TAARIFA Platform: Strengthening Social Accountability

TAARIFA Platform: Strengthening Social Accountability

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On account of unprecedented urbanisation, Ghana’s cities and towns have been struggling to meet the growing demands for infrastructure and services. This is evident by the increasing incidence of urban poverty, the development of slums, and low levels of access to water, sanitation, and other services in urban areas. To enable cities to better manage growing urbanisation, more powers and resources are being decentralised, to ensure that local governments are held accountable to central government as well as to their citizens. Yet, current accountability systems, both upward and downward, are lax. The unpredictability of resources makes it difficult for local governments to respond to the needs of citizens and undermines citizen participation opportunities that exist in the planning and budgeting process. Similarly, linkages between citizens and their assemblies are weak.

In view of the exponential growth in access to and use of Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) across communities in Ghana, new political economies are being created through the rise of ICT platforms for Social Accountability or Demand -Side Governance (ICT4DSG) mechanisms. Such mechanisms can facilitate large-scale citizen review/feedback/dialogue on public-sector policies and actions – permitting citizens to seamlessly place pressure points on their local governments for more efficient and equitable service delivery.

It has become apparent that Ghana’s cities need a dynamic ICT4DSG system towards monitoring service delivery issues, tracking local government response, and timely reporting on resolution of issues. This article describes the deployment of a smartphone-based monitoring system supported by the World Bank’s Taarifa platform.

Rationale for the Monitoring System

To enable Ghana”s decentralisation and meet the dual objectives of strengthening accountability and addressing the challenges of urban growth, the Local Government Capacity Support Project (LGCSP) aims to enhance the capacities of both national and local government agencies through four components. While components 1, 2, and 4 involve strengthening the fiscal, managerial, and institutional dimensions of decentralisation respectively, component 3 focuses specifically towards improving citizens” engagement with urban assemblies and their perceptions of urban management. As outlined previously, ICT4DSG platforms can deepen citizen’s involvement with government, helping to ensure better service delivery, mapped communities, and for providing access to information on jobs, markets, and hazard conditions. Given the overlaps amongst the goals of harnessing citizen participation in context of Ghana, LGCSP and the Bank’s ICT strategy (which heralds the use of ICT as a key pillar for Social Accountability), it is proposed to replicate the Taarifa platform in Ghana for promoting the engagement of civil society organisations to enhance accountability from local governments.

A communications strategy will be put in place to ensure improved visibility of the initiative and transparency. Through this structure, the status of municipal response to issues will be disseminated to citizens, in addition to familiarising citizens on the availability of such a ‘goto’ facility for voicing of grievances.

Objectives

The objectives of deploying the Taarifa tool are to provide real-time information that will enable early identification of emergent issues and challenges in implementation as well as production of instantaneous status reports; increase transparency of issues and municipal response by disseminating information through a publicly accessible website; increase stakeholder participation and ownership of results by offering platform for public feedback and discourse

Description of System

Taarifa is a smart-phone based platform that allows users to monitor, capture, report and analyse issues in real-time. It facilitates pressure points on actors (ministries, departments, agencies, local governments, schools etc) prompting them to action. It can be applied to a wide variety of purposes such as monitoring and mapping service delivery failures (garbage accumulation, pipeline leakages); tracking project progress and impact; community-based mapping of urban infrastructure issues; monitoring of urban transport services; facilitating better urban planning.

Users are able to see locations of all reports. Upon tapping the geo-location, users are able to read corresponding reports on the phone. All form parameters including data, Geo-coordinates and photographs are transmitted to server upon submission.

A backend administrator at the Ministry is responsible for structuring forms and verification of reports prior to publication on the website. The platform also integrates with regular mobile phones via SMS.

A list of all verified project reports is available for public viewing. Timeline of report generation is shown for tracking officers. A map depicts where each report was generated. RSS feeds allow real-time notification of M&E activities: report submission, comments etc. Viewers can select specific project category from a menu.

The tool will be piloted initially using funds made available by WB Communications unit. Once operationalised, strategies will be assessed on including the program within component 3 of LGCSP.

The following implementation plan is proposed for successful deployment of the tool:

a)      Identify:

  1. A focal-point/administrator in each participating CSO who will take charge of the backend aspects of the tool.
  2. The parameters/metrics to be monitored.
  3. Categories and sub-categories to be depicted on the map.
  4. Local consultant for field-based coordination, conducting more intensive capacity-building, etc.

WB specialist will assist participating CSOs on ii and iii.

b)      Procure the required quantity of smart phones along with data cards. The appropriate quantity will depend on the number of CSOs and the number of officials who will be conducting the monitoring and evaluation exercise.

c)      Deploy the tool on cloud-hosting service. This will be undertaken by the World Bank ICT specialist.

d)      WB Mission for conducting a comprehensive workshop involving collaboration with MMAs, options for sustainability, etc.

The tool is developed based on open source code. For sustainability of the system, discussions could be held with local technical universities to establish open source communities at the institute. These communities will adopt the source code and provide needed technical support/software enhancements based on evolving needs.