A new online platform called Harare Municipality Services (HMS) that promotes better service delivery through transparency, crowd-sourced data, and reporting efficiency has been developed by concerned Harare residents.
So what is it? What does it do? HMS is a website which anyone can access. It offers residents a simple way to log a report on service delivery and water supply issues, each of which is categorised and allocated a colour. Critical to the functionality is that each report is geo-tagged, and visible on a map of Harare. The result is a real-time, accurate, resident-driven and highly visual representation of service issues, and, hopefully, council’s responses to them.
Richard Owen, a groundwater professional who was worried about the rapid depletion of groundwater, which he attributes to the failure of council to pipe water to residents, took the lead in developing the back end of the site with help from his son. He was initially spurred to create a user-generated map that reflected the state of the city’s water supply. In a recent demonstration of the tool to Harare News, he drew attention to the “Borehole Dried Up”, “Bulk Water Seller”, “Water Leak” and “Verge Watering” categories of report. “If enough users come online and report, we can draw correlations between things – it closes the gap between supposition and fact,” said Owen. “If for instance, users post numerous reports of water leaks along a section of pipe, we know that rather than repairing, that pipe needs replacing,” he explained.
Former Chair of Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA) Mike Davies has had a key role to play in the final vision of HMS in that it encompasses numerous other service delivery categories to paint a complete picture of where we stand in areas such as roads, waste, and sewerage.
“In an ideal world, council would use this system to inform their work. It should help them understand and prioritise service delivery issues in a fair manner,” said Davies, highlighting the fact that a lot of service delivery such as road repairs are biased towards residents who shout the loudest, or have some strings to pull in council. “If we can get a critical mass to log reports and get council to engage, the applications for the subsequent database are fantastic” added Davies.
Whilst the tool is undeniably a good one with huge potential, the developers are not expecting it to result in a clean and orderly city overnight, but rather that it forms part of the eventual solution to the City’s woes. “We don’t expect this to result in everything being fixed,” said Davies, “but it will help towards more informed decision making – data-driven solutions rather than anecdotal stuff.”
Member of Parliament for Harare West, Jessie Majome, has taken some time to explore the tool and is very positive about its potential. “It’s brilliant and could help bridge the yawning gap between council and residents – a gap which I find occupies much of my time as an MP when I should be working on parliamentary issues,” she said. “As MP, I want an alerts function to help keep me abreast of the constituency’s issues,” added Majome.
On whether or not council will adopt this, Majome believes that they could be persuaded since modern tools are making their way into City Hall, as indicated by the Mayor taking to social media recently. “One obstacle is council’s infuriating bureaucracy,” warned Majome, “I have waited four years for confirmation of a site on which I want to build a community hall to donate to council! Getting this moved into the mainstream will require lobbying to and with critical stakeholders. Adding Shona access would also help,” Majome advised.
HMS uses the Ushahidi platform which was developed in Kenya after the 2007 election violence. Ushahidi means ‘witness’ in Swahili, and the open source platform has been used to great effect in countless situations such as after the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, a severe snow storm in Washington DC, a wifi-signal map in India, and a map of blood donation points after the brutal mall attacks in Nairobi last year.”Building Harare Municipality Services was pretty straightforward,” says Owen, “but it will only be useful if residents participate.” With internet penetration in Zimbabwe approaching 50% as driven by the affordability of smart phones, this is not hard to imagine.
Log your report at: https://hararemunicipalityservices.crowdmap.com/