Lungisa: reporting public service issues in Cape Town

Many of the public facilities in Cape Town’s less affluent areas are in need of repair and citizens often found it hard to get through to the council. In 2012, the South African NGO Cell-Life developed a solution, Lungisa – meaning ‘fix it’ in isiXhosa. It enables residents of the townships and other areas to report issues like blocked drains, overflowing bins and broken streetlights via their mobile phones. The message is then routed to the council department responsible.

The challenge

Eighteen years after the first democratic elections in South Africa, progress has been made in expanding access to good public services for all, including low-income groups. However, in many of the townships, people either go without basic services or receive services of a poor quality.

The existing channels for reporting issues to public service providers can be expensive and time-consuming, and often require one or more follow-up contacts before an outstanding issue is resolved.

The initiative

Lungisa ( isiXhosa for ‘fix it’) is a community monitoring and reporting tool that was created and launched in 2012 by the South African not-for-profit, Cell-Life, which specialises in health and social justice. Lungisa “empowers citizens by enabling them to submit service delivery complaints easily and inexpensively.” [1]

The main objectives of Lungisa are to:

  • Enable ordinary people in Cape Town, particularly those on low incomes, to publicly identify areas with poor delivery of services.
  • Provide support and feedback to community members who report issues.
  • Channel the reports received to those who can remedy the situation.

Report generation can be made online via computers or, more usually, through mobile technologies – which are affordable and widely used in South Africa – via text, Facebook or Twitter, for example. A web-based database is used to store the service delivery problems. The relevant agencies from Cape Town’s city council review and update the status of the reported issues.

The public impact

In the first year of service, there was a high volume of reports, many of which were resolved:

  • Lungisa recorded a 70 percent resolution rate in solving the problems which had not been addressed by public authorities before.
  • “So far [as of September 2013], 3 000 reports have been processed. Most of these are submitted by residents in Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Nyanga and Mfuleni, and are related to issues like blocked drains, refuse removal and dysfunctional streetlights.” [2]

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Public Confidence Good

“The initial public response to Lungisa was good, with users being pleasantly surprised at the efficiency with which their complaints are resolved. This is the direct result of the [team’s strong relationship with the City, and the City’s commitment to resolving service delivery problems.” [5]

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

There were a number of stakeholders involved in the development, principally NGOs:

  • Indigo, a South African NGO which focuses on empowering disadvantaged groups, provided GBP12,000 in funding towards technical development of the site, salary costs, SMS costs, training, awareness raising and PR.
  • The Lungisa pilot project in the Khayelitsha township received funding from Freedom House, a US-based environmental NGO.
  • Cell-Life played a vital role in developing the reporting channels and adapting an open-source software for the ticket management system.

The Cape Town city council is the ultimate recipient of the Lungisa reports, and therefore is an important stakeholder. “The City of Cape Town has been very responsive towards reports submitted via the portal.” [3]

Regular training sessions with grassroots community organisations have also helped to spread the word to the other main stakeholders, the Lungisa users in the Cape Town area.

Political Commitment Fair

The City of Cape Town allocated “adequate manpower devoted to verifying and following up on complaints” and this enabled the administration to fix a reasonable proportion of reported public service issues. [4]

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The objectives which were designed at the outset were clear and have been maintained:

  • Accessibility – “it [is] simple and easy for everyone especially the marginalized and poor, to monitor and send reports”. [6]
  • Transparency – “everyone can be a potential monitor of how services are being delivered”. [7]
  • Accountability – “Lungisa aims to close the feedback loop by following up on reports and reporting back to the community”. [8]
  • Confidentiality – “Lungisa’s reporting channels will be secure and confidential, and we will make sure that people know it is, so that they can feel safe and comfortable using it”. [9]

Evidence Fair

Policymakers drew evidence from the impact of pilot phase, which “has shown that by providing mobile-first, inexpensive ways for citizens to report on issues, service delivery can be improved”. [10]

Feasibility Good

The involvement of the three NGO – Cell-Life, Indigo and Freedom House – secured sufficient funding for the Lungisa project.

The pilot phase demonstrated the technical feasibility (see Strength of Evidence above). The software was based on existing open source data.

There are sufficient human resources in the Cape Town city council allocated to fixing the problems reported via Lungisa (see Political commitment above).

Action

Management Fair

There is limited information about the development process in developing Lungisa. However, Cell-Life has been involved in a large number of health and social justice projects that use mobile technology. It has applied this experience in Lungisa:

  • Cell-Life has developed customised reporting channels and adapted an open-source ticket management system for the back-end and integrated it with the various cell phone-based reporting channels.
  • A dedicated project team deals with the reports that have been submitted and maintain a mini call centre, established in the Cell-Life offices.
  • A ticket management system is used to track the step-by-step progress of reported issues.

Cape Town’s city council manages the follow-up on reported issues by instructing the relevant council department to fix the problem.

Measurement Good

There are strong examples to show the strong metric systems for the project:

  • The ticket management system is used to track the end result.
  • Each problem is given a reference number to enable the tracking of reported issues, monitor progress, and see responses from the council department responsible for the particular public service. “While most submissions relate to water and sanitation, 15 percent relate to electricity, 20 percent focus on roads and transport, and a small number relate to public facilities.” [11]
  • The measurement of the quality of responses is given to the Lungisa users via a clear feedback mechanism.

Alignment Good

The City of Cape Town cooperated well with Cell-Life in following up issues through the council’s reporting and response systems.

Indigo and Freedom House contributed to the funding of the project, in collaboration with Cell-Life.

The mobile technology enables Cape Town citizens to interact with Lungisa, as a relatively large number of citizens have access to mobile phones.