When you’re an intern actually doing something useful

Dominique at right (that’s me!) conducting an interview for our research.

For the past two months I’ve been ‘the SlashRoots intern’. While I haven’t gotten to make any coffee or do filing; I have been working on a project to design better ways for ordinary citizens to influence how their member of parliament spends constituency development funds (CDF).

This is a project about participation, and that focus extends to our team as well, as I have a core role in the project even as an intern. I feel some affinity for the constituents because they in their situation and me in mine, we wouldn’t normally expect to have much of a voice. My role has included doing background research, creating interview scripts, conducting interviews and meeting with stakeholders. I’ve even learned some techniques I knew nothing about before coming here — like heuristic analysis.

Widening citizen participation with mobile

The project is centreed on the constituency of Southeast St Andrew where Member of Parliament Julian Robinson wants to widen participation among constituents, including using a mobile app. Our role is to assess the entire process, not just the tech, and make recommendations as to how it can become more user-friendly and ultimately, widen participation. We hope that the findings could also be applied and tweaked for all 63 constituencies in Jamaica.

I am entering the fourth year of my PhD programme in ‘Community Research and Action’, so naturally I’ve found it exciting to apply some of the things that I have been learning about participation, power and civic engagement to a real life situation. This project in particular is exciting because it doesn’t feel like there are many avenues that we Jamaicans can participate in something as big as say influencing how money is spent in their community.

Giving people a say in government spending

I think that Jamaicans in general are really entrepreneurial and excited to bring ideas and to make change in their communities, but people need avenues to do that. I believe this initiative can help establish more avenues for this type of participation.

Making the CDF more participatory would be a positive step for Jamaica. I didn’t know about participatory budgeting, the goals of the CDF, or that I could have a voice in deciding how my community was developed.

Could be replicated throughout Jamaica

I think the vision of this project, if it takes off, could be the start of getting more people feeling engaged in their communities. While there are definitely people who have already been engaged, it is well reported that there are many Jamaicans who feel disengaged from the political process. With this project, we have to keep in mind the questions of access: what is the right tech to use to ensure that a wider group of community members can take part, rather than those who are already empowered to participate.

By the time my internship is complete I want to have gained a better grasp of what the government is thinking about widening participation.

It’s also exciting to be back in the design world, which I mostly left behind earlier in my education. Now, doing mostly research, it’s cool to see how my work can connect to actually designing and building solutions. That’s the reason I actually wanted to work for SlashRoots — to see that process happen in real life.

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