On Friday 21st of October 2011 the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) Water Hackathon occurred. For 48 hours at University College London random groups of humanitarian coders and subject matter experts worked together with the aim of producing technology demonstrators and designs to problems related to water and sanitation.
One of the problem statements revolved around connecting local government with the citizens they represent. In particular the focus was on how local councils could increase the quality of their public service infrastructure, become more responsive to reported problems, and be able to act in a more targeted manner. At the same time citizens needed a clear channel for engaging with local councils on public service infrastructure and needed to be confident they were being listened to. This was the inception of Taarifa: A platform to support geographically based citizen interaction around public services for lesser developed countries. The initial intended customer was at the ministry level, potentially around sanitation or waste issues.
Aiming for rapid development of the platform, the Ushahidi platform (a platform/content management system designed for the crowdsourced reporting of issues) was used as a starting point to build upon. The principal enhancement and extension to Ushahidi was adding problem reporting functionality on the client side (e.g., picture & description of a burst pipe submitted by a mobile phone) and a triaging system on the back end (e.g., once received a report goes through various stages before being marked as “resolved”). The Taarifa group was fortunate to be successful and be voted winners of the London hackathon. The foundation of the project was thus laid.
Soon after this initial success the Africa Urban and Water (AFTUW) sector of the World Bank approached the Taarifa project about a pilot with the Ugandan Ministry of Local Government. The ministry wished to monitor local government projects based around improving community cohesion, public services and enterprise. A pilot in four districts was decided upon as part of the “Improving Systems for the Urban Poor” of AFTUW supporting two ministry led programs Community Driven Development (CDD) and Local Government Management and Service Delivery (LGMSD). Taarifa was used to replace the paper based system at CDD and LGMSD and the necessary training was provided. This pilot was deemed successful and consequently the platform was rolled out to the 111 districts of Uganda and then to Ghana.
The deployments were overall successful, issues with the codebase and missing features were identified (e.g., offline functionality). At around the same time the Taarifa governance structure was formalized through the setup of the Taarifa.org association. The project was represented at various hackathons and continues to be worked on and improved, these hackathons have looked at improving situations for the homeless, public infrastructure tracking - transport, sanitation and energy, among other themes - through directed monitoring and reports by trusted sources to fully crowdsourced environments. The nature of the organisation ensures an equitable environment for the exchange and development of ideas, consequently Taarifa welcomes contributions from different skill sets and areas of expertise to shape and solve local and global issues.
Taarifa is developed and run in a fully transparent manner and all interested parties are invited to contribute and participate in strategic and operational discussions. With upcoming deployments in Tanzania and elsewhere it is an exciting time to help shape a promising platform and to help improve public services around the globe.
Free version available
Waste water is poorly managed, Stop open defecation!, Other, Facilities not for girls!, Empower citizens, Children are at risk...
public service delivery, citizen feedback, community empowerment, governance, toilets, urban and rural monitoring, waste water.
public service providers, local community groups, technology hubs, governments,