Better Policy Making Through Citizen Feedback

East Africa

Over the years SEMA has developed user-friendly feedback collection tools that allow all citizens to give anonymous, quick and reliable feedback about their experience at police stations. Over 80.000 citizens in Uganda rated services through our custom-made feedback devices, automated voice-, WhatsApp- and USSD feedback lines, and a network of trained student surveyors.

The feedback collected is delivered in easy-to-understand formats to the police stations, which SEMA’s previous research has shown creates a watchdog effect as police officers make positive changes to their behaviour because they are aware that they are being evaluated. We also learned that, by presenting the feedback directly to those officers that deliver the services, these local offices get to understand how they are rated and feel empowered to make improvements to their own station and community service.

However, as individual feedback reports across various police stations were delivered and began to mount, SEMA noticed emerging patterns that showed the potential for higher-level improvements that affected top leadership. For some changes, budgets and approval from ‘above’ was needed to improve the service at a station, or even range of stations. To continue having an impact with citizen feedback data, SEMA began to see it as crucial involve police headquarters and higher ranked officials in the process of improving service delivery.

As a way of experimenting, SEMA created two formats of feedback trend reports (spanning the evaluations of citizens for a range of stations) and began to deliver these to both the leadership of the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and various high-level officers to monitor how such data can support their decision making. At the same time, we tested two new approaches to present citizen feedback data and influence policy improvements by:

1. appointing ‘dialogue brokers’ to directly engage top officials about the recommendations from the trend reports

2. organizing ‘dialogue events’ as occasions to discuss the findings and priorities for policy service improvements.

This experiment ran between May and November 2020 in Uganda and was supported by the Knowledge Management Fund. This paper shares the results of- and critical reflections on this experiment and invites justice sector development professionals and researchers to learn from our learning points and challenges.

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