Guest Post by Jetmir Bakija:
Jetmir Bakija is a civil society activist in Kosovo who, with Democracy Plus, has initiated and managed the FixMyCommunity Platform - ndreqe.com. He has previously managed the Civil Society Program for NDI in Kosovo and more recently in Nepal and has served as a trainer for NDI in Afghanistan, Macedonia and Turkey.
Community activists are constantly looking for ways to use technology to more effectively and efficiently pursue their goals of developing and engaging their community. NDI has taken a great step to help such groups by making the open-source DemTool FixMyCommunity (based on MySociety's "FixMyStreet") widely available and offering technical assistance to groups who want to utilize it.
Two months ago, in partnership with NDI and with a modest fund for the first year provided by local Swiss and Danish offices, a FixMyCommunity platform was started in Kosovo to improve local government intervention on citizen reporting of local complaints. It is called ndreqe, which in Albanian, the primary language in Kosovo, means ‘fix it’. In order to accommodate all Kosovo citizens in their native language, a version named popravi was launched shortly thereafter in Serbian (the other official language in Kosovo).
The platform, run by Democracy Plus, an NGO, was launched on March 6th for all municipalities of Kosovo to report neighborhood problems with trash, potholes, public lights, sidewalks, illegal parking and smoking indoors. The demand from citizens for such a platform was noticed from the start. Two months after its launch, ndreqe.com has received 301 reports from citizens. So far there have been 24 interventions of a municipality fixing a problem reported on the platform, and another 5 are scheduled to be fixed in the near future. This is encouraging considering municipal institutions are still getting used to the platform and may not have updated every problem that has been addressed.
Before the launch of the platform, we understood that the tool would be of interest to the young and digital savvy population of Kosovo. But to be successful, we needed to work on three fronts: promoting it to the broader public, instructing young people on how to use the platform, and getting buy-in from the local institutions.
The best promotion is free promotion. When we introduced the platform to the media, many TV and radio stations invited us onto their shows to discuss what it is and how it could be used. We always showed up with our promotional stickers for ndreqe.com which were so attractive that one TV host requested one and placed it on his forehead during the whole show while we discussed the platform (obviously this was a relaxed morning show with youth as their main target).
But even before our presentations on TV and radio shows, our promotion began with building a brand for the platform and an ad that targeted young people. The 45 second video was shared and ‘boosted’ on social media. This got 5K views in the first 2 weeks and reports immediately started coming in. After we felt like we’d exhausted the promotion on social media, we sent it to the public TV broadcaster who ran it for us 3 times a day for free. In Kosovo the public TV station broadcasts ads for free if they are considered for the public good, and this one, coming from a CSO and aiming to improve civic engagement and public services, qualified. Again this gave it even more traction, especially in smaller towns (and again free promotion proved helpful).
Meeting youth groups and presenting in Local Youth Councils was the next step of promotion. The interest of the youth and their organizations to promote and try such platforms was quite a nice surprise.
In terms of getting municipal buy-in, while we did manage to sign four Memorandums of Understandings with mayors of different municipalities, most of the attention from local institutions is only coming now. With the platform now populated, local officials are more interested, as they can see real reports pinned on the map of their municipality and their citizens becoming engaged and taking time to report their local concerns.
The municipality of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo has reacted by actually administering the concerns of their citizens through ndreqe.com. Our team has been there to present the platform to the municipal directors, instruct them on how to give updates on citizens’ concerns, and give them admin access that allows them to categorize a report as ‘in process’, ‘planned’, or ‘fixed’. In seven cases of problems reported by citizens of Mitrovica, the local institutions have intervened, and updated the report with photos after the problems were fixed.
The capital city, Prishtina, is where most of the reports are registered on ndreqe.com. This is mostly due to the more engaged population in the capital. The city has welcomed the platform and given strong words on plans to react to it, but it still remains to be seen to what extent these plans will be carried out. So far, ten problems in the city reported on ndreqe.com have been fixed.
One early lesson that could be drawn from our FixMyCommunity platform is that people with smart phones constantly in their hands have the need and the will to assist institutions in fixing their local problems. It is the will of the institutions to intervene that is required the most. If the will is present, the FixMyCommunity platform makes it easy to intervene.