The Challenges of Using Citizen Reporting to Improve Public Services: A Field Experiment on Solid Waste Services in Uganda
Jul 1, 2020
Mark T Buntaine, Patrick Hunnicutt, Polycarp Komakech
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Mark T Buntaine, Patrick Hunnicutt, Polycarp Komakech, The Challenges of Using Citizen Reporting to Improve Public Services: A Field Experiment on Solid Waste Services in Uganda, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Volume 31, Issue 1, January 2021, Pages 108–127, https://doi.org/10.1093/jopart/muaa026
Note: A version of this article was previously published as an AidData Working Paper.
Governments around the world are investing in technologies that allow citizens to participate in the coproduction of public services by providing monitoring and feedback, but there is little evidence about how these initiatives affect the quality of public services. We implemented a large-scale field experiment that involved organizing 50 citizen reporters in each of 100 neighborhoods across Kampala, Uganda, to provide weekly reports to the municipal government about the delivery of solid waste services via an SMS-messaging platform, resulting in 23,856 reports during the 9-month study period. Citizen reporting did not reduce informal waste accumulation as targeted, which would indicate improvements to formal services. Using our observations as participants in the development and deployment of the reporting platform and interviews with staff at the government agency receiving the citizen reports, we show how the public generated inconsistent information that did not fit existing decision-making processes. We generalize lessons from this field experiment by explaining how coproduction involving information sharing through information and communication technologies is likely to affect public services based on the alignment of citizen-produced data with the information problems managers face; the search costs of detecting public services failures; the quality of citizen-produced data; and the operating costs of citizen-reporting platforms.
Funding: This research was supported by AidData at the College of William & Mary and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Global Development Lab through cooperative agreement AID-OAA-A-12-00096 and by the Hellman Family Foundation through a fellowship to Mark Buntaine.