We all have something to complain about: A fallen tree blocking part of a road resulting in an unnecessary traffic gridlock, power outage that annoyingly strikes in the middle of your favourite TV episode, uncollected garbage spewing a horror smell into the neighbourhood, the damaged road section that irritates commuters, among other numerous challenges that we grapple with daily.
Often, the challenge is getting the incident reported on time to the right authority.
For authorities, the challenge may range from lack of precise information and location of the reported matter to timely mobilisation and response to fix the issue.
However, new technology has reinforced citizen participation in matters of public interest to the extent that leaders are taken to task to account for their actions or inactions, especially on social media like Twitter and Facebook.
Smartphones have increased citizens’ access to the Internet, spurring technology firms to come up with solutions that enhance public participation and good governance as well as boost quality of life.
Leveraging on capabilities offered by space technologies in the areas of earth observation, navigation and communication, Nairobi-based LocateIT Ltd has developed M-Power, an application aimed at empowering Kenyans to engage constructively with public office holders to bring to their attention day-to-day inconveniences. It also enables authorities to swiftly attend to the reported inconveniences.
“This idea was borne out the realisation that so many things happen in society, many of which the public are willing to report but lack knowledge or exact contacts of where to report. Even some of those who know or have the contacts don’t have time to dedicate to report,” says LocateIT managing director Erick Khamala.
“Perhaps it may require them to make calls to numbers that are perpetually busy hence difficult to go through or worse still long dead... There is also the other lot that are affected but don’t care because they assume someone else will raise the alarm.”
M-Power currently runs on Android phones and will soon be available on iOS, Windows and BlackBerry phones. The app is meant to enable ordinary citizens interact with authorities without necessarily following the usual red tape.
“From the comfort of her mobile phone, Wanjiku can directly report to her governor the impassable section of the road to her local market or the collapsed bridge that has disconnected her from the only local dispensary.
“Within seconds of submission, the report reaches the governor on phone, tablet or computer via Twitter, email and SMS, tagging with it a photo and map showing the precise location of the reported matter,” said Mr Khamala.
Public concerns about crime, accidents, disasters, power and water outages among others are submitted in a similar way, directly to concerned authorities such as police, disaster response agencies, power and water companies.
Map the effects of El Nino
Accadius Sabwa, co-owner and web programmer, says the app currently comprises two key features, MapIT and ReportIT, with additional functions still under development.
“With MapIT we want citizens to be able to map the effects of the El-Niño so that they can alert authorities and emergency response agencies quickly,” says Mr Sabwa.
“MapIT also helps response agencies to map their facilities across the country so that people can know the nearest facility where they can get help in case of a disaster,” he adds.
The second component of M-Power is ReportIT which quick submission of reports and detailed reports.
“You could be in a moving car and can’t stop the driver at the site of the incident. So one quickly takes a photo of say a pothole and submits. Our team will look at the photograph and try to interpret it,” Mr Sabwa says.
“Or you could be in danger such as a terror attack site and want to report. You don’t have to talk, just take a photograph and submit.”
The Detailed Submission component allows one to report an incident or inconvenience in detail.
Besides the mobile app, M-Power also has a geo-portal where all submissions are visualised on a map.
“A unique feature about the geo-portal is that administrative credentials will be granted to individual authorities to directly manage communication with the public,” adds Mr Sabwa.
To help curb the adversities occasioned by potholes particularly during this festive season, LocateIT is running a campaign dubbed #EradicatePotholesInKE.
“Already, we have seen sealing of some potholes in Nairobi County soon after citizens reported them to the governor via M-Power,” says Mr Khamala, who previously worked as a remote sensing and geographical information systems expert in Nairobi.