Can citizen participation technology improve municipal service provision in hard-to-reach, informal swaths of city?
After more than 25 years of one-party rule, Mozambique held its first multi-party elections in 1994, and in an effort to bring power to the people, the winning party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (FREMLIMO), decentralized the country, transferring power to very local levels.1 Unfortunately, many local governments lacked the financial resources or institutional stability to maintain public service provision.2 In the city of Maputo, solid waste disposal became disorganized and lead to sanitation problems that threatened public health.3
Approximately 70% of the population of Maputo lives in informal housing which complicates sanitation provision.4 In 2002, a federal program called Assistance to Solid Waste Management in the greater Maputo area (AGRESU) began planning for a more organized solid waste management system that focused on managing sub-contractors and meeting the financial demands of a waste system, since from 1994 the government had been haphazardly contracting small-scale companies and then failed to pay due to insufficient funds.2 These enterprises used hand-carts to collect trash from informal areas, and then deliver the trash to municipal containers, where the city then manages the waste.3The project resulted in the 2008 Solid Waste Master Plan, which implemented an economic structure and management plan for the government to contract and manage the micro-companies, and continue collection in the center city.2 Yet because of the diverse actors at play, the city still needed an accountability mechanism to ensure the appropriate disposal of waste.5
MOPA, launched in 2016, is a platform for participatory monitoring of municipal services created by UX Information Technologies, a Mozambican social impact tech firm. Its pilot program manages waste disposal but its agile design can support any public service. UX plans to expand into recycling.5
courtesy of MOPA
Residents of the Maputo Municipality can report the location and type of sanitation problems– such as reporting a full or burning container–over the phone through unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) technology which allows the GPS location sharing without a smartphone,7 Android app, or on MOPA’s website. The city government receives alerts tagged with the location and type of issue. The government then informs the neighborhood’s designated micro-company of the issue, and when the problem is resolved, an SMS is sent to the reporter
courtesy of MOPA
The platform receives an average of 100 visitors a day in the city.<sup>5</sup> Due to the program’s success and replicability, it is already being redesigned for use in Tanzania to help monitor their urban water utility.<sup>8</sup> This is a model for other cities trying to coordinate and improve municipal services for vast, multi-nodal, informal areas where service provision demand has been met by dispersed actors. This model aids and leverages the systems, infrastructure, and local knowledge already in place. It’s also a model for creating data-sharing systems that don’t require technology that target populations are unlikely to have.