Building Social Accountability in Nigeria
Reboot designs a mobile social accountability system for World Bank and Government of Nigeria sponsored agriculture and healthcare projects.
Nigeria is oil-rich but accountability-poor. This is partially due to a lack of connective infrastructure, such as roads (only about 10 to 15 percent of Nigerian roads are paved), Internet access (only available to 11 percent of the country), and electricity (most of the country only has access to a few hours’ worth a day), upon which service delivery and social accountability systems rely. This lack of infrastructure doesn’t just hinder people’s daily lives and opportunities. It also prevents them from being able to demand better services, and over time, undermines their confidence that they have power to make demands at all.
Communication technologies provide government with the tools to be more transparent and accountable to its citizens, but just as giving someone a hammer doesn’t make them a carpenter, there’s more to the accountability equation. Actually achieving accountability requires creating a successful relationship between people—those in the government and those on the outside. An accountability system, then, is a two-way street: not only is the government responsive to citizen needs, but citizens must also be able to effectively communicate their grievances to the government.
Reboot was tasked to design and implement a technological platform to collect citizen feedback on two government-sponsored, World Bank-funded programs: Fadama III, a subsidy program that enables groups of farmers to purchase agricultural equipment, livestock, and land; and a performance-based financing health program for local clinics.
In preparation for an eventual national rollout, our social accountability program will be piloted in two provinces: FCT and Nasarawa. Like all of our projects, this program is designed for the long-term, to keep operating long after we’ve left. To that end, we embed in the communities that we and our clients and partners seek to serve, and we work in close coordination with all stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, and funders. We have spent over half of our engagement time in Nigeria, and maintained a field presence of local staff throughout.
Our research approach has helped us gain an understanding of people’s existing technology habits, as well as norms around community policing and redress of grievances. Because most of these norms are not technology-based—our target populations resolve issues by seeking mediation from their village and/or religious leaders—we need to ensure that our technological solution will complement current habits and expectations.
Early on, we realized that mobile phones were the best tool available – 51 percent of our target population owned mobile phones, and many who did not own phones had regular access to one through friends or family. Though the quality of network signal was poor in the rural areas and mobile credit was costly, our users had creative techniques for getting around them. In any locations with poor signal, the locals always knew the exact spots (under a particular mango tree, at farthest corner of the church) where they could pick up a strong signal.
On our most recent trip, we spent three weeks testing the prototype with users and iterating—rapidly—to improve it. Each night, we updated the software as well as our communications materials based on that day’s user feedback, improving both the technology as well as the content. Every day, we had a new, better iteration to test. Soon, we will move on to testing prototypes with stakeholders, as well rolling out a late-stage, high-fidelity prototype of the feedback tool.
Our work in the field uncovered unique challenges that our accountability program must overcome in order to be successful. For instance, we found that users almost exclusively make voice calls on their phones, meaning an SMS program would be a change for users—many of whom are illiterate. Further, those who can read are taught to do so in English in school (even though speaking and reading comprehension are poor), and remain illiterate in their native tongue; deciding what language to use for communications is a challenge.
As we approach our August launch date, we are developing the program with these challenges well in mind, exploring the use of visual communication tools and employing youth reporters with phones to enable access to the program for those without phones or critical reading ability.
Fast and meaningful feedback is vital to showing citizens that their feedback matters (and critical for their continued participation) but it is also costly for the government. The challenge, then, comes in balancing the two. Armed with an understanding of what communities are able to (and comfortable with) submitting through the platform, we continue to work with the World Bank and the Nigerian government to understand how they can use these citizen data-streams to improve service delivery. For without a robust, people-centric system to handle and resolve grievances, any technology tool will be useless.