How can we increase the impact of civic technology in Uganda?

civic-tech
Photo credit: Digital Society Forum

For those following events on the civic technology revolution in Uganda, lots have been done in designing tech driven solutions, for increased citizen participation and government responsiveness. The growth in civic tech can be explained by technological advances enabling universal computing  and drivers for open data, greater democratic transparency and accountability. Civic tech helps citizens to actively participate in democratic society, including: data access, visualization, resident feedback, public decision-making, amongst other uses. While I can evidently celebrate the existence of hundreds civic tech solutions in the country, I will take a pulse, and focus on the achievements attained through the tech solutions, their sustainability and citizen’s behavior towards them.

While civic tech accelerates citizens’ participation and government responsiveness, we should all agree that it is not an end in itself. In the beginning, we could have painted a picture of using tech to change the world! Perfect picture! However, this picture could be overly optimistic.  First, we sometimes never involve citizens in contribution towards designing the tech solutions intended to solve their actual problems; but, we often focus on mobilizing them on using the tech solutions. Second, we sometimes never think of the terrain difference and adaption variations per country. The adaption of tech in USA or Kenya could be  so different from that of Uganda hence affecting its utilization.

Over time we have become technocrats who think for the users—on what they want and which solutions would be suitable to overcome their challenges. This is equivalent to thinking for someone on what s/he will order for lunch. Sometimes  you could get it right, hence some tech solutions flourishing, but, most times you get it wrong—thus most tech solutions in Uganda failing and closing up.

Why some civic tech solutions work and others fail.

While conducting a tool audit on 9 (nine) of the tech solutions in Uganda,  some were  found non functional. The reasons for the non functionality range from projects lifetime, users not utilizing the systems, maintenance costs, etc.  It was also noticed that when some tech solutions are born, they are supported by development partners for the public’s’ good. However, we  at times forget that it’s the communities that must utilize the tech solutions through participation, and its government to do the responsiveness gymnastics. 

When these two important ingredients (citizens and government)  are passive in the entire process, re-attracting them to actively use the  tech solutions and information therewith is equivalent to hitting rock bottom. Further, some of the tech solutions are copied from elsewhere, with  assumptions that, “ if they worked in a certain contexts, they  could just fit in well in Uganda”. This assumption is misplaced since users and responders are quite different in every context.

It’s also been observed that tools copied  elsewhere and re-introduced in Uganda sometimes ignore the design research; an important component in understanding users capacities and capabilities.  The tech solutions are introduced as a full complete packages with little or no chances of modification. One thing we often forget  is that users and/or responders are never migrated as the tools, nor fit-well in the full packaged systems, thus affecting tech usability  for public good.

Duplication? Same data, different tools!

Investigations into civic tech tend to focus on data quality, rather than the human component within the system, or a broader view on the impact and added value of the civic tech solution.

In Uganda, I have realized that many of the tech solutions are within same implementation areas, targeting same people and producing similar data. In my opinion, this is unhealthy competition which could as well be interpreted to mean that, we the  civic tech developers, implementers, managers etc are competing on grounds of who has the best tool or receives the most complaints, but not , how we can effectively leverage tech and contribute to increased citizen participation and governments responsiveness.

In Uganda today, we have over 20 civic tech solutions for reporting corruption and almost in similar implementation areas. While some of them have exited the stage, I highly doubt if those existing are really serving their goals especially if the nation is amongst the corruption celebrities according to the Corruption Perception Index 2017. This  could be solved by civic technologists coming together to re-strategise and network on how to move forward.

 How is tech data utilized

The fact that civic tech platforms provide new and easier ways for citizens to voice their concerns to government does not necessarily mean that citizens actually take advantage of them. With numerous tools in place, one wonders how tech data is used. To some of the people living in areas where civic tech solutions are implemented, tech solutions are never utilized because they got tired of reporting and never receive feedback!.

When the responsiveness is weak and data advocacy is also low, it could  imply that we use tech data for our own good. For a few organizations using the tech data,  it’s used selectively to serve their goals and purpose. But it’s important to remember that this data is traceable to individuals who made time to report while expecting feedback at the same time.

The missing-link in most of the tech  driven solutions is advocacy. Advocacy is one of the best middle men on how tech data could be used to drive policy decisions, improve public service delivery and social accountability.  With tech data, an individual could either report a single issue, or start a campaign, or look for others having already reported the same or similar issues. Data availability coupled with evidence based advocacy and storytelling could effectively contribute to governments’ responsiveness. With  government’s responsiveness, citizens will feel the impact of their reports, hence boosting their participation in governance processes.

