WhatsApp for better public service delivery

Emily Herrick

26 Apr 2017, 4 p.m.
Main Plenary (Sala Verde)

Technology has been heralded as a means to connect people to their government, improve public participation, and hold governments to account.

For resource-constrained contexts, existing technologies such as social media and WhatsApp can serve as direct lines between governments and the people they serve and equitably surface the needs of citizens; not just those with “inside access" — reinforcing an inclusive and actionable dialogue between government and its residents.

But governments seeking to harness these existing communication trends also must grapple with the additional constraints that come with adapting to these existing — thus rather inflexible platforms.

For example, in Elgeyo Marakwet, Kenya, WhatsApp has enabled the organic and spontaneous development of a citizen feedback and monitoring network — at zero cost to the county government.

But because of the informality of this network, WhatsApp messages sent to government staff were sometimes lost or left unanswered. This increased citizens’ distrust of government and lead some to believe that information was being purposefully withheld.

Was WhatsApp the wrong tool — or, was it a matter of developing the right processes and protocols to coordinate around WhatsApp? Recognising the usefulness and appeal of WhatsApp, the county collaborated with Reboot to rethink how citizens, government staff, and civil society groups organized around the platform to build better ways of integrating it into current ways of working.

Using a design-driven approach the two teams worked together to create new organisational processes to constructively collect, filter, direct, and respond to the feedback that was already flowing in.

Using this example, Reboot proposes an introduction to our methods of shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration and adaptive development intended to create a conversation that challenges perspectives around existing technologies and discuss approaches to help recognise and build upon what is currently working in a context, rather than start from scratch.