Rebuilding in Real-time: Scaling up citizen monitoring projects

Rebuilding in Real-time: Scaling up citizen monitoring projects

This article is part of the Forum Network series on Digitalisation and Trust.

Banner: Citizens answering questions on their satisfaction with house reconstruction in Nepal, data which is captured in the Sindhupalcheck mobile app (Image: Integrity Action)

How do we check that international development projects are working? How can we be sure that well-meaning grants are doing everything they were intended to? In order to ensure that projects and services truly meet the needs of local communities, can we give these citizens the power to check the quality of projects and services in a meaningful way, report new issues and also seek solutions?

Image: MySociety
Jasmina Haynes, CEO of Integrity Action explains citizen monitoring in Nepal at TICTeC 2019

The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference at the OECD in Paris earlier this year, also known as TICTeC, was the ideal opportunity to present our way of using technology to do just that. Introducing Integrity Action’s SindhupalCheck: an intervention that engaged citizens to monitor a house reconstruction programme in Sindhupalchowk, the area most severely affected by the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

Image: Integrity Action
Homeowner with her house which is under reconstruction in Sindhupalchowk district, Nepal.

With funding from the humanitarian foundation Swiss Solidarity, NGOs Helvetas and Solidar supported the reconstruction of homes and essential infrastructure. Our mobile app SindhupalCheck allowed volunteer monitors from affected communities to report progress on the house reconstruction process, and the information was uploaded in real-time to a public website which was also accessible to the NGOs. Through the app, volunteer monitors highlighted problems that were hindering the reconstruction effort – problems that otherwise would have gone unaddressed. As an integral part of the approach the app is populated by the volunteer monitors, who alone can upload a problem and – importantly – mark it as fixed.

But Integrity Action’s approach doesn’t leave it at that. This is not a complaints mechanism, or simply a way to identify problems. Our model supports citizens to be part of seeking the solution, and ensures that monitors work with key local stakeholders to identify constructive ways of solving them. In this way, the community can be sure that the services or projects provided – in this case new homes – are delivered to citizens as promised. And in order to ensure solutions are really found, this is done without finger-pointing.

Integrity Action’s app has been used to monitor USD 1 billion worth of projects and services. At the end of the day, what matters is: “Are you delivering on the promises made to citizens?” It doesn’t matter if you are a business, contractor, government authority or NGO – there are people depending on your work, and our intention is for this tool to be used to give power back to the citizens so they can demand integrity in local projects and services.

This approach worked in Nepal, and has been working in other contexts when used by Integrity Action’s partner organisations who give the power back to communities. For example, today in Nepal children in Integrity Clubs in schools use our latest app DevelopmentCheck to monitor their schools – are teachers coming on time? Are facilities up to standard? Will the new school building be accessible to students with disabilities?

Image: Integrity Action
Integrity Club members in Bal Sudhaar school, Helambu district (Sindhupalchowk) explaining how they enter monitoring data including teacher attendance in a chart. Their school has now started monitoring all teachers, not just those teaching Integrity Club members.
Image: Integrity Action
Quality of materials for school reconstruction is checked by student monitors in Namuna School, Kathmandu as part of the Integrity Club’s activities. This project aims to improve inclusion of students with disabilities in schools including by active involvement in the Integrity Clubs.

We know that our approach works for projects like these, and that tools such as TripAdvisor increasingly make hotels and restaurants accountable to paying customers. As the use of civic technology gains importance in a globalised world, how can this approach to accountability – which we call open citizen feedback – be used to ensure other types of projects work?

For Integrity Action this is a question we are actively looking into. Significant development funds go into large infrastructure projects like regional hospitals, biogas plants or even hydroelectric dams. Can citizens monitor these in a meaningful way, without being experts in civil engineering? Our recent experience in Armenia, funded by the Asian Development Bank, where citizens monitored the construction of earthquake-resistant secondary schools, suggests they can contribute here – but they did benefit from training and support from locally based engineers.

There’s also the question of monitoring outcomes instead of outputs. It’s fine for a citizen to highlight how their local school lacks desks, textbooks or functioning toilets. But is there a way for them to monitor whether the students at this school are actually learning anything? Taking this further, could citizens monitor the achievement of the SDGs? This brings to mind projects like Everyone Counts and Restless Development’s Accountability Advocates.

We’re keen to hear your thoughts on the role citizens can play in making sure development commitments are met – and how technology can help them do this. You can read more and get in touch on our website.

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