One of Uhuru Kenyatta’s most effective campaign slogans was “The Digital Team”. Since taking office President Kenyatta’s team has been upgraded (in true tech fashion) to “The Digital Government”. Enthusiasm in deploying technology is a key characteristic of the first year of Kenyatta’s administration. An example of this is growing number of official Government of Kenya Twitter accounts.
On the 16th of October 2013 at the Women, Youth and Persons with Disability Expo on access to Government Procurement Opportunities, Kenyatta announced that his administration will set up a corruption reporting website where ordinary citizens can report any government official who asks for a bribe.
I will open a website where when you go to look for help in government offices and you are asked to give a bribe you can immediately report the person. All one will be required to do is log in, and there will be a place to record the name, ministry, department and position of the culprit to get them arrested.
Corruption in Kenya is a big problem, that is well documented. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013, the biggest ever survey tracking world-wide public opinion on corruption, tell us that 95% of respondents in Kenya felt that police were corrupt/extremely corrupt. The same survey tells us 59% of respondents in Kenya felt that public officials and civil servants were corrupt/extremely corrupt; 58% of respondents in Kenya felt the judiciary was corrupt/extremely corrupt; 68% of respondents in Kenya felt parliament / legislature was corrupt/extremely corrupt.
As we have seen over and over again this level of corruption does not only steal public resources, it also costs lives. With statistics such as these it is clear why tackling corruption should be a priority for Kenyatta’s administration.
Something needs to be done.
Something radical needs to be done.
Is a corruption reporting website that thing?
Perhaps, if deployed correctly.
Technology is only 10% of a successful deployment
A common mistake when turning an idea like a corruption reporting website into a solution is to spend most of your planning time focusing on the technology. Which platform should be used? What graphics should we have on the front page? What number should we use for the shortcode? what colour should the logo be? etc. At Ushahidi we say technology is only 10% of a successful deployment. If the President wants his portal to be effective here are four other things he should be thinking about.
- The Strategy Is Not Ambitious Enough
The President’s plan is noble but I feel not ambitious enough. For this new platform to be really useful to citizens, for this new platform to really bring about the change we need in Kenya it needs to map service delivery as well as corruption. Or more directly, the deficiencies in service delivery by the government. For example, a government pharmacy may regularly experience stock-outs, the lack of essential medicines. This could be due to corruption such as officials diverting drugs to their own private pharmacies. However, it could also be due to inefficiencies in budgeting, procurement, delivery or reporting. For a platform to be truly useful to citizens, policy makers, service providers and indeed the President it needs to capture all this data not just the corruption data.
Kenya already has a service delivery framework in the performance contracts signed publicly in front of the nation by all Cabinet Secretaries on behalf of their ministries. These contracts should form a key part of this deployment as they inform citizens on what they should expect in terms of service delivery from the government. Getting these contracts online and accessible should be one of the first steps in this anti corruption drive.
- A Platform Is Only As Strong As Its Partnerships
For the anti corruption platform to work the right partnerships need to be in place. I would recommend that this corruption reporting platform is not hosted by government but is instead hosted by an independent civil society organisation. Why? Look at those figures from the Global Corruption Barometer again. Why would we expect members of the public to report corruption to a system they perceive as corrupt? (To be fair 19% of respondents in the survey felt Kenyan NGOs were corrupt/extremely corrupt.) Another solution would be for the platform to be jointly hosted by the civil society organisations and government.
An important role partners could play is in educating citizens on what they are entitled to. This must be a key part of any strategy to tackle corruption and improve service delivery. An assumption regularly made is that citizens always know what to report to the authorities. This is not the case. A bribe is relatively easy to spot and report. The same may not be true of inadequate service delivery. For example, if one school has 8 desks for every 10 students they may feel they have less room to complain than a school that has 4 desks for every 10 students. Some parents may even feel that they are lucky to have 4 desk per classroom. That each student is entitled to a desk and that the lack of a desk per student should be reported requires an awareness campaign run by credible partners.
Partnerships are also important when it comes to outreach campaigns. Simply plastering information about the corruption reporting platform on billboards and radio adverts across the country will not automatically lead to uptake by the public.
