African Civic Tech and COVID-19: Five Emerging Trends

By Melissa Zisengwe |

Africa has a growing civic tech community that focuses on issues such as accountability and transparency, data journalism, citizen participation, and public services monitoring. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, various technologies have been deployed by citizens, civil society organisation, start-ups, private companies, universities and governments to aid the fight against COVID-19.  Specifically, the civic tech community has created several innovations or adapted and repurposed existing resources to confront the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings resulting from interviews conducted with civic tech innovations from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda indicate that the potential for technology to facilitate the fight against COVID-19 is clear. Across the continent, the emerging trends include contact tracing, instant messaging, digital governance, information dashboards and predictions and debunking misinformation.

For instance, platforms leveraging instant messaging applications such as GovChat and Grassroot in South Africa, as well as Uganda’s Ministry of Health Chatbot have supported remote government-citizen interactions, community organising and access to information, respectively in compliance with national COVID-19 standard operating procedures. Similarly, there has been a shift in governments’ adoption and use of technology, with many operations such as  the judiciary in Kenya and emergency services in Uganda moving online.

Further, the use of data mining and spatial analysis techniques to aid analysis into  the spread of the virus at provincial level in South Africa, and functioning of health centres in Burkina Faso indicates that the civic tech community, along with the private sector and the government, appreciate the importance of access to information in a pandemic.

While dashboards are keeping citizens updated on Coronavirus related news, some organisations are taking it a step further to ensure that citizens receive the accurate information and stop the spread of the disinfodemic, which is the spread of unverified, untrue information about the disease. This is being achieved through virtual games in Uganda and live guides among others.

 In several countries, organisations, governments and companies are reported to have employed digital contact tracing measures. Although the extent of this trend is unknown, common practices include contact tracing apps, CCTV surveillance, and cell phone location data tracking.

While these contact tracing apps and efforts could indeed aid the countries in their fight against COVID-19, they present some concerns over data privacy and surveillance. Tracking via mobile technology means personal information such as an individual’s location and movements, and their COVID-19 status could be disclosed without consent and oversight mechanisms for protection and accountability.

The trends above show that the civic tech community in Africa is willing to do their part in society and that innovation is not always a shiny new app or product; rather, sometimes it is existing tools and methodologies which can be repurposed to respond to  emerging needs. While these tools have been instrumental in shaping the fight against COVID-19, user sensitisation towards increased adoption during and in the aftermath of the pandemic remains crucial.

Read the full brief here.

Melissa Zisengwe is a 2020 CIPESA Fellow focussing on the area of civic technology in Africa.

Solving Uganda’s Challenges through Data & Service Design

By Neema Iyer|

Last week, we asked “What is Service Design?” and answered our question with “Service design is the process of taking a service and better tailoring it to the needs and wants of the end user, whether that’s a client, customer or in the case of civic service design, the citizen. It could be improving an existing service, or creating a new service totally from scratch.”

On December 5th, Pollicy and the Collaboration in International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) brought back the civic technology community in Uganda, but this time, with a focus on data and design. As issues of data ownership, digital security, censorship become more pertinent in our society, so does the need to appropriately harness the benefits of big data. Through a series of interesting panel discussions, lightening talks and a hands-on design training, we took participants through a journey on how data can be used to revolutionize how citizens and governments interact for mutual benefit.

We first tackled the hard issues around the ethics of data in improving service delivery in Uganda through a panel discussion analyzing the issue from the perspective of the Ugandan Police Force, human rights defenders and the healthcare industry. Mr.Jimmy Haguma, the Acting Commissioner of Police — IT & IM, Mr.Neil Blazevic from DefendDefenders Tech Unit and Mr.Samson Jarso from Andromeda Innovations led the panel moderated by Pollicy’s own Patricia Navvuga.

 Next, we engaged the private sector on how they use big data to improve how they deliver services to Uganda citizens. Engaging lightening talks from Umeme, Viamo and Fenix: Uganda’s electricity company, a mobile technology company bringing information to the last mile and one of the biggest home solar system companies in Uganda.

In the afternoon, after a networking lunch we came together as a group to tackle challenges using the principles of service design, facilitated by Design without Borders. Using a process of iterative prototyping, our faciliators Lawrence and Rachit discussed how they conduct user research, ideate and convert their ideas in prototypes which they extensive test with their end users until completely satisfied with the user journey.

Service design creates better citizen and staff experiences while at the same time reducing inefficiencies and increasing value to society. Think of all the time, money and mental energy saved by improving upon the processes listed below.

