The Challenges of Using Citizen Reporting to Improve Public Services: A Field Experiment and Framework
75 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2018 Last revised: 6 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 4, 2019
Governments around the world are investing in technologies that allow massive, frequent, and localized contact with citizens, though there is little evidence about how these technologies impact the delivery of public services. We report a large-scale randomized controlled trial that involved organizing 50 citizen reporters in each of 100 neighborhoods across Kampala, Uganda to provide weekly reports to the municipal government on the delivery of solid waste services via an SMS-messaging platform, resulting in 23,856 reports during the nine-month study period. Citizen reporting did not reduce informal waste accumulation, which would indicate better access to formal services. Using our observations as participants in the development and deployment of the platform and interviews with staff at the government agency receiving the citizen reports, we show how the adoption of technologies to collect data from citizens requires new capacities and data consistent enough to reduce uncertainty about the allocation of effort. We provide a formal framework for analyzing the challenge of utilizing citizen-sourced data in the management of public services and highlight that citizen reporting has the greatest potential when directed toward problems where public managers face high uncertainty.
Keywords: public services; ICTs; citizen reporting; waste management
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