Supporting Good Governance and Civil Participation with Tech in Ghana

Accra

There is huge potential for economic growth and social change in Ghana.  Freedom of speech and association are encouraged, Freedom of Information laws have been passed and democratic processes are fitting into place.  The government has committed to the Open Government Partnership and the infrastructure around Accra is relatively good.  There is still a lot of work to be done.  Internet connectivity is poor and power cuts are frequent.  There is still a large gap between rich and poor and services and opportunities significantly decline as one leaves the capital.  Whilst democratic institutions are being established, many citizens still complain that corruption impacts on their daily lives and that they are unable to actively engage in civil society.

During my recent visit, I was able to meet with NITA (National Information Technology Agency), a branch of the Ministry of Communications which is responsible for government ICT.  They are running Ghana’s Open Data Initiative GODI and aim to gradually release data into an open data portal, which will be up and running within two years.  The budget has been published and they hope to release 10-20 open data sets by October.  They aim to engage the public, private and third sectors and the World Wide Web Foundation is working closely with them to engage civil society and the local tech community.  They will be hosting a Hackathon around health, education and communication data sets, which MySociety is hoping to attend.

There are several techies and small start-ups also working towards improving transparency, accountability and service delivery.  Harold Ntorinkansah Jnr and his team at Technology Grace are developing a mobile and web platform which is focusing on increasing transparency in the construction industry and managing contracts and payments.  They have built a platform which enables Stakeholders (banks, contractors, consultants and agencies) to receive email and mobile notifications when they receive payments and to keep online records of all contracts, commitments etc.  As well as making it easier for all involved, having digital records and associated analytics will also increase transparency in the sector.

They are also developing an electronic wallet, effectively mobile banking that is network independent and an application which will help to tackle Ghana’s electricity challenges.  This includes a customer management system which will enable customers to receive SMS notifications about both planned and unplanned interruptions in their area.  They’d like to use Ushahidi to crowdsource faults and issues.

Michael Ocansey has developed Kuzima, meaning ‘to speak out’ in Swahili.  It is a for-profit start-up which was inspired by his constant frustration with poor service delivery/customer service and the lack of accountability of private companies resulting in them being reluctant to change the status quo.  Often those at the top of companies who are able to effect change are unaware of the major challenges on the ground in the operation of their companies.  They’ve developed a web and mobile platform (currently Android, Apple and BB with aim to expand to SMS) which enables people to praise or shame companies and service providers under categories which include social and commercial sectors (e.g. schools, hospitals, hotels, banks, network operators etc).  Companies are also ranked as top praised or shamed and are given an opportunity to comment.  They hope that this will encourage society to make a noise and force companies to change their ways and become more accountable.

Nehemiah Attigah is running 2 start-ups: Hatua Solutions which builds Apps (since Jan 2011) and Afrikom which provides services after a solution has been built (since Jan 2012).  He only focuses on social change projects including a health registration system which provides digital records accessible by anyone, anywhere, a network independent mobile payment platform, a platform digitising police warnings, Road Watch (citizen reporting of traffic violations), and a Public Consultation platform.

Of particular interest to Indigo was their ‘Fix Our City’ platform which will enable citizens to report issues by SMS, IVR (interactive voice response), call and web e.g. potholes, teacher absenteeism using Ushahidi with extended functionality.  Moderators will push this information out to authorities and verify that they are addressed.  If they’re not, they will inform the media.  They also plan to call and request info/accountability from Ministers using a popular radio show and aim to utilise their platform to try and mobilise people to protest and petition via their website.

Titi Attigah of Hut Space runs a 2 year old start-up.  They are developing a platform called Tender HQ for smart phones and web (they then hope to eventually add SMS functionality) which increases transparency of the procurement process by showing all government tenders, all contracts run and analysing the data to highlight inconsistencies e.g. one contractor securing contracts under 1 government and not another.  Eventually he hopes to link this to projects and see if contractors are delivering on their promises.  Citizens will be able to comment on contracts, share data and report collusion, whilst suppliers can access up to date information (which should increase competition and reduce government spending).  He is also currently developing an App to enable citizens to track MPs, a bit like TheyWorkForYou and he is exploring potential collaborations with MySociety.

The 233 Law App was brought to our attention by Google, as it was presented at one of their events for Android (they hope to expand to iOS, BB and Nokia soon).  The Application enables people to access the Ghanaian constitution and other laws.  Once downloaded, no internet is needed to access it.  It also includes relevant articles e.g. regarding new laws being introduced or amended laws, a history of Ghana and general information about its democratic institutions and an RSS feed with news features from various government departments etc.  They are considering adding a discussion forum.  It is free to the end user and their initial target audience is law students and lawyers, though they hope to stimulate interest from the general public in the long-term.

As well as tech start-ups, a few of Ghana’s larger governance focused organisations are starting to embed tech into their work.  These include the Anti-Corruption Coalition, a coalition which brings together 8 institutions (2 gov, 4 NGOs including Transparency International and 2 private sector players including the media) to fight corruption alongside CHRAGG (the government’s anti-corruption agency).  They run a wide range of programmes and are currently piloting use of a platform called ‘Health Legends: Know your Rights’ where citizens are able to SMS corruption issues in the health sector.  Building on their experience from Health Legends, they would like to build a platform to enable citizens (and NGOs) to report corruption via SMS and email and we look forward to seeing how this progresses.  We often find that some of the best tech solutions come about when techies and civil society practitioners come together.

Last, but not least, PenPlusBytes is a 10 year old local NGO which predominantly trains media in how to use ICT and new technologies.  They are piloting ‘Accountability Counts’ which shows the government mandate and uses crowdsourcing to ascertain the reality on the ground.  Citizens can report via SMS or online and reports are published on their website.  They have around 8000 subscribers and have focused on macro issues such as the ‘No Schools under Trees’ Initiative.

They are also running a project known as ‘Enabling Governance and Transparency in Ghana Using New Media’ which is focusing on health and education in 2 Districts (in North and Central regions).  They look at the District Development Plan (3 years old with annual budget) and track government promises and reality on the ground.  They disseminate simplified budgets and promises to community members by mobile and community radio.  Later they plan to ask for feedback from community members which they will collate and send to District officials to respond via radio, at fiscal meetings, etc.

I hope that the tech community will form the necessary linkages with civil society to ensure that tech solutions are demand driven, relevant and embedded into well-established offline programmes, being run by organisations that deeply understand the needs of their beneficiaries.  More importantly, I hope to see these initiatives empowering citizens to stimulate the change they wish to see in their own lives and communities.