Lessons from an African civic tech budget platform
Collaboration is key for the success of civic tech in Africa.
Interview with Esohe Osinoiki, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager BudgIT & Tracka Nigeria
What do your organisations, BudgIT and Tracka do in Nigeria?
BudgIT is a civic organization that applies technology to intersect citizen engagement with institutional improvement, to facilitate societal change. We do this by way of simplifying and making the budget accessible to everyone irrespective of their literacy level. Capital projects (captured in budget documents) give a sense of belonging to the citizens given the fact that those projects if executed, bring about development in the country. However, the constant recurrence of project abandonment and/or fake execution gave birth to a tool known as Tracka.
Launched in 2014 by BudgIT, Tracka is a social platform of/for active citizens who are interested in monitoring public projects in their communities thus enhancing budget performance across the country. This platform, layered on open data and integrated with existing social media tools, galvanises people of common interests together to share photos, videos, documents and also post comments on existing projects.
How does your organisation/platforms work?
Using grassroots monitors and also partners for projects located across the federation, this approach explores the use of technology to track budgets and also report to the responsible authorities from the executive and legislature. We use social media to amplify discussions on projects. Thanks to the internet, mobile web, apps, and SMS, citizens now have a focal point of tracking public projects and report on-the-ground performance to institutions. This allows them to reach out to the exact institution that is responsible for the project. Citizens are able to provide feedback on the platform while our tracking officers (in all states where Tracka currently operates), verify those comments and reach out to public institutions for necessary action.
The project tracking officers are tasked with the role of tracking all the projects listed within their state of operation; they also organize town hall meetings with the community members in order to enlighten them about projects contained within their constituencies. These Tracka officers visit different constituencies in order to attend the town hall meetings, listen to the agitation of the community members and assist them in communicating with their constituency representative(s) at all levels in order to get these projects completed.
What advice would you give to other African civic tech startups/projects? Or, put another way, what do you wish you had known when you started?
Collaboration is key. The work is bigger than all of us and we can only achieve our goals when we all work together. Civil Society Organisations in Africa need to do more as a team.
What lessons have you learned as a civic tech platform/org that you wish other African civic tech enthusiasts to know?
BudgIT is maximizing digital tools to promote government transparency and accountability. Our efforts to drive inclusive governance in Nigeria draws on the same instrument to raise an army of active citizens who ride on data to engage the government. With the results so far, I think it’s evident what other organizations can learn from us, and that is the maximization of digital technology.
What has been the impact of your work in Nigeria
Since the creation of Tracka, our reach has extended to over 8,335 communities in 25 states plus the Federal Capital Territory. We have a total of 28 project tracking officers who have tracked a total of 15,064 projects; and through our advocacy efforts, over 6,000 of these projects have been successfully completed and implemented. We have reached over 4.5m Nigerians through our offline and online approaches.
What difference would you say you are making in the broader scheme of things in Nigeria?
With the information we help to provide to citizens, their voices are now more amplified in engaging the government on issues affecting the populace. Furthermore, due to our advocacy efforts with the government, more state governments are now more inclined to releasing their state budgets. We also have government agencies working in collaboration with us and other CSOs on project tracking and monitoring. In all, we can say that our work has helped improve citizen engagement and involvement in government matters.
Has the work done by Tracka and/or BudgIT had any impact on how the government/municipalities work?
Yes, it has. For instance, before now it was almost impossible to lay hold of various state budgets, but this year at least 31 states released online versions of their budget to the public. This is definitely huge progress not just for us but for the entire nation and we are seeing improved value for transparency from some government quarters.
What have been your most cherished achievements so far and why? What constitutes success in your org?
Success for us is measured by clear metrics that show improved interaction between the government and the citizens that bring about quality service delivery and development in institutions. Perhaps our most cherished achievement is the uptake of some initiatives that should ordinarily be the responsibility of the government that we started doing and have now seen the government coming on board to take over.
Some government agencies are now leading some transparency and accountability inspired activities that hitherto we were at the forefront of leading. For the first time, the budget office of the federation went a step further this year to simplify the national budget into a citizens’ version. This for us is a huge success, as our aim is not to take over the government’s responsibilities but to fill a gap and incite required development actions. In the same vein, our project tracking activities took a new turn positively as the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) extended a hand of partnership to BudgIT and other CSOs to jointly continue the project tracking exercise using our Tracka platform. Since the ICPC joined this process, the successes recorded under our Tracka project has been on an upward trajectory.
Can an org like BudgIT really change the way citizens and the government interact?
I believe we are contributing actively to the cause of improving the level of citizen engagement but while we try to do our bit, just like we mentioned earlier, no single organization or institution can effect change alone. For any meaningful change to happen, organizations must come together to unify efforts and impact.
Budget is expanding its work with a recent launch in Ghana BudgIT.
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