FINALIST: SEMA - Accountability for Public Services

Ask questions for the SEMA project here!

SEMA
SEMA, Uganda

ABOUT: SEMA drives accountability for public services by offering a real-time citizen feedback mechanism for the public sector. In collaboration with the Ugandan Ministry of Justice (JLOS) and the Kampala City Authority, SEMA has rolled out a set of tools to empower citizens to report inefficient services, corruption incidences, and poor service delivery according to the standards of good practice at (a.o.) police stations and health facilities in Kampala. During COVID-19, SEMA monitored the use of these services by citizens and the gaps that appeared due to malfunctioning COVID policies—bringing this back to the national Taskforce.

Learn more about this project on the World Justice Challenge website.

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Hi everyone! We’re happy to welcome anyone’s comments or questions here about SEMA, and we’re excited to read about all the fascinating projects everyone is working on.

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Hello Sema Project,

Amazing work! Our project in Honduras is working on incorporating more citizens’ satisfaction surveys into our evaluations of government institutions. Did you face any challenges in getting Ugandans to participate - if so, how did you overcome them?

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Hi there! Great to hear from you. Im curious to hear more about your project too. With SEMA, we tested formats that made it as easy as possible for citizens to give feedback, so they’d be compelled to participate. A mobile application did not work for us, because it took too much effort for citizens, and many also don’t have smartphones or internet. So our modes of giving feedback were to (a) press/use our device (very simple and quick - and officers would also ask citizens directly to rate them) and (b) in-person surveys so we’d approach citizens directly to talk to us for 5 minutes. This approach works well, and yielded better results than mobile surveys.

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Thank you very much for your reply - we are also trying to pursue in-person surveys, though during COVID-19 there haven’t been as many people in government offices.

We’ve also set up a corruption hotline in the past for people who want to report problems at all levels of government (from the police to health purchasing).

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Interesting. Yes, we also experienced problems with in-person surveys during COVID… How is your hotline working out? Do you get a good number of calls each month?

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It tends to vary - for a while we were averaging about 240 calls a year. When we are raising awareness around a specific corruption case (for example, political influence in teacher hiring), we see more publicity around the hotline. Some calls have resulted in us presenting a case to the courts, which of course also takes staff capacity.

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Ah, that’s very impressive! We also had a hotline, but rather for general feedback about government performance, and we also struggled to go over a few hundred calls a year. It must be only the tip of the iceberg of corruption cases !

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Love this. Interested way of being attentive and critical but also constructive and shape this together with governments where possible. I also really like the mixture of quantitative data and qualitative methods. Hoping you will scale to many more countries soon.

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Hello! It was great to hear more about your project during the showcase today. I’d love to know more about your work with local authorities and how your feedback devices informed changes in policies or services. Thanks!

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Thanks so much Jayak for the question and interest in SEMA! Your question is SPOT ON - the relationship with local authorities is absolutely central to making any impact whatsoever.

What we find (shamefully) unique about SEMA’s approach is that we invest heavily in our relationship with the officials that run local offices. Most work to improve public services happens at a ministry or “HQ” level, and the people who actually deliver the services that touch people’s lives have no idea how they’re doing.

SEMA delivers a customized, individualized report to local offices every single month about specifically the services rendered at THAT office. These reports include specific ideas on how to improve going forward, as well as comparison to previous months as well as other similar offices. Many police officers, for example, tell us it’s the first time anyone’s ever shown them data about whether they’re really doing well or not.

This work with local offices has brought us the legitimacy to share this information, as well, at the headquarter level. Now, instead of approaching (for example) police headquarters FIRST, we approach them with years of data showing service-level improvements at stations. For example: 80% of stations improve their waiting times, and 70% improve service quality (as perceived by citizens). Police HQ loves this – and is working with us to bring the system nationwide in 2021 as well as to gather police chiefs from around the country to share the learnings, so that these improvements can be made at stations where SEMA’s not even measuring yet.

Would be happy to answer any more questions about SEMA’s work in Uganda and Kenya!

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I LOVE THIS! It’s really amazing that you’ve actually been able to partner with the government. That’s ground-breaking for this type of work – most governments really do not want to know the data on how they are doing. What is that relationship like? Do you consider the government a beneficiary, a partner, or a customer?

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Thanks Andy for the question. Really good question … since you ask it, you must have an idea of how tough these types of partnerships are to build and maintain!

Our relationship with the government is… ALL OF THE ABOVE (partner, beneficiary, and customer). Right now we are a paid, procured service provider for the Kampala Capital City Authority as well as the Ministry of Justice (via the Justice, Law, and Order Sector). We’re paid to provide citizen feedback systems at police, courts, immigration, tax, national ID, and health centres.

But this didn’t happen overnight! It took three years of relationship building to make it happen. During those three years we found our own funding (through donors, awards, etc.) to build and demonstrate the SEMA system in practice at those offices, to prove that it works. When we proved the impact numbers I said above (80% of offices improve waiting times, 70% improve service quality as perceived by users of the service), the government partners took notice and started paying for it. With the institutional buy-in on board, we’re going nationwide in Uganda this year through our JLOS partnership and expect to gather data from well over 200,000 Ugandans. We’re also really excited and thrilled for the type of impact that can come from institutional partnerships like that in terms of impacting policy on a nationwide level.

Thanks for the question!

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Hi Connor,

Thanks for your fast reply! I think your project is a great example of the importance of partnerships with local officials as that level is most likely where policies directly affect the lives of everyday citizens. Best of luck!