This article is written for the July 2018 Edition of the SDG Bulletin South Africa. The SDG Bulletin South Africa is a collaborative product of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the United Nations in South Africa and the South African SDG Hub.
Inspired by the opportunities that exist in South Africa to create solutions for government and, more importantly, for the benefit of the citizens of South Africa, Moepi Setona, 30 year-old founder and CEO of Saya-Setona, an IT solutions company specialising in security and governance, infrastructure and mobility; decided to create a set of mobile services that could be the link between South African citizens and their municipal governments. “For me, it was essential that those services didn’t just operate on smartphones but also delivered for citizens with feature phones” he says.
“Let’s Talk” is a range of mobile technology services made available to citizens through a smartphone app. These services provide communication channels to mayors and Member of Executive Council’s (MEC) offices across provinces and brings community challenges to the provincial level for debate and resolution. The mobile system, will create transparency and accountability for governments and empower citizens to actively participate in decision-making processes. Let’s Talk provides the opportunity to improve the ability of executive councillors through enhanced processes and information management. It enhances collaboration and can accommodate a high volume of complex hierarchical and corporate governance structures.
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs(COGTA) Gauteng has realised the potential for the App and have therefore signed up to this initiative.
The technology behind Let’s Talk
The App functions on all operating systems, Short Message Service(SMS) based services and embraces Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) functionality.
The SMS functionality of Let’s Talk enables citizens to communicate directly with the
municipal government. It uses a unique telephone number, the SMS function of which is managed by local government representatives, who will respond directly to issues. This level of communication between citizens and local governments does not currently exist. The USSD capability provides citizens with the opportunity to discover information about how they can apply for local services in their area. Mobile telephone short codes for each municipality are created to enable citizens to garner information more efficiently than ever before.
All the system components are connected to the Internet, where they send/receive data from the server. The mobile application should be connected via Wi-Fi or cellular network, which enables it to send/receive the data from the server. If not connected, data is saved on the mobile device’s local database and will then sync with the server when a good connection is established.
The App offers the functionality to pull weekly and monthly reports, which municipalities can use for their executive committee meetings and community public forums based on the real-time data content generated from the system. “Part of what we are trying to achieve is to eliminate the call centre experience, where citizens end up wasting time and money, holding on to make a complaint or raise an issue. With this App, it is quick, easy, cheap, while at the same time offering a greater level of integrity and transparency” says Moepi whilst reflecting on the work that lies ahead, Moepi notes that there is a need to reach scale and all the different handsets, so it is essential that Let’s Talk caters for all the devices that citizens use.
Batho Pele Principles
Let’s Talk was created to fulfil the “batho pele” principle that was introduced by Nelson Mandela in his first administration, following the end of apartheid. Batho Pele (which translates to “People First”) is a political initiative that stands for the better delivery of goods and services to the public. It aligns itself very well with the ‘leaving no one behind’ principle of the SDGs. It aims to enhance the quality and accessibility of government services by improving efficiency and accountability to the recipients through eight service delivery principles:
- Consultation: Citizens should be consulted about the level and quality of the public services they receive and, wherever possible, should be given a choice about the services that are offered.
- Service standards: Citizens should be told what level and quality of public service they will receive so that they are aware of what to expect.
- Access: All citizens should have equal access to the services to which they are entitled.
- Courtesy: Citizens should be treated with courtesy and consideration.
- Information: Citizens should be given full accurate information about the public services they are entitled to receive.
- Openness and transparency: Citizens should be told how national and provincial departments are run, how much they cost and who is in charge.
- Redress: If the promised standard of service is not delivered, citizens should be offered an apology, a full explanation and a speedy and effective remedy; and when complaints are made, citizens should receive a sympathetic, positive response.
- Value for money: Public services should be provided economically and efficiently in order to give citizens the best possible value for money.
To get the App and follow the conversation leading up to the official launch in your municipality, like the official Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.comG2CApp/ on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Gov2CitizensApp and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/citizen_participation/
Visit http://letstalk.net.za/ for more information on the Let’s Talk app.