Tech & Public Satisfaction:

Feedback Machines Challenge Ugandan Officials to 'Do Better'

Written by: Hellen Kabahukya

At Kampala City Hall Clinic, one of the public health centers in the heart of Uganda’s capital, stands a slot-like machine, designed with five emoji buttons that reflect personal feelings and mood.

The artificial intelligence-operated device is a data collection tool, and an initiative of a Kampala-based  civic tech organization seeking to improve public service delivery through using technology.

It collects, synthesizes and reports on citizen feedback on public services received from government agencies such as police stations, courts, hospitals among others. 

At this particular health facility, people are required to press a button according to how they felt, or  rate the institution after receiving the services.

According to the facility in-charge Rose Evelyn Acan, the machine which has replaced the traditional suggestion box is the only way they get genuine feedback from the public and helps to know areas of improvement. 

“Waiting time was a challenge for us as a hospital, through the reports we discovered this issue and have since worked on this complaint,” Acan explains, adding that several other issues highlighted by the public are underway. 

Sema, the organization behind this idea, says it is seeking to transform the way Ugandans provide feedback on their experiences at public institutions because the governments lack the data to make their services more user-friendly.

“We analyze citizen feedback and provide insightful, actionable and office-specific data reports to public partners to facilitate improvement,” says its Director of Operations Joanitah Nsasiirwe.

A public service survey done by Afrobarometer, in 2022 showed that Ugandans view social services as the most important problem the government should address. 

About 75% of Ugandans say they have had  to pay a bribe to obtain essential services in the police, health care and while seeking  a government document. However, these feelings are never expressed between the consumer and service providers.  

The organization thus introduced the technology-backed devices where citizens are able to share their feedback with anonymity. The machines are then placed at government offices that are willing to open up to feedback from the community it serves voluntarily.

On top of that, users are given options to use QR Codes, and USSD codes or whatsapp numbers to share their feedback anonymously. 

When a person taps on any of the buttons, the feedback is received on the back end of SEMA which then converts it into data.

“We get this data and take it to the different stations, hospitals, and many other government institutions that we are in partnership with. We then explain the data because it can be complex and break it down for the different officers to understand,”  explains Lydia Batte, the organization’s team lead.  

They also deploy field officers to the institutions where the machines are placed to collect firsthand information and feedback from the users. 

All this information is automatically fed into the backend of the SEMA system that is then used to generate weekly and Monthly reports that depict the data that was collected within the specific time frame.

The data is then converted to infographics and general summary breaks down customer reviews from the most noted worst experiences to the best ones. Areas of improvement are also highlighted and recognition for the best departments are also included on the report.

Since 2018, the organization has managed to deploy over 50 feedback machines to East, Central, North and Western Uganda. In Kampala alone, close to 260,000 people share feedback a month. 

“About 69% of the offices where we have tools have improved their service delivery, and 46% have reduced their waiting times,” Batte says. 

Ntinda police station received the machine two years ago. Most of the complaints were always around waiting times due to officer absenteeism, and  poor reception. 

From the subsequent reports the police post has worked on their areas of weakness and trained their officers to improve on the suggested areas.

“We realized that people often misinterpreted our mandate as the Police and would get disappointed when we failed to live up to their expectations … We have also trained our reception Staff to explain to people why we make some of these decisions.” Asp Moses Wegulo the incharge of Ntinda Police Post explains.

Much as citizen feedback is critical to improving service delivery, this civic tech innovation only depends on circumstances where people are free to express themselves and also, where government offices are willing to respond.

Independent service delivery trackers say Ugandans believe that their welfare is not a priority for public offices. This not only demotivates citizens from giving feedback on the services provided but also from accessing these services in the first place.

Also, citizens have an instilled fear of consequences from raising any concerns on public services.