GovChat, a South African citizen engagement digital platform, has announced that it has received invitations from the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, and Nigeria to help them enhance engagement with citizens. This comes after GovChat recently launched its new platform in South Africa as the official citizen engagement platform in partnership with the country's government.

The company has said that the expansion into the DRC, Ghana, and Nigeria comes as a result of their participation at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit in Georgia earlier in 2018.

"We are extremely excited about the opportunity to expand beyond our borders. The impact of connecting citizens and governments across the continent cannot be underestimated. We are energized by the enthusiasm shown by a number of government partners across the continent, as well as a number of corporate and institutional partners. We will be announcing a number of partnerships over the next quarter. That will have a positive impact on our communities,"said Eldrid Jordaan, CEO of GovChat.

Screenshot of incidents reported by citizens on GovChat.

The discussions with the three countries' governments will be about implementation and will also include meetings with local partners and stakeholders in each country.

Does civic technology work?

Oft times, when civic technology solutions are introduced, they end up being "white elephant" projects that cost the state a lot of money but are hardly ever used. This is because of various but one of the key ones is how complex some of the civic technology solutions are. From the way citizens can access them, to the user experience. This is what makes GovChat somewhat different in that it is not a separate app but it seeks to have governments engage citizens on the apps and digital platforms they already use.

For instance, there is a GovChat WhatsApp bot which interacts with citizens and enables them to report issues, make enquiries, and rate services, among other features. It uses the recently launched WhatsApp for Business back-end technology by Praekelt Foundation. This allows citizens to use an app which they are already familiar with in a conversational way while engaging with government at various levels.

"The GovChat community engagement platform is the world’s first citizen engagement platform with inbuilt communication tools on the popular WhatsApp application. GovChat is brought in partnership with Departments of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs. The collaborative effort makes South African Government the first in the world to create a digital communication tool where government becomes instantly accessible to over 16 million people. For the first time, citizens will be able to access over 10,000 public representatives supporting over 30, 000 public facilities and services in communities across the country. In rural communities where connection may be slower, GovChat will be available through the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) channel," said Andries Nel, Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in South Africa, during the launch of GovChat earlier in 2018.

Implementation in the rest of Afrika

Following the OGP Summit in Georgia, Jordaan will lead the GovChat team on a roll-out visits across Afrika with key partners and stakeholders. In Nigeria the team will be meeting with the Special Advisor to the President on Open Government Partnership. While in Ghana the engagements are expected Β with the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly, which is the only local OGP program in the Republic of Ghana. In the DRC they will meet with the government and the Africa Diaspora for Development.

"The importance of translating international engagements, summits and conferences into realizable action. What GovChat is demonstrating is the fact that South African built technology platforms can resonate across the continent and truly impact service delivery as we all work towards our continental Agenda 2063,” said Ayanda Dlodlo, South Africa's Minister of Public Service and Administration.

It will be interesting to observe the impact GovChat has on service delivery in the countries it is deployed in.

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