How can we improve the civic tech  experience in Uganda for improved participation and more responsiveness?

Collaboration:  Uganda’s civic tech fraternity  must depend on greater collaboration and coordination. Civic tech, on its own does not  enhance citizen- government relationships. These kinds of relationships flourish through  advocacy, offline engagements like lobby meetings, board room meetings , dialogues etc. With collaboration, together we can leverage data and technology to enable civic leaders to make better decisions, have a platform for sharing the successes and challenges with  each other.

If you have any thoughts on bettering Uganda’s civic technology experience, feel free to share in the comments!

For God and My Country

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Can Data about police practice improve citizen people relations with Uganda’s Police?

 

 

policeopendata
Image credit : GCN

For those following developments about police practice in Uganda, less surprising the few months into 2017 have not been the best  of moments for  Uganda’s national force.

Painting the Picture: What could the police be doing wrong?

In the concluded  procurement and disposal audit on Uganda’s national force conducted by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), the custodians of law and order were qualified  for Issuance of local purchase orders (LPOs) and contracts on expired bids,  failure to state procurement timelines on the entity’s procurement plan amongst other opinions.

This could be a result of internal data management systems gone wrong! We can as well call it  a data manipulation because, a well-managed data system promotes an integrated view of any institutions operations and a clearer view of the big picture. It becomes much easier to see how actions in one segment of the  entity affects others. If only Uganda’s national force had one, probably LPOs would not be issued on expired bids. Despite the flows, the police budget has been steadily increasing over years, thanks to the Inspector General of Police. However,  its un-justifiable if the budget increment is felt by the ordinary police officers since subject data is limited and/or un-found .

Contemplating about open data and data practice in the Uganda’s national force, the Inspector General of Police, General Kayihura in his foreword to Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) Sector Strategic Plan for Statistics for Uganda Police Force (2006/07 – 2010/11),  highlighted that the statistical process in the Uganda Police is poor, inaccurate, uncoordinated and not time-sensitive.  Ten years down  his reign,  the force is still experiencing the same data management theater.

Without good data management, exacerbated with increased opacity in the force’s operations, citizens could simply misinterpret and misunderstand Uganda’s police decisions and work ethics. Why? Because they will have  ample time to stereotype and perceive. No wonder,  our force is continuously ranking as one of the most corrupt institutions in Uganda, and  the most corrupt East African Region institution according to the Transparency International East Africa Bribery Index.  This is not because they are so badly off in that sphere, but  could be because they do not adhere to open data, transparency and accountability  practices by being closed-off from the  public.

A glimpse  into the force’s budget discipline depicts Fy 2017/2018  as  one of their good years but, teargas tops priority on their budget with 44 billion Uganda shillings earmarked for the purchase of teargas to control crowds and  UGX 51.1 bil­lion for handling post-election violence.

The time to find good solutions to these problems is now.

Uganda’s national force could do better only if it prioritizes data management, access to information and increased focus on transparency. In a transparent institution, data availability, combined with the tools that transform data into usable information, empowers end users to make quick, informed decisions that can make the difference between success and failure.

As custodians of law and order, the Uganda’s Police  should invest in increasing access to information about their work, initiate mechanisms to increase the flow of public information on  what police officers are doing in their official roles, how they are doing it, and how they are fulfilling their responsibility to ensure public safety. This will not only restore public trust and confidence in Uganda’s police but push them steps ahead into the transparency curve.

 

 

Using open data to strengthen human rights reporting and awareness creation in Uganda

With access to data by selected individuals and agencies, information could be used for selfish interests while limiting the additional pathways to raise awareness to human rights issues like describing a vivid story and sparking grassroots advocacy initiatives, while grounding these issues within a local context rather than relying so heavily on international initiatives with a Western lens.

On the other hand, lack of a centralized human rights data base affects human rights monitoring and reporting as each party interprets and reports what they have, but not what is actually on ground.

Photo Credit: Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda- HRNJ

Uganda has an impressive legal framework like the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995, chapter four of which highlights the fundamental human rights enjoyed by Citizens. Other laws include; the Access to Information Act 2005, Whistle blowers Act 2010, Anti corruption Amendment Act 2015, Anti torture Act among others.