As small groups 6–7 participants, we tackled three main challenges:
1. Public Transport in Kampala in quite inefficient
2. Obtaining a new passport is troublesome
3. There is a lack of monitoring of public complaints

From our discussions, we realized that the solutions could be readily implemented by thinking of the issues holistically. In the previous blog post, we looked at the example of acquiring a new passport here in Uganda, and quite fittingly worked on the same issue in one of the small groups.

The group, working through the National ID or a temporary National ID, presented a simple online solution for registering linked information and obtaining feedback throughout the process via e-mail, SMS and by logging into the online portal to check on the status of the submission.

For public transportation, a colour-coded and numbering system for public minibuses and buses was offered as a solution to ease unruly drivers, unknown bus routes and improve connections between routes. For public complaints monitoring, the AskYourGov system was offered as a potential solution by engaging numerous government officials through one centralized portal.

What we took away from the session was that even though we were able to come up with these ideas in 1–2 hours, the solutions seemed readily implementable. But looking at the service design processes, we need to do further research with end user and to first prototype these concepts with small groups of users to perfect the process.

Getting to work hands-on on current pressing issues in Uganda was an eye-opening experience and we hope to bring in more members of the civic technology community together with government to problem solve some of these challenges using data and design principles.

For more information on service design, check out the Service Design Toolkit and content from Interaction Design Foundation

We’re thankful for everyone who showed up and remained engaged the entire time, and for our partner CIPESA on making this event possible!
On to the next!

Youth in the Civic and Social Tech Arena in Tanzania

By Ashnah Kalemera |
Sandra Kitenge, a student of Mbezi High School, is determined to bridge the gender gap in technology in Tanzania. Having benefited from the Apps and Girls programme that empowers girls with computer literacy and coding-for-change skills, she sought avenues through which she could contribute to amplifying grassroots voices as part of electoral processes in Tanzania. The solution: an idea for a mobile app known as Tujibu (Swahili for “answer us”) through which grassroots communities can interact with leaders on their manifestos so they can make informed election decisions.
Alongside her studies, Sandra has since 2015 conceptualised her idea and last May finalised the web interpretation for the app. Currently, she is working on the hosting for the app and hopes to have a prototype by September.
“The app will help leaders know the needs of their people and promote accountability in fulfilment of pledges,” she says.
Tujibu was among four technology tools presented at the first Civic and Social Tech in East Africa showcase  hosted by CIPESA in partnership with Buni Innovation Hub in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on June 16.
Another tool showcased at the event was KodiYangu, a website on tracking the utilisation of tax funds in Tanzania. Currently in prototype stage, the website is expected to enable citizens to give feedback on priority areas for budget allocations and also inform relevant advocacy and awareness raising initiatives. KodiYangu is being incubated by the Hatua Project, an initiative for catalysing citizen engagement and innovation.

Also showcased was Changia, a mobile-based platform under development by the youth-led Tujenge software development company. The app, currently in testing phase, is aimed at community fundraising at local government level for health, water, and infrastructure challenges. Through the platform, duty bearers are able to fundraise for identified community concerns and citizens are also able to hold the leaders to account for funds collected.
Meanwhile, the web-based Platform for Youth and Policy Exchange (PYPE) will be aimed at promoting awareness and engagement among youths on policy issues. Using interactive online media and tools, PYPE will maintain a policy database on various sectors and conduct polls on specific youth policy issues.
“Youths can only effectively engage in governance if they are aware of the policies relevant to them and are able to follow up on implementation,” says Farhan Yusuf, a member of the PYPE developer team. An official from the Tanzania Policy Dialogue pledged to work with PYPE on policy analysis and advocacy following the Yusuf’s presentation at the showcase.
According to various developers, an ongoing challenge for social and civic tech innovation in Tanzania is the limited availability of information. Edwin Paul of KodiYangu says that, for the tax revenue and budget allocations, the latest figures they were working with were for the 2013/2014 financial year. “We don’t have access to the figures for the following years,” he adds. Nonetheless, developers hope that implementation of the recently passed Tanzania Access to Information Act, 2016 may help in making information more widely availability.

See this on the Right to Information in Tanzania: Insights on the Laws, Policies andPractices

Other challenges that Tanzanian developers face include high levels of illiteracy and low incentives for adoption of civic tech tools by duty bearers and citizens. Moreover, given ongoing cyber security challenges, participants at the tools showcase urged developers to make ensure their platforms have strong security provisions to safeguard against hackers, filter spam, and secure users’ information.

