What does tech bring to the table in enabling effective collaboration with Government?

CCRs Councillor Connect service is a mobile and face-to-face platform for Local Government Authorities (LGAs) in Tanzania that has the capability to send out public education messages; and to bring together citizens, elected officials, and service providers together to identify shared priorities for action. Once priorities are identified, the expectation is that LGAs will plan for and deliver services for children; and that citizens will use the tech to monitor if these commitments are translating into improved services on the ground. 

Councillor Connect is being prototyped with funding from Making All Voices Count (MAVC). 

Our vision for optimum collaboration involves the LGA paying for the Councillor Connect service. In this vision, the LGA would appreciate CCRs human competency and the Councillor Connect technology. The LGA would perceive CCR to be a provider of planning solutions; and CCR would consider the LGA a client. Optimum collaboration would result in citizens’ demands for children’s services translating into district plans and budgets; and councillors being responsive and acting on citizens’ feedback about service performance.

Importantly, Councillor Connect does not create alternative processes to those already in place for local planning and reporting. Instead, it provides a more user friendly channel for citizens and councillors to communicate in service to citizen driven development.

"Tuko Pamoja." Collaboration between CCR and the Arusha City Councillors is characterised by trust, mutual respect, and a sense that we are on a shared journey of exploring how to demonstrate government responsiveness. This is manifested in the Councillors’ enthusiasm to co-create work flows, and their sensible advice to CCR on how to proceed as the project unfolds. This can be attributed to our long-standing relationship; CCRs professional credibility; the anticipation that Councillor Connect will tangibly make working life easier for councillors.

CCR challenges "business as usual" with the fun and innovative ways in which we facilitate. And some councillors were able to see that being an early adopter of Councillor Connect could result in public acclaim at their performance and their commitment to demonstrate in the interest of children.

Effective collaboration with LGAs demands an integrated approach. Whilst effective collaboration is often determined by the personalities of individuals involved; it is insufficient to only collaborate with councillors who are change ready. We have found it necessary to involve ward officials and frontline professionals, because at the end of the day they execute LGA plans. Whilst, Ward Executive Officers and their staff (Education, Community Development) have been involved in the pre-production for the community dialogues that we facilitated with citizens; we have not yet evolved the Councillor Connect mobile technology to be of practical value to these public servants. This will need to be remedied, as we evolve the platform; and will be done by us developing workflows that enable citizens to report abuse to street leaders, ward executive officers, social workers and police; and will nudge these frontline professionals to respond in a way that is aligned to the Rules and Regulations for Child Protection that are laid down in the Law of the Child. 

How did we get the councillors to this point? CCR has had long-term engagement with a range of actors across the city; and has a track record of facilitating processes with protectors and frontline professionals that results in them feeling heard. When this trust and credibility was combined with the energy of Hon Nanyaro who championed CCR and opened a number of doors with his colleagues we were able to present and get buy-in to the Councillor Connect innovation.

We have learnt to run with individuals who possess a change ready mindset; and who have an interest in doing things differently. We have positioned ourselves as being of service to the LGA. This is in contrast to many NGOs who tend to take up a deficit mindset and approach LGAs by either offering to pay them for their time in the form of DSAs; or assuming that they are empty vessels that need to be filled with the NGOs training content. We are trying, not always successfully, to approach the LGA as a client; putting the emphasis more on pulling off what we have promised them, rather than making demands on them.

During the prototyping of Councillor Connect we have played a balancing act between trying to involve the councilors in its development; whilst avoiding meeting overwhelm. This includes having a WhatsApp group, frequent times for coffee and check-ins, meeting councillors in the cafe where they like to do their business, and avoiding formalities. Recognizing individual councillors for their commitment to change has also been appreciated; particularly when they are asked to speak about the project to backers or to others in public fora.

Uncertainties that we are keeping an eye on as we move forward include

  1. Will people continue to use the Councillor Connect service?
  2. Will Councillors continue to respond?
  3. Will the platform provide the proof of a demand for child protection, or will be hailed as a fantastic tool for citizen - councillor communication, but will the child focus be forgotten?

The key lessons we want to share with others trying to work at intersection of governance, tech, and social entrepreneurship in Tanzania are;

  1. Don’t forget the centrality of face to face engagement and relationships in governance work. The tech is alluring, but the transformative change happens in relationship.
  2. Don’t be seduced by collecting data. It needs to be interpreted, packaged and shared to be meaningful.
  3. There is dissonance at multiple levels within Local Government between what should be done and what happens in reality. The solution needs to  bridge these dissonances in a way that enables people to behave differently; and that engages multiple actors in making change.
  4. Finance [or the lack of it] is critical and scary.