Where’s the ‘Civic’ in CivicTech?

Blog by Pius Enywaru: “The ideology of community participation and development is a crucial topic for any nation or community seeking to attain sustainable development. Here in Uganda, oftentimes when the opportunity for public participation either in local planning or in holding local politicians to account — the ‘don’t care’ attitude reigns….

What works?

Some of these tools include Ask Your Government Uganda, a platform built to help members of the public get the information they want about from 106 public agencies in Uganda. U-Report developed by UNICEF provides an SMS-based social monitoring tool designed to address issues affecting the youth of Uganda. Mentioned in a previous blog post, Parliament Watchbrings the proceedings of the Par­lia­ment of Uganda to the citizens. The or­ga­ni­za­tion lever­ages tech­nol­ogy to share live up­dates on so­cial me­dia and pro­vides in-depth analy­sis to cre­ate a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing on the busi­ness of Par­lia­ment. Other tools used include citizen scorecards, public media campaigns and public petitions. Just recently, we have had a few calls to action to get people to sign petitions, with somewhat lackluster results.

What doesn’t work?

Although the usage of these tools have dramatically grown, there is still a lack of awareness and consequently, community participation. In order to understand the interventions which the Government of Uganda believes are necessary for sustainable urban development, it is important to examine the realities pertaining to urban areas and their planning processes. There are many challenges in deploying community participation tools based on ICT such as limited funding and support for such initiatives, low literacy levels, low technical literacy, a large digital divide, low rates of seeking input from communities in developing these tools, lack of adequate government involvement and resistance/distrust of change by both government and citizens. Furthermore, in many of these initiatives, a large marketing or sensitization push is needed to let citizens know that these services exist for their benefit.

There are great minds who have brilliant ideas to try and bring literally everyone on board though civic engagement. When you have a look at their ideas, you will agree that indeed they might make a reputable service and bring about remarkable change in different communities. However, the biggest question has always been, “How do these ideas get executed and adopted by these communities that they target”? These ideas suffer a major setback of lack of inclusivity to enhance community participation. This still remains a puzzle for most folks that have these ideas….(More)”.