A panel comprising of representatives from the United Nations Association of Tanzania, the Forum for Climate Change Tanzania, Open Society Initiative East Africa (OSIEA) Tanzania office, the Tanzania Bora Initiative and Jamii Forums also discussed the impact of civic tech on engagements between citizens and duty bearers, as well as on improved governance in Tanzania. The panellists  noted that application of technology in their respective work had helped bridge the communication gap between citizens, duty bearers and civil society, especially in rural communities. Further, technology had enhanced access to information, citizens’ participation in decision-making processes, and government responsiveness to citizens’ concerns.
However, the panellists noted that awareness of civic duties remained low, supporting infrastructure such as electricity was a challenge, and there was limited research to inform the design and implementation of technology within their interventions. They urged developers to leverage mainstream and online media, as well as physical engagements, to complement their tools.
Finally, there was also a call for more support – funding and mentoring – for young innovators in civic tech and setting up of a “governance hub” to bring together tech and governance stakeholders to innovate and incubate ideas whilst avoiding duplication of efforts.
For her part, Sandra applauds the support she has received from mentors including the team at Apps and Girls, Buni and Niwezeshe Lab. She admits, however, that working on Tujibu whilst still in school is a challenge.
The June 16 tech showcase  was the first in a series of civic and social tech in East Africa engagements organised by CIPESA as part of the ICT4Democracy in East Africa initiative. The next event is scheduled to take place in July 2017 at Outbox hub in Kampala, Uganda.


Showcasing Civic and Social Tech in East Africa

By Ashnah Kalemera |
As access to information and communication technologies (ICT) has continued to grow across Africa, so have technology-based initiatives that enable social accountability and the participation of citizens in promoting transparency and accountability in government operations.
In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, there is a growing number of government portals for public sector information (PSI) provision, responding to complaints about quality of public services or for corruption whistle-blowing, and generally making PSI more readily available, such as open data portals and budget information websites.
In 2013, Uganda’s finance ministry launched the Know Your Budget portal with government budget expenditure and plans for national and local levels. Citizens are able to interrogate the data and provide feedback or ask questions about budgets for different administrative units. In Kenya, the National Treasury has since 2007 published online its budgets and expenditure figures, offering citizens the opportunity to interrogate the numbers and raise queries to the treasury and to oversight bodies such as parliament.
Similarly, Tanzania developed the Wananchi Portal (or Citizens’ Portal) as a channel for receiving complaints from citizens about the quality of public services. A comparable initiative in Uganda is an ICT platform that enables citizens to provide information and tip-offs to the government anti-corruption ombudsman known as the Inspectorate of Government (IG). Using the IG’s SMS Corruption Tracker, a case can be reported to the ombudsman via the website or through texting Corrupt to 6009 toll free.
The various initiatives in the three countries are improving duty bearers’ use of ICT to provide information and get feedback from citizens, and a growing (but still unsatisfactory) number of leaders are becoming active users of ICT, particularly social media. This is aiding the sprouting of citizen-side eParticipation initiatives in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – in social accountability including quality of public services monitoring, in political campaigning, parliamentary monitoring, and generally giving citizens platforms to debate issues of community and national concern, including democratic governance issues.
Uganda’s Parliament Watch and Kenya’s Mzalendo use social media to monitor the performance of parliamentarians. Also in Uganda, civic groups such as Women of Uganda Network and ToroDev use Ushahidi for citizens to report on service delivery failures and thereby compelling duty bearers to take remedial action. Similarly, Transparency International’s Stop Health Worker Absenteeism initiative enables citizens in Northern Uganda to report health service delivery failures via a toll free call centre.
However, despite having a vibrant mobile and web application development sector in East Africa, partly driven by innovation hubs such as Buni, iHub, Outbox and Hive Colab, whose patrons are mostly youths, there is still a gap in the appreciation of innovation related to civic engagement and social accountability. This is a reflection of how distant the local tech industry and many youth in East Africa are from engaging in democratic and governance processes.
Indeed, according to research conducted by iHub in 2015, there was growing interest in web and mobile applications innovation in support of civic participation, service delivery, transparency and accountability across the region. However, the “hype” remained within tech hubs and tech competitions such as hackathons, often excluding other relevant stakeholders such as civil society, the media and government.
As such, CIPESA, under the ICT4Democracy in East Africa initiative, has embarked on a series of events showcasing innovation in social and civic tech geared at increasing knowledge and awareness, and promoting opportunities for collaboration among technologists and actors in the transparency, accountability and human rights arena.
Stay tuned for updates!