities are endless when you know that even in the most remote of villages there is at least some sort of telephone connection. Enter: Mobile Governance.

Mobile governance, or m-gov for all the cool cats out there,  is about using mobile technology to offer more efficient, transparent and interactive public service delivery. Mobile governance comes in various forms and my most recent obsession is crowdsourcing. According to wikipedia, crowdsourcing is the the act of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people. In Russia and India, they are using mobile phone apps to crowdsource information regarding incidents of bribery.

ipaidabribe.com website in India

Users can upload location, nature of incident and amount paid in bribes. So far it has yet to reach a wide base of users; most likely because most people in India are using feature phones, though there is wider penetration of smartphones and tablets. So naturally in my attempt to avoid the ‘copy and paste’ of development implementation, I thought about how this could look in Ghana. Even before I could throw on my sexy thinking snap back cap, I found a resource for something that is already in the works for Ghanaian citizens.  At a recent event at the AccraHub, I was able to speak with Ms. Dorothy Gordon, Director-General of the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT, who told me about the Taarifa application (side note: I want to point out how FLY it is that the tech space is SO male dominated but the DG at a Tech Centre of Excellence is a lady. #bawse). Here’s a video for the application:

It is a partnership between the World Bank and the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area. According to an article on ghanabusinessnews.com, Taarifa is a tool that will “…help citizens and local governments to keep track of waste disposal across the country…It is designed to be a sustainable and powerful social accountability tool… it automatically captures GPS coordinates, works in the absence of any mobile internet signal…” This means they have taken great lengths to negate the effects of the Telecom cartel (which was one of my worries about an app of this sort in rural parts of Ghana). But bigger than that is the problem of it only being on a smart phone. How can we get this technology to work on feature phones since smartphone penetration in Africa is something like 11%?

I have many questions about this app, and other such apps. Over the month I have spoken to IT consultants to NITA, mobile app developers and, of course, my trotski express family. I hope to connect with the Taarifa team and other people in the technology field to get a deeper understanding of the nuances of the mobile technology space in a developmental context. In the next edition, I hope to provide insight on the feasibility of mobile governance in Ghana. Though this is a monthly blog, I recognize that my… well… friends and family reading this blog are on pins and needles in angst— waiting for more information. Not to worry, the rain soon come— I hope to have the next part out in 2 weeks. Until then, what are your initial thoughts on mobile governance? Chime in here or on the twitters!