Making All Voices Count Practice Paper
“Technology itself does not resolve critical issues around public matters; but it allows us better access to people, and allows people better access to information. In terms of its contribution to accountability, technology supports civic education which is weak in Nigeria.”
This practice paper reports on practitioner research conducted by BudgIT - a social advocacy organisation in Nigeria, that uses technology to encourage citizen engagement with institutions, leading to service improvements and wider societal change. The research aimed to discover if access to information on public spending leads to empowerment as well as demands for accountability; and whether demands for accountability necessarily lead to the greater responsiveness of public institutions. The paper was published as part of the Research Evidence and Learning component of the Making All Voices Count initiative, which focuses on building an evidence base on what works in technology for voice, transparency and accountability, how it works, and why.
As explained in the report, “Opening up the budgets of economies such as Nigeria’s continues to be a challenge, and most citizens remain in the dark on how the budget is formulated and executed. One obstacle is citizens’ lack of access to information on budgeted projects within their communities; while a budget containing lots of technical jargon means that most Nigerians are unable to understand the budget and are, therefore, limited in their ability to monitor its progress. As a countermeasure, BudgIT provides access to simplified budget data for citizens in urban and under-served communities, with the aims of raising awareness of their right of access to this information, and encouraging their action on monitoring projects and demanding better service delivery.”
To achieve its objectives, BudgIT developed a technology platform, Tracka, which works to ensure the completion of projects by enabling users to track capital projects in rural communities and mobilise citizens to make contact with their elected representatives on the delivery of local projects. Through citizen groups, BudgIT also tests the links between fiscal transparency, citizens’ and institutional engagement with the legislature to demand accountability, and the responsiveness of public offices in service delivery.
In order to understand the impact of their work, BudgIT designed a research project that focused on two groups of citizens: those with access to digital information in urban areas or 'digital citizens'; and those without access to digital tools – usually rural-based with relatively low levels of education – or 'non-digital citizens'. This was based on the belief that every citizen – irrespective of their literacy level – has a right to know how public funds are spent. Participants were surveyed on their incentives to act on the kind of budgetary information provided. The survey was sent electronically to the digital citizens, and non-digital citizens received a printed version. The objective of the research was to determine the effectiveness of BudgIT’s work in: i) raising awareness by providing clear information; ii) testing whether this increases citizens’ demand for greater accountability, especially around the delivery of local projects; and iii) determining whether this, ultimately, leads to improved service delivery.
The paper shares evidence from BudgIT’s research, and documents a reflective conversation - between BudgitIT and Making All Voices Count - on the implications of its findings for future efforts to improve accountability in Nigeria. In brief, based on its experience, research and participants’ replies in the surveys, BudgIT confirmed that:
- simplified budget information does incentivise citizens with varying levels of literacy and across different groups to engage with public finance (particularly budget monitoring);
- this newfound interest led to increased action from citizens in tracking projects costed within the budget and demanding accountability;
- however, BudgIT observed more enthusiasm and engagement amongst non-digital citzens at the grassroots level, than among digital citizens;
- greater transparency and citizen access to data do not automatically lead to greater accountability. Instead, there have to be incentives for officials to prioritise funding for public projects and to respond to queries in a timely manner.
Making All Voices Count webite on September 4 2017.