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The dysfunction of Makana municipality in The Eastern Cape prompted Prof Hannah Thinyane and her team to develop MobiSAM. This is a phone App that allows you to report problems of service delivery directly to the municipality and receive updates and information back from trained municipal staff. This is the theory, but, as Thinyane pointed out in a presentation earlier this week, technology is only one factor when building a technology aimed at social development.

Thinyane believes that it is the government’s responsibility to provide basic services, but residents have an important part to play as well. “We need to encourage integrity and transparency in our government by communicating with them, monitoring them and holding them accountable,” she says.

Grahamstown is part of the Makana Municipality.

Grahamstown is part of the Makana Municipality.

MobiSAM (which stands for Mobile Social Accountability and Monitoring platform) was presented by Thinyane during a Community of Practice programme held by Making All Voices Count (MAVC) at The Constitution Hill precinct in Johannesburg on Wednesday. MAVC funds CJN and specializes in using technology to bring about social change. Thinyane said when you use MobiSAM you can take part in polls and surveys about service delivery that are in your region. All the poll results are worked out and used to influence and monitor service delivery. However, the important factor to ensure that MobiSAM and other social development Apps work is to engage the municipality and make them feel accountable on a human level.

“This is not a technology problem. It is a people problem,” she said. Thinyane is a computer scientist and assured the room of delegates that the App is sound and the usual parameters that one considers around technology have been considered. No matter how good your App may be, you need the buy in of the government that you are trying to engage.

Makana Municipality is infamous for providing terrible access to water and being plagued by corruption. After working with the Makana municipality Thinyane and her team identified the crucial problem as a lack of communication. MobiSAM has made inroads into bridging this gap: they have convinced municipalities to send text messages to registered users warning them of water outages. But, as Thinyane acknowledges, face to face communication is the most important to make sure the technology you’ve developed is seen as legitimate.

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Read more about Making All Voices Count and their programmes here.