Interview with Phillip Ayazika, Program Manager at Pollicy
Using civic tech to increase citizen engagement during the pandemic

Pollicy is a civic tech organisation based in Kampala, Uganda. The organisation’s mandate is to improve public service delivery through civic engagement and participation and functions at the intersection of data design and technology. Pollicy works with civil societies, non-governmental organisations, government and the private sector to reshape services for citizens.

How does Pollicy work? How does your organisation improve service delivery?

Our organisation works mainly through advocacy, research, data design and technology. Research is a critical element of the kind of work that we do. We do a range of research on various topics, from service delivery to digital rights. We lobby service delivery by keeping the various stakeholders like government and civil societies equipping them with data knowledge. On how they can use data to make decisions and on how they can incorporate the use of digital tools in the kind of work that they do, and for us, we hope this can ultimately influence a better efficiency of the services that they give to people.

What impact has Pollicy had in Uganda?

A lot, I want to say a lot! We’ve managed to do some successful advocacy, especially when it comes to service delivery. Our project, ‘Create your Kampala’, is a civic project, which empowers low social income economic communities by reminding them of their civic rights and duties. And one notable success that I would say from this project is that we’ve managed to equip or help citizens in these communities understand the power they have in holding their leaders accountable and demanding services in their communities.

And what we saw was that communication between citizens and leaders in these communities have improved as they’ve put in place digital channels, where citizens could give feedback to their community leaders. Ultimately, I would say the kind of impact we’ve reached out to more than 500 government officials or public workers equipping them with data, research, and how to use digital tools, which is a work in progress.

What are the objectives of Create your Kampala initiative?

Create your Kampala launched in 2018. We were using data artistry to equip people in more impoverished regions of their civic rights, civic duties and remind them of their responsibility to participate through the campaign. And that they have a right to hold their leaders accountable and that it is ok to have conversations about service delivery in their communities. They have a right to be included in planning and the process of budgeting for your community. They ultimately hold their leaders accountable for service delivery.

What is the state of digital rights in Uganda?

It’s a work in progress, and there’s too much work that still needs to be done. But I think people are starting to have meaningful conversations. People ask questions on digital rights and have discussions on data protection, privacy, digital security, so all these conversations are coming up. What the pandemic has shown us that a lot more work still needs to be done.

For example, in Uganda, we have an OTT, ‘over-the-top’ services tax; before someone accesses the internet, they need to pay tax. So in a state where it is already hard to access the internet because of the exorbitant prices adding a tax to the internet makes a worse situation. So what we realised during Covid-19 is that the state of digital rights is that there is still much work that needs to be done.

How has ‘Over the top tax’ (OTT) introduced by the Ugandan government in 2018 impacted your organisation and your work? In order for people to access social media platforms, they have to pay $0.05 a day?

The organisation is privileged that it can be able to access the internet, and we have resources to even pay for our workers to access the internet in the office. But this has affected our engagement online because research and reports are published online.

When you look back before OTT, of course, as an organisation, our engagement online has grown, but we would have had a lot more engagement from our projections without OTT than what we are having now. So in terms of working with grass-root communities, people in low internet penetrable areas or people in rural areas are trying to reach out and help them adopt digital tools and understand how these things work. So it has made the work get into touch with grassroots activists and beneficiaries that could benefit from the kind of work we are doing.

What are some of the key challenges has Pollicy faced?

Honestly, we’re not affected that much. Of course, in terms of funding, it limited the number of activities we could do or plan because the kind of work that we do that involves in-person engagement or physical engagements are critical to the type of work that we do. So considering that these were limited, of course, there was a drop in the kind of people we reach out to or engage.

The most significant part was that for us, covid impacted us positively because it made us realise how important the kind of work we are doing, especially in fostering the use of digital tools, with our communities and training them on how they can use the tools. So from the onset of the pandemic, we did a lot more activities online; for example, we are running a series of actions from webinars to WhatApp workshops, where we would hold workshops on WhatsApp on various elements such as how to ensure digital security when remote working. It helped our community or our beneficiaries understand how important the kind of work we’re doing is.

We closely worked with communities of human rights defenders because we acknowledged that if there’s anyone affected by the pandemic, it’s human rights defenders. After all, the global health pandemic became a human rights crisis. We equipped human rights defenders to use digital tools efficiently and provide them to work remotely. The pandemic affected engagement offline, but we did a lot more work in terms of research and training, and I think we’ve even reached a more significant number.

When it comes to funding as an organisation, we could use more funding. The other thing that has been working with governments in Uganda is a public, private act that stipulates how the government is open to working with the private sector. I think there’s still an element lacking in as much as public and private partnerships are concerned. But again, challenges of accessibility to the internet. Another challenge has been open data in Uganda, which is still an element that has not been embraced enough. We need to have more conversations on open data and government transparency; for example, during the pandemic, there were a lot of partnerships that happened between private organisations developing COVID apps, but this information is unavailable online.

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