iHub Research has been conducting a study assessing government responsiveness on ICTs launched to study citizen’s perceptions of the tools and their effectiveness.. Some of the ICT tools the research looked into are: e-citizen, iTax, MyGov, Huduma centres, launched by the Government.
As we cross over the 40 Million marker of internet users in Kenya, it is fundamental to explore ways in which the internet can connect those previously not connected to government services. The current government having launched their digital strategy also referred to as e-government seeks to have 8 out of 10 users being ‘very satisfied’ with the quality of government’s electronic services.
What have we learned in ICTs and citizen engagement
- Civil servants responsible for managing ICT tools launched by the government should be extensively trained on the use of these tools so that they can adequately provide support to citizens accessing these digital services.
- The government should ensure that they hire civil servants with the necessary technology educational and experience to develop and provide maintenance of these platforms.
- Effective 24/7 customer support should be available on all the digital platforms made available by the Government.
- Digital platforms launched by the Government should be scalable to ensure they can handle large number of users at any given time without creating system errors.
- Citizens will support the system as long as their voices are heard
The aim of the training was to equip chiefs in Nairobi and its environs with the basic internet skills as they carry out their day to day interactions with citizens. The day's agenda was 1) keynote onUsing ICTs for Citizen Engagement, 2) design thinking session on ICTs for citizen engagement to find out how the participants use the platforms deployed by the government and 3) a session on effective social media usage and data management using the social media toolkit.
Chief Kariuki was the keynote who informed the gave a moving speech on how ICTs (in his caseTwitter) is used as a tool for community policing, neighbourhood watch and crime reporting activities. This led to more chiefs to signing up on twitter for SMS to allow them also benefit from the use of ICTs. Chief Kariuki invitedChief Safi from Umoja location in Nairobi to share her experience on telegram for citizen engagement to interact with her citizens in her location. It was great to note that the difference between the two methods was the population, one is largely urban and densely populated with access to internet enabled devices, while the other is largely rural with limited access to Internet infrastructure.
The design thinking sessions surfaces the following key insights:
- While the chiefs know about these platforms – with the exception of MyGov – they largely have poor experience in using them.
- There is a fear & lack of confidence when it come to using the platforms, “I’m not confident using them. They are so complicated.”
- Participants reported that they feel disempowered to use the platforms and lack of understanding of the technical terms and requirements to use the platform effectively, e.g. iTax. In addition, the online tech platforms offer little to no assistance to first time users thus crippling the on boarding process and contributing to an overall negative perception of such platforms.“I can’t use it myself. I do not know what next. If I make a mistake I will be stuck.” “These platforms are scary. Twitter was a monster to me until today.”
- There is a fear that their privacy would be violated on online channels particularly social media. They also lack trust in some of the information posted online, having experienced instances of receiving news only to find later it was untrue. This fear subsequently affects adoption of social media for engagement with citizens who might also be skeptical of information shared with them on social media.“I don’t want my life in public. My details might not be safe.”
- They reported that in their line of work, the language of instruction is Swahili or mother tongue, which is often not adopted in the ICTs developed.“To communicate on some of these channels you have to translate the message thrice. It becomes tiring for a number of messages.”
- Lack of supporting infrastructure, because of little or intermittent electricity and lack of ICT tools to access platforms.
It was important to unearth some solutions and recommendations that would work for Kenyan citizens to increase uptake of ICTs. These included:
- Grassroot community mobilization for education via mobile training initiatives, instead of the traditional advertising mechanisms that alienates some citizens who cannot access those channels. Grassroot community also brings a sense of ownership, inclusion and confidence in using the tools.
- Demystification of ICT and social media tools is necessary through in person training of community leaders and citizens alike. Trained knowledgeable leaders are equipped to assist their citizens and inspire them to make strides towards taking up ICT in communicating with their leaders.
- Community resource centers equipped with internet and tech tools. Centers where community members can get training on ICT to engage with their leaders and vice versa
- Engaging more on other telecommunication groups, which can be chosen depending on the number of users and security considerations, for instance whatsapp groups, Telegram and Twitter via SMS model.