Are You Reporting on Public Services? Here's How You Might…

This article was originally posted on October 3, 2013 at the engine room, on their blog, as “Notes From Last Week’s Skill Share on Citizen Reporting.” It was written by Susannah Vila and is republished with permission.

We’re experimenting with methods to help advocacy initiatives directly share experiences, tactics and lessons without needing to comb the web for projects relevant to their own work or access the international conference circuit. We want to find mechanisms that make such peer-­to-­peer sharing as efficient and impactful as possible.

One of the things we’re testing out is convening and then sharing online conversations about specific tactics and how they work in different contexts. We’re calling these conversations skill shares. We held the first one last week and we wanted to share a bit of of what we learned. For this conversation we focused on tactics for getting citizens to share quality reports about the delivery of public services.

Tactics were shared from What’s your Doctor Like in Serbia, Bribe Market in Romania, Transparent Chennai in India, Open Intelligence in Mexico, and The Punjab Model in Pakistan. We were also joined by a number of other people doing great work in this area, and who posed questions and thoughts for the group, including Erika Hagen (Groundtruth Initiative), Dave Algoso (Reboot), Jecel Censoro (Check My School), Heath Morrison (Aybolit/independent developer), Olena Kifenko(Aybolit/Transparency International Ukraine), Derek Dohler (formerly of Transparency International Georgia) and Kuriakin Zeng (Fix my Street Singapore, not launched yet).

We spent most of our time talking through the basics for each tactic – why it was chosen and what might have been done differently. Some of the most interesting points of conversation followed questions about the design process and how communities were engaged in the lead-up to the various tactic implementations. The role of government was also a recurring theme throughout the discussion, and manifested itself in dramatically different ways. We only had time to scratch the surface of what these different tactics might look like in different contexts, but we are looking forward to keeping the conversation going. We’ll also be thinking carefully about how to refine the conversation structure and logistics ahead of our next skill share, and sharing some reflections on what we learn about convening along the way.

In the meantime take a look at the descriptions below to learn more about the tactics that were shared in this first effort. You can also listen to the recording. Thanks to everyone for participating!

Tactic #1: Using the Snowflake Model to build teams on the ground (What's Your Doctor Like?, Serbia)

Serbia has a publicly-financed health system that promises universal medical coverage for everyone, but is actually marked by sub-standard services (for instance, bribe requests). In December of 2012, Serbia on the Move launched a website, “What’s your Doctor Like?” to monitor and prevent corruption in the delivery of health services.

Ana Babovic and Predrag Stojicic shared their experiences implementing a tactic called the snowflake model. It is method (adopted from the work of Marshall Ganz) for creating an offline organization that’s consists of a series of teams that are related to one another in the shape of a snowflake:

Image from The New Organizing Institute

Image from The New Organizing Institute

To create these teams they did three things:

1. Put out a call on Facebook for anyone “interested in fighting corruption in healthcare” who wanted to participate in a one-day workshop.

2. Held this workshop in 5 cities across Serbia. Its aim was to help people developa personal story about why they care about the issue of corruption. People with the best stories were recruited as asked citizens to visit the site, type in the name of their doctor and answer three questions Did your doctor listen to you? 2. Do you trust your doctor? 3. Would you recommend your doctor to your family and friends? In ten days they received 13,000 evaluations. Soon after, the site was shut down by the government due to reported privacy concerns. The site remains shut down but, as Predrag said, the volunteers remain active. He attributes this to the strong offline organization they built.

3. From 200 participants in the training they selected 50 organizers. They chose the people with strongest personal narratives because they felt they’d be best at recruiting others. Each organizer had a team of 10, making the snowflake shape above. Each team was responsible for mobilizing people in their region to use the site. Each team member had his or her own responsibilities (for instance, marketing, cooperation with institutions, website development).

Tactic #2: Asking for positive feedback and rewarding public officials for good behavior (Bribe Market, Romania)

Bribe Market is an 8-month-old project in Romania that solicits reports on the bribes that people were asked to pay in order to access public services. Users can find out which service provider asks for the cheapest or no bribes and then go there to access those services. Providers are rewarded for good behavior.

Bribe Market isn’t the only accountability platform that is asking citizens to report positive experiences with in the hopes that doing so will solicit greater participation. For instance, I Paid a Bribe includes such a category and Ukraine’s Aybolit is dedicated entirely to positive reports of health services.


Codru Vrabie, who started the project with agrant from TechSoup Global, now runs it on his own on a volunteer basis. Codru talked about the aspects of the Romanian context that made him think this tactic would work: there is a lot of fear of harassment from authorities and people do not trust that a website could be anonymous and therefore are unwilling to share their negative experiences.