The country prides in having an institutional framework supporting implementation, monitoring and reporting of laws namely, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) whose mandate is spelt out in Article 52 of the Constitution, accredited with A status by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions.

Law enforcement agencies like Uganda’s National Police force have a Directorate of Human rights and legal services, while Uganda People Defense Force (UPDF) has a human rights department.  Further more, Uganda has courts of law which administer justice and safeguard human rights. Through her institutional framework like the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Ugandans are sensitized on their human rights, access and protection thereof.

Overview on human rights performance In Uganda

Despite the legal, institutional and policy mechanisms, Uganda’s human rights performance remains dismal as human rights are under siege. The Global Integrity report 2011 conducted in 31 countries highlighted Uganda as having a low implementation gap with a score of 52%, with an excellent legal framework awarded at 98%, giving the country an implementation gap of 46%.

In Uganda, leaders have succeeded inculcating the minds of the citizens that human rights are no longer entitlements but tokens and privileges dangled out by the leaders. For example, while Ugandans have  the right to freedom of association, expression, movement and association as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, it has controversial laws like the Public Order Management Act 2013 and NGO Act  2016 which  could rob citizens of their rights.

The POMA requires citizens to seek permission from Police to hold a public gathering, which permission is often selectively or never guaranteed. Concerns about violations of freedom of association, assembly, and expression continued during and after Uganda’s February 2016 elections where the leaders of opposition were not allowed to gather for their cause and arrest of citizens under the disguise of idleness. Institutions like the Uganda National Police Force, Uganda People Defense Force and Courts which are supposed to safeguard human rights, are commonly cited at the center of the abuse.

During the 2016 elections, disenfranchisement of voters due to late delivery of polling materials in Kampala and Wakiso was cited, disenfranchisement of Ugandans in the diaspora, detainees, media was unable to operate freely and journalists were attacked and restricted while covering the elections, limited freedom of assembly especially for opposition candidates and supporters and excessive use of force by security agencies. This could be interpreted to mean that, human rights are no longer inalienable but offered as a piecemeal.

Despite having documentation of numerous human rights atrocities in Uganda, data sets on human rights reporting seem invisible. This alone can bring bias in human rights reporting; limit action on human rights injustices by interested actors as well as hinder awareness creation efforts.

Current Reality

Uganda has numerous human rights activists and agencies finding difficulty in accessing human rights data sets as each party  i.e activists and government has an independent database for individual use.

With access to data by selected individuals  and agencies, information could be used for selfish interests while limiting the additional pathways to raise awareness to human rights issues like describing a vivid story and sparking grassroots advocacy initiatives, while grounding these issues within a local context rather than relying so heavily on international initiatives with a Western lens.

On the other hand, lack of a centralized human rights data base affects human rights monitoring and reporting as each party interprets and reports what they have, but not what is actually on ground.

Whereas the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is mandated to document cases of human rights abuses throughout the country, its work and operation are curtailed by limited funding and staffing. As a result, instead of carrying out independent documentation, UHRC relies on police records and cases only brought forward and registered in their offices.

Furthermore, even civil society actors  seem to operate in isolation, each with its own data. This makes national outlook on human rights reporting incomplete.

How open data strengthens human rights reporting  and awareness creation.

To curb human rights violations, open data advocacy and data analysis should be applied in reporting human rights violations. Good data analysis by human rights groups will help bolster litigation cases, and technology will provide free and open access to the data that governments and the public possess.

Access to data can make it to be used more widely and effectively in cases. With increased access, data could be open to analysis by a larger range of actors, including a variety of local human rights groups, which could help mitigate bias. With few people accessing human rights violation data, it is much easier to paint a subjective picture within a court of law.

Therefore, using data to tell a story, analysis, visualization and reporting can play a huge role in stimulating grassroots engagement campaigns or legislative policy advocacy. The end result can present an opportunity to utilize these strategies to monitor human rights.

Conclusion

Having a central database for human rights violation in Uganda is important to ease access to human rights violation cases by human rights groups, Journalists, state agencies and general public as a whole. While all actors i.e Civil Society, Journalists and state agencies may be inputting cases in the data portal, with centralized information, it’s anticipated that government will ease access to justice for the human rights victims.

With the database, parties will able to hold others accountable because performance benchmarks will be accessed by all i.e rate of disposing off cases, access to justice and evidence based data driven compelling stories will be produced by media without bias.