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Public participation needed for meaningful growth

By People Daily
Monday, December 21st, 2020
Economic growth. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

Samuel Kimeu 

Service delivery to members of the public is at the heart of any agency.  The quality and type of service delivered goes a long way to shaping citizens’ perceptions and trust towards the provider, both within and without the government. 

Citizens expect services that are responsive to their needs and their views.  It is important that services be adaptable and responsive to their needs.

Even though some agencies have put in effort to improve provision of their services, for instance by the use of digital media platforms and centralised call centres, meeting publics’ expectations remains underachieved. 

Part of the challenges encountered is that despite the agencies’ best intentions many of them continue designing projects and programmes based on their own views, perceptions, methods and desires instead of the needs of the targeted beneficiaries. Many assume they know what citizens need. 

Evidence  indicates that many of the traditional methods of designing and implementing programmes by agencies have failed to make effective and lasting impressions on beneficiaries and fall short of sustainability.  

In order to transform service and programme delivery, agencies should first understand the priorities and needs of their intended beneficiaries.

This is important as only beneficiaries better know what will make a difference for them.

This is important in helping design interventions that are informed by the needs of the community and are culturally and socially sensitive.

Realising citizens’ priorities can only be achieved by allowing them to tell what matters to them.

Secondly, it’s important to identify natural break points that cause discontent.

Lastly, the feedback can be turned into useful insights to uncover the hidden points and nuances to lay bare the areas that need intervention. 

Africa’s Voices Foundation (AVF) specialises in creating platforms for engagement of citizens and decision-makers using an innovative combination of radio broadcast, SMS and mixed method analysis to make sense of these conversations.

In order to determine how interactive radio can support citizen engagement, in 2019 we conducted a pilot study: Public participation and social accountability in Kenyan counties: using interactive radio in Siaya.

The study sought solutions to improve public participation in the county. In the study, citizens demanded to be involved in the county’s development programmes by being consulted and listened to.

They said, public participation is and will remain the only way they will find value for their taxes because of enhanced accountability and transparency. 

In consultation with the County government, Africa’s Voices designed a four week season of interactive radio shows with a twofold objective; to gather citizen feedback on achievements under the County’s 2018-19 Annual Development Plan, and to increase opportunities for responsive and effective decision-making by authorities based on citizen feedback.

A total of 2,296 participants sent in a total of 5,490 messages in the radio discussions hosted over four weeks.

78.5 per cent of respondents said the radio shows improved their understanding of County decision-making processes, while 77.2 per cent said they thought the interactive radio public dialogue made them feel more included in decision-making.

This painted a picture of the need for an enhanced public participation process. 

The processes of aligning services and programmes with distinct needs of individual communities and citizens, might seem unattainable, but it comes along with a great sense of citizen satisfaction, trust and reduced cost for the agencies since they will spend where the support is genuinely needed.

This aligns perfectly with the requirements of the Constitution of Kenya.  — The writer is Executive Director for Africa’s Voices Foundation  [email protected]