Tactic #3 : Conduct door-to-door house calls and involve elected officials from the start (Transparent Chennai, India)

Transparent Chennai engages citizens in the process of creating data about issues in urban services at the local level. According to their theory of change, this data can be used to hold elected representatives accountable for making improvements. Their goal is to enable residents, especially the poor, to have a greater voice in planning and city governance.

Student volunteers taking part in a Transparent Chennai community mapping.

Student volunteers taking part in a Transparent Chennai community mapping.

Satyarupa Shekhar and Priti Narayan talked about how most of their time and energy goes into visiting citizens directly in their homes and getting them to provide information about where public services are most needed in their ward. People report on issues related to garbage, public toilets and water points. Here are the steps they take:

1. Background research on the kinds of problems that are issues in the ward.

2. Visit the ward accompanied by a contact who lives there (this makes it more likely that people will be receptive). Go door to door together with this contact.

3. Share their plans with residents and ask them to help map problems. Set a specific date for this event, in which residents walk through the area together and document the issues they see.

4. In between this house visit and the next planned event, Transparent Chennai makes sure to stay in close contact with the citizen. They also ask local public officials to contact him or her.

5. Transparent Chennai also holds monthly meetings where citizens prioritize all the problems that they mapped. At these meetings they are able to get elected officials to improve services using the data they collected. So, instead of saying ‘clean up your entire ward’ they say ‘focus on these 8 streets, because by doing that you will have the most impact.’ Priti emphasized that these meetings are important ways to incentivize participation.

Tactic #4: Turning a Facebook Profile into a Citizen Reporting Box (OPI, Mexico)

Open Intelligence, OPI for short, is a Mexican social enterprise that works to narrow the gap between governments and citizens. In 2012 the local government of Acapulco contracted them to get young people to interact with the health ministry’s program to provide drug and alcohol addiction services to residents. To do this they created a fictional government volunteer and made a Facebook profile for her. Then they reached out to community members using this Facebook profile.


As Alejandro explained it, the idea came about through feedback from residents that they gathered in an initial round of scoping interviews. Here’s how it went:

1. They found a group of young people who were well-known in the neighborhood and asked them to help OPI interview other young people.

2. They contacted as many people as they could. About 15% agreed to speak with them. After the initial interview, about 60% of those who participated wanted to stay in contact.

3. OPI asked how they would prefer to remain in contact and they said Facebook. It was this information that led them to make the Facebook character. Her name is Adriana “Adrix” Romero.

To make sure that the character was going to resonate with young people in Acapulco they validated it with members of the community. Then the character started to request the Facebook friendship of the people who had participated in OPI”s interviews. She was labeled as a volunteer for the Centro Nueva Vida, a state run addiction prevention center and when she made friend requests she immediately let people know that she was a volunteer for the center and that she was hoping to keep in touch with them after the interview they had conducted. With time, the character started to get friend requests from the friends of those people and young, at-risk youth started to send chats and messages to her with information about problems they were experiencing.

OPI is now in the process of completely transferring management of the account over to the public programs.

Tactic #5: Follow up with citizens who have used public services (The Punjab Model, Pakistan)

The Punjab Model for Proactive Governance is a government-led initiative to engage citizens and improve service delivery. Asim Fayaz presented on this tactic. In a nutshell, the model is as follows: a citizen goes to a government office to avail a service (eg. property registration), the office records his mobile number along with the transaction details which are passed on to a call center and the citizen gets a call inquiring about any issues they experienced.


Initially the calls were personally made by the official, Zubair Bhatti, who came up with the idea. Now they are outsourced to call centers that use a combination of robo calls, SMS, and call center employees who follow a script. Asim shared three tips for anyone who might want to duplicate the Punjab Model:

1. Start with a simple service: transactions that are completed in one day’s time and where only one citizen is involved. For example if you need a license renewed you go to the office, apply, wait, and supposedly get it within one day.

2. It’s better to already have the cell phone numbers of beneficiaries but if you don’t start to collect them from anyone who comes in for a service.

3. Be flexible about the message you use when you contact people – since the message that works best will vary according to audiences. For the Punjab Model there are two main types of messages: open ended versus multiple choice. Open ended questions allow people to write back as much as they feel like it, and multiple choice messages ask them  to answer in terms of defined options (“If something went wrong type 1, if everything went ok press 2, and if you want us to call you press 3”). According to Asim, more people in Punjab wrote back when they used the second, non-open type.

Have you seen any of these tactics work elsewhere? Do you know something about them that we left out? You can let the engine room know in the comments section of this post.

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