Even if the technology works perfectly.
even if the institution receiving the complaints deals with them diligently.
Consider this lesson in a blogpost by Varja Lipovsek and Rakesh Rajani called, Your Phone Won’t Ring Just Because You Gave Out Your Number:
Here’s our bet: people don’t respond because they just don’t believe their voices will count. In East Africa where Twaweza works, years of unresponsive and predatory systems have cared little about citizen voice, so much so that even when there is a “real” opportunity for feedback, people simply do not believe it’s worth their while. When for 10, 15, 20 years one’s core experience of public service delivery has been one of disinterest or even fear, simply setting up attractive new mechanisms, however well-intentioned and sophisticated, won’t cut it.
Sometimes, many times, the messenger is as important as the message. This means that the President will need to find different partners for each part of the country as it is unlikely that a single organisation or institution has the type of credibility nationwide to make this initiative work.
- What Is Your Duty of Care
From the President’s statement reports of corruption are being collected in order to get corrupt officials arrested. This means that the person sending in the original report of corruption may be required to attend court proceedings or a formal disciplinary hearing. How will this process be handled? Will people be comfortable reporting corruption by individuals who have power in their local communities if they have to accuse them publicly?
Connect to this, a more basic duty of care needs to be in place to protect all citizens who speak out. Measures must be in place to enable the administrators of the website to identify personal information (name, telephone numbers, email address) and to provide those administrators with an opportunity to remove/hide that information from the public. The nature of the complaint should be public. The personal information of the person making the complaint should not.
- Verify and Analyse Your Data
Collecting information is the easy part! It is crucial that all reports of corruption are taken through a process to establish how credible they are. There are various methods that can be used for this. For Uchaguzi, our citizen centred election platform, we had partners on the ground, trained and led by the Constitution & Reform Education Consortium, who we could call to check up on reports for us. The President has similar options available to him, officers of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission for example. Another option is working with the Data Lab at iHub Research that has developed a variety of data mining and machine-learning techniques for verifying crowd-sourced information.
Technology is only 10% of a successfully deployment but it is a crucial 10%. It is very important that the President gets the technology right. Here are some things he should consider.
The best technology solutions meet people where they are
Ideally citizens should not have to purchase any new technology or learn any new skills to interact with this corruption reporting deployment. This means the platform cannot be exclusively web based. In the Kenyan context citizens must be able to send and receive information to and from the platform by SMS. The President may consider using SMS Sync or Frontline SMS both developed and maintained by teams in Nairobi to manage the SMS portion of the platform.
This does NOT mean that President should ask his team to ignore the web platform and mobile applications for smart phones such as Android and iOS. The best strategy in this scenario is to cover all bases. Data received from mobile applications can include photos, video, exact GPS locations which SMS cannot do. Smart phones providing rich data are powerful corruption reporting tools. Tools like the BRCK provide an easy and reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the Kenya, even when you don’t have electricity.
Technology needs to tested
Whatever platform and applications are chosen it is important that extensive design testing, user interface testing and user experience testing is done to make sure the platform works for the potential users. The team at the iHub UX Lab believe that smart, user centric design has the power to change Kenya, both economically and socially. The President would be wise to harness this power.
The Ecosystem Exists
The President and his team may be aware that some of the best crowdsourcing tools available to him and his team are developed by Ushahidi, founded and headquartered right here in Nairobi. Ushahidi has been used 40,000+ times in 156 countries around the world and has been translated into 35 different languages. Global reach, made in Africa. Ushahidi has been used around the world extensively for human rights, corruption and accountability mapping. On our website you will find a section dedicated to making anti corruption and transparency mapping successful. It includes examples of anti corruption and transparency mapping as well as examples of human rights mapping.
Ushahidi is one part of a larger technology ecosystem and the one big advantage President Kenyatta has is the ecosystem to make his anti corruption platform successful is already in place and less than a 15 drive from Statehouse (just 2 min with his motorcade). At the Bishop Magua Centre, he would find Ushahidi, BRCK, FrontlineSMS, the iHub and several other companies, projects, techies, project managers ready to work with him to deploy an anti-corruption platform that would transform Kenya.