Date Published: Sept. 25, 2017, 9:15 p.m.
he Electronic Citizen Report Cards (eCRC) provide municipal governments with real-time feedback on urban services via a mobile application. For cash-strapped local councils, the eCRC provides a quick, portable, convenient, and cost-effective way to find out whether urban services are reaching the public.
The Federation of Sri Lankan Local Government Authorities is the National Local Governments Association of Sri Lanka representing the interest of all 335 local councils including Municipalities, Urban Councils and PradeshiyaSabhas. Established in 2007, as a non-patisan body, it works with the Central and Provincial Governments’ institutions and state authorities, national and international organizations and networks to strengthen the local governments in Sri Lanka.
Its activities include: lobbying and advocacy, strengthening the capacities of both elected councilors and officers of the local authorities, sharing good practices and peer learning, facilitating exchanges, and representing local governments in the international platforms.
Sri Lanka was ranked at 95 out of 176 countries in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2016 with a poor score of 36 when compared to 2015 when the country was ranked at 83 among 168 countries, the main anti-corruption laws are the Penal Code and Bribery Act, which criminalize corruption and attempted corruption in the form of extortion, or active and passive bribery. No clear distinction between bribery and facilitation payments is made, but gifts given with a purpose of corruption are prohibited under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Citizen Report Cards (CRC) were used as a tool to monitor the citizen satisfaction on service delivery. Moreover, the process was costly, time consuming, and sometimes biased on personal reflections. The councils perceived CRC more as negative reflection of the council services and not as a tool used to improve services. As many of these processes were done by a specific intermediator, the relation between citizens and local governments was prone to be directed eroding the purpose of effectively engaging the community in the city’s affairs.
To overcome the drawbacks and shortcomings of the CRC, the Federation promoted the development and adoption of Electronic Citizen Report Cards (eCRC), as a more institutionalized initiative promoted by the Councils. This factor will guarantee the legitimacy of the tool and also the continuity and sustainability of the implementations and the use of the results.
The eCRC uses mobile tablets and a custom developed apps for survey and reporting over some of the local government services such as: water and sanitation, waste management, street lighting, Maternity and childcare, cemeteries and burial grounds, parks, libraries, pre-schools, etc. The tool provides accurate, immediate and georeferenced results and with the offering the possibility to track changes over time. It comes from a simple but powerful approach to understand citizens’ priorities and needs; provides credible, neutral and representative information about municipal services; helps local government leaders to respond effectively to issues, builds trust between citizens and government and helps to track performance of individual services.
In the early days Citizen Report Cards (CRC) were used to measure the status of the services provide by the councils. These initiatives were supported by external organizers. The system used consisted on a printed set of questionnaires filled by the citizens with a support of a survey field enumerator. The process was costly, time consuming and perceived as a threat or challenge by the council as opposed to a way to improve service delivery. There was no ownership from the side of the council, as the process was initiated by citizens with the support of an external organization. There was no sustainability mechanism after the project period and no commitment or will from the council side.
To overcome the challenges, a new initiative called Electronic Citizen Report Cards (eCRC) was put into place and reversed the system where the councils stepped into the role of the citizen working along with communities to improve the service delivery.
The eCRC is a groundbreaking data tool for local councils to collect and analyze citizen feedback. The eCRC begins with a field survey of individuals with direct experience of specific agencies and services, conducted using an Android-based mobile application, then uses simple back-end solutions to generate real-time analysis of the information, eliminating the costly and time-consuming work of data entry, data analysis, and generating findings and reports. The eCRC’s core methodology signiﬁcantly streamlines the survey process, saving local authorities valuable resources without sacriﬁcing data quality.
For cash-strapped local councils, the eCRC provides a quick, portable, convenient, and cost-effective way to find out how urban services are reaching the public, including the poor and vulnerable population. The tool can be used as an internal management and oversight tool, when information provided can help to identify performance gaps in service delivery and provide inputs for formulating and designing new interventions and solutions. The eCRC can ensure that investments in provisioning public services are in alignment with the actual priorities and needs of the communities. Finally, the availability of real-time feedback data enables service providers to respond to emerging issues in a timely manner. Further, public disclosure of key performance indicators can foster an environment of improved transparency and accountability.
For citizens, the tool has proven to be highly effective in galvanizing political and administrative responses. In addition, in areas prone to ethnic conflict, the eCRC is a valuable tool to identify patterns of discrimination and exclusion while highlighting spatial inequalities in service delivery.
Up to August 2017, survey enumerators have visited over 13,000 households in Central, Eastern, Northern, Uva, and Southern Provinces and in less than two years since the project’s inception, the eCRC is deployed in 14 of Sri Lanka’s largest local governments.
The main innovation of the project is the use of digital devices to assess the quality of services driven by the local government itself. This is the first time that subnational government in Sri Lanka assesses its own services with a view to improve and to respond to the demands of the communities. The eCRC has helped to assess the improvements of the councils over the years.
The project did not required and legislative or regulatory modification as it is a field assessment tool and its implementation helps to improve the on-going services. The results will help to identify if there are any legislative or regulatory modification needed to further improve the services to the citizens.
The initiative has involved multiple parties during planning and implementation stages. Project design was done by The Asia Foundation with the support Provincial Councils and Municipalities. Two government institutes provided the insight prior to the development and implementation of the survey at field levels.Data collection from the communities were conducted by Local Government staff (Technical and Development Officers)and the data was submitted to the Commissioner of Local Government of the province for review wherethe commissioner can compare citizen expectations and Local Government’s level of service to understand the gaps and shortfalls and provide necessary support to improve.
This tool has provided a powerful opportunity for citizens to provide feedback on a variety of parameters on the quality of services being delivered to them. Taking into account the specific context of the country (postconflict situation leading mistrust), The tool was presented as a platform to foster a new social compact between the citizens and the local administration.
The depiction of data collection points on a real-time Google map highly enhances the credibility of the exercise. However, the larger impact of the ECRC rests in the fact that there is a strong demand from other local governments to replicate this exercise in their locations. There is also a demand to use the ICT-led model in other sectors, such as business regulation and local infrastructure.
For local governments that missed the computer and e-governance-led public sector reform window, the availability of cheap and ubiquitous mobile technologies offers a chance to leap-frog into cutting edge state of the art options. The tools have shown that, the potential of mobile devices in not only in bridging the digital divide but also in opening up new opportunities for the people who were earlier isolated and unable to benefit from the ICT revolution.
The project was implemented with the financial support of an external organization. The challenges remain at the replication phase of the project, as all councils will not have the required financial and human resources to support such initiatives. In addition, the council officers may perceive such project as a challenge, as it will reflect the council standing and improvement or decline over a period of time.
The main challenge at the implementation stage was the lack of computer literacy by the high level officials in the public sector. They were unable to read information on-line hence were supported by a computer literate assistant. This proved to be a challenge for regular monitoring of the outputs of field data. Furthermore the situation also created low interest from the senior officers in the Departments. The challenge was overcome by continuous effort and support from the field staff of The Asia Foundation.