How do we ensure accountability in local governance in low-income countries? This question, though broad and complex, is one whose answer would have major impact on the lives of individuals in low-income communities.
Women Environmental Programme, WEP, in collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, with support from Open Knowledge International, OKI, under the Africa Open Data Collaboration (AODC) Fund has been trying to proffer answers to this question.
These answers are hoped to come by through the project: “Promoting Transparency and Accountability in Local Government through Open Data Collection.” The project which is to be implemented in three Area Councils of FCT – Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), Gwagwalada and Kuje is aimed at improving service delivery to communities by collecting and making open, information on state of basic infrastructure and services, budgets, expenditure and fiscal processes of the Area Councils to policy makers and the public respectively, thereby igniting appropriate responses.
WEP team will be working with partners from the National Bureau of Statistics and Open Knowledge International for a period of about 6 months between April and October 2016 on a survey that will provide a snapshot of life in these local communities. This project, funded by Open Data for Development Network,under the Africa Open Data Collaboration (AODC) Fund is not only unique in its goal to apply citizen generated data for advocacy and policy change but also incorporates the use of mobile data collection tools and make all the data openly accessible.
Preparatory to this survey, 25 data collectors were recruited through a competitive process and trained in a two-day training of data collectors. The training held on 28th and 29th July 2016, at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Hall of the Rukayyat Plaza in Jabi, Abuja.
What Happened at the training
The goal of the two-day training was to prepare the data collectors for the seven working days data collection exercise in the three Area Councils. WEP in line with its mission to promote effective budget administration, transparency and accountable local governance, has set out to collect data from local communities in Abuja to provide insights to both citizens and policy makers.
The training of data collectors had three main objectives: 1) Enhance their understanding of open data and of the project; 2) enhance their understanding of the survey tool (questionnaire) and; 3) equip and acquaint data collectors with mobile data collection skills.
The first steps of the training included orientation of the data collectors on the importance of data collection to development. The Executive Director of WEP, Priscilla Achakpa educated the data collectors on the relevance of open data to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She highlighted how open data can serve as an effective resource in ensuring effective implementation of the SDGs in three key areas; informed development decisions, track development progress and create jobs.
David Opoku, an OKI data trainer and one of the facilitators then took time to explain the concept of open data and the benefits it provides. He pointed out that data provides a snapshot of socio-economic issues within a community and hence the need for governments, journalists and citizens to leverage on data in identifying and tackling some of the socio-economic issues within the country. He however emphasized that for data to achieve its purpose, it must be open – easily accessible and free for reuse without restrictions.
Having gained an understanding of the project objectives, the data collectors were taken through the survey questionnaire. They were given reasonable time both as individuals and in groups to study the survey questionnaire and ask questions on issues in the questionnaire that were not clear, or proffer suggestions that would make the questionnaire better. This collaborative process allowed the data collectors to not only gain a deeper understanding of the survey questionnaire they will be using, but also flagged areas that had gaps in the survey questionnaire for review.
The last session of the first day involved setting up on data collectors android phones, the mobile data collection tool kit –KoBoToolbox, a free mobile data collection tool built on top of the open-source Open Data Kit. Kobo Toolbox allows data collectors to easily carry out their data collection using basic Android smartphones, and easily upload the data to an online database.
The second day of the training was dominated by training and practice of the use of open data toolkits and inter-personal communication skills.
Mr. Cliff Gai, WEP’s Monitoring & Evaluation Officer took the participants on interpersonal communication skills, which he emphasized that is critical to the quality of responses gathered by the data collectors. He noted that communication is not only about what is actually said, the language used, but how it is said and the non-verbal messages sent through the tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures/ mannerisms and body language. He urged data collectors to arm themselves with good communication skills as that is one tool that will assist them to overcome the obstacles they may come across in the communities.
Having gained some insights on interpersonal communications, and on the use of kobo toolbox, it was time for the data collectors to go out around the venue of the training and put these to practice as they were required to go in pair and interview two persons each using a sample questionnaire that was installed on their phones in the Kobo collect application.
But they won’t be allowed to go yet, until they had role-played the scenarios that were developed by Mr. David of OKI and WEP Team. Possible scenarios that may occur in the field and put the data collectors to challenge were crafted and 2 data collectors each were asked to role-play a scenario.
After this, the data collectors had gained more confidence and better communication skills to approach their potential respondents around the training venue. When they came back after one hour, they had mixed experiences to share with other data collectors and also with OKI, NBS and WEP.
When it was satisfactory that the data collectors have perfected the use of Kobo collect toolkits and have acquired better communication skills, they were assigned to their various communities of work, and assigned with team leaders and supervisors.
For data collectors this makes it significantly easier for them to collect more granular data, eliminate time wasted in data transfer from paper-based forms, and improve data quality. For WEP, the central cloud-based database allows for quick access to survey results, much cleaner data and quicker analysis. This has the overall benefit of speeding up what insights can be generated for citizens and policy makers.