The corona pandemic has posed completely new challenges for municipalities around the world. Various municipal operations have been heavily burdened and that required finding new ways of working within an extremely short period of time.
Two international project teams that have completed ICLD’s training programme Public Financial Management and Local Economic Development have, thanks to the training, been able to make the work of their organisations more efficient during the coronavirus crisis. Both teams – Cape Agulhas Municipality in South Africa and Lusaka City Council in Zambia – report on major progress and concrete improvements in the municipality’s communication with citizens. Something that is often claimed to be Achilles’ heel for municipalities in Sweden and internationally.
Team Lusaka City Council
Within its change project, which is an important component of an International Training Programme, the Lusaka team has worked with automating their payment methods in order to make the process more efficient for all stakeholders and also to reduce the risk of pocketing the money. The work became particularly important in recent months when several of the world’s countries, including Zambia, were put on lockdown. Catherine Mwango, IT manager at Lusaka City Council, says that ICLD’s International Training Programme provided their municipality with a tool to tackle the problem:
– We had an idea, but we did not know how to realize it. During the training, we learned about the Logical Framework Approach (LFA) and how to apply it in practice. By working with a problem tree and setting goals, we managed to narrow down to the problem that we identified and find a good solution to that.
The LFA is a simple and effective tool for results-oriented project management. The method has helped the team to work with the identified target groups and other stakeholders that proved to be the biggest challenge in the digitization work.
– In our case, the stakeholders were various departments. One thing that we realized was that the number of systems which we have in the Council are not talking to each other, and there is no coordination. That is what brought many problems in the operation. Now, we use this Logical Framework Approach so that different departments can tell us about their needs, Olinda Chirwa Sikazwe, Assistant Director of Finance at Lusaka City Council, says.
A concrete result of the automation work that has emerged during the Lusaka team’s participation in the training program, which they are particularly pleased with, not least from the covid-19 perspective, is the development of a web-based self-service system for submitting building permit applications – Metro Manager. The system makes it possible for clients to submit their building permit applications from home and to follow the procedure for the processing of applications in real time, both on mobile and computer.
– During this covid-19 pandemic time, the Metro-system is quite handy. At least, people are not moving with the hard copies from office to office, since the authorization is done online. In addition, the handling process, which previously used to take at least three months, has been shortened, because the responsible inspector who has not acted on the application will get a reminder: “You have not acted on this plan, you have not approved, you have not checked it.” It will keep bothering you until you act on it. So, this system has really helped the Council during this pandemic time, Olinda Chirwa Sikazwe says.
Team Cape Agulhas
In conformity with Lusaka City Council, the South African Cape Agulhas municipality has applied the knowledge acquired during the ICLD’s training programme to their work. According to them, the implementation of the LFA method has led to improved communication, both internally within the organization and externally towards citizens. The ITP participant Tracey Stone, who is responsible for strategic planning and administration at Cape Agulhas Municipality, concludes:
– I think it has made a huge difference to us. Often, we managers do not communicate that well with each other. And for me, one of the most positive outcomes of this change process was the way that we started to communicate with each other and the way we actually started working as a team.
The overall goal of the Cape Agulhas project is to get citizens involved in the workings of the municipality, as well as to make all the municipality’s activities and decision-making processes more transparent. A great focus is placed on creating a two-way communication between the municipality and the young people through the establishment of a youth council.
Willem van Zyl, Chief Information Officer at Cape Agulhas Municipality, informs on how public wifi has given people in the poor areas access to information:
– The goal of this was to reach the youth of our community and also to promote economic development, where people can actually do research or start their own businesses using the Internet. So the intent was to create a network infrastructure in our municipal area. It was important that the youth council that we established were able to use the public wifi in order to communicate with each other. They are all sitting in different towns. Apart from that, the corona crisis and social distancing have ruled out the possibility of conducting physical meetings. Therefore, it has been extra important that the youth council could at least utilize the Internet and communicate through Zoom or whichever platform they want to use, Willem says.
Another result of Cape Agulhas’ work to increase transparency and include citizens in the municipality’s daily work is the launch of a YouTube channel for live broadcasts of the Council’s meetings. It enables the public to participate in meetings digitally, make comments and ask questions. In addition, the organisation has launched a public engagement mobile application which allows people to receive notifications from the municipality, leave their complaints and communicate with the municipality through the app.
The South African team says that these technological solutions have helped them to move closer towards the citizen-centric approach where citizens are involved in the workings of the municipality and have an opportunity to follow what is happening in real time.