Blog | June 8, 2015 | Nicoline van der Torre

Last month, I travelled to Accra to take part in one of our new, governance-focussed Community of Practice meetings, and to talk with Ghanaian government officials about whether they think tech can play a role in shaping local governance programmes in Ghana.

As always when I meet Making All Voices Count partners, a good dose of common sense – and, yes, stating the obvious – underpinned the discussions on what role tech could play to enhance interaction between local government actors and citizens.

These lessons are not new, but they are however worth stating again (and again) to ensure that the relatively new tech-for-governance field keeps its eye on some of the old development lessons.

Local government office Ghana

Local government office Ghana

Government is made up of people

Media has moved from seeing duty bearers as politicians to individuals tasked with providing public services

– Isaac Djagbletey, Radio Ada

This might not be news, but it does touch on the continuing tension between how development programmes think about government as an entity, and how we think about government actors as individuals. The quote drew my attention as it echoed discussions at a recent workshop hosted at IDS, examining citizen-led accountability from the perspective of government actors.

One size does not fit all

Jemima Apedo, District Coordinating Director in the Volta region, and Moses Kawkaw, District Social Welfare Officer reinforced the point:

Q: How do you currently interact with citizens in your district?

A: Jemima Apedo: At the moment, we only interact with citizens through face-to-face meetings, and if people have questions or complaints, they can come to our office to fill in a form.

A: Moses Kawkaw: When I started in this position, I personally visited every village in the region to ask for people’s opinions and to make people aware about what we do. People can always come to the office as well.

Q: Could tech play a (bigger) role to increase interaction with citizens?

A: Jemima Apedo: Yes, definitely. With the new technological developments, we could and should be doing more to include citizens, the law doesn´t stop us. Everybody has access to a mobile phone, so that would be a good possibility to gather input.

A: Moses Kawkaw: I don’t think technology is a solution to interact with citizens. People won’t understand it, they are used to having personal contact with duty bearers, often in the local language.

How, where and whether tech-supported governance initiatives are appropriate depends not only on citizen access but also, significantly, on whether government actors feel it can help them do their jobs. AidData’s excellent research on what influences policy-makers in developing countries touches on this at a national level, but it’s worth shouting about at a local level too: government actors respond to things that make their lives and work easier – just like I do.

Local government Ghana

Jemima Apedo, District Coordinating Director

If I don’t have internet connection, I’m not going to respond to your e-mail

Finally, what struck me most about visiting local government offices was the lack of technology, sometimes even lack of power, and almost always, lack of funding at the local level.

No money = no power to pay the electricity bill, or the internet.

No internet = no response to any web-based governance projects.

Again, stating the obvious, but if we are committed to ensuring that programmes to support governance reforms are effective at the local level, perhaps stating the obvious is worth doing to ensure that these local government actors who are able and willing to create change, are actually being reached.