12 Jan 2011

Messages are flowing, and water too? An update on MajiMatone

Shortly after last year's election our MajiMatone programme's pilot phase in three districts got underway. Radio programmes and spots have been going out on three radio stations, the SMS system has been up and running, and a huge number of publications have been distributed around Njombe, Mbozi and Morogoro Rural (see image for an example).

It's only just two months since we began this process and it's far too soon to draw any firm conclusions about the public response to the programme. But there are some early signs to report, mostly positive, though some are more challenging.

We've had some difficulties with radio programmes in one of the three pilot districts, with programmes not being broadcast as agreed. But the other two partner stations have been broadcasting even more than we had asked for. It seems these two stations are short of both funds and content, so they negotiated hard for as much cash as they can get, but once the contract is signed, they're so pleased to have extra content that they broadcast it more often than agreed.

In terms of content, the programmes are not yet as interactive as we would like, nor have they been doing much that draws on information sent by citizens through the SMS system. In both cases we're working on improvements, and more SMS messages are now coming in.

The publications have been very well received, with comments coming in regularly by post and email. This includes the following from the Mbozi District Water Engineer:

''Nimeyapokea machapisho kwa hali ya furaha na yanaridhisha. Machapisho yamesaidia kutoa Mwanga wa namna ya kutekeleza sera za maji katika ushirikishwaji."
(I have received the publications very happily and they are very satisfactory. The publications have helped put light on how to implement water policy in a participatory manner.)

The SMS system is functional, and messages are flowing. We've received around 400 since we started broadcasting on radio, in just over two months.

What is disappointing (though not unexpected) is that the majority of messages are not fitting well into our automated processing system. District names are often mis-spelt or missing entirely, and we're getting almost as many messages from outside our pilot districts as we are from within those areas. Those messages will still be forwarded on to the relevant District Water Engineers, but not so quickly, and we won't be following up on them so intensively as in the pilot districts.

But what matters on MajiMatone is not really whether people are sending messages, reading our publications or listening to the radio broadcasts. All those things are important but only so far as they contribute to the making local government more responsive and improving the delivery of public services. It doesn't really matter whether SMSs are flowing unless water is also flowing as a result.

And here we can report perhaps the most positive sign so far. The district water department in Morogoro reports that they have already solved some of the problems brought to their attention through the SMS system. If that's true, it's excellent news, just what the programme is aiming to achieve. We don't have much information on this and we can't verify the claim just yet, but we will be following up to get more details. And we will post something here on this blog when we find out more.