Improving Health Services Through ICT Innovation in Guatemala

Under what conditions do ICT channels for citizen input lead to more government responsiveness and citizen participation among individuals who are relatively marginalized?

In many parts of the developing world, the lack of information about the quality of local public services is considered a major impediment to improving service delivery. Attempting to shrink this information gap, practitioners have increasingly begun to use ICT channels that make it easier for citizens to report problems in local public service provision and for governments to respond quickly to these complaints.

A Guatemalan NGO, CEGSS, is conducting one such intervention. It has developed an innovative SMS system, based on the Ushahidi platform, that allows indigenous community leaders in Guatemala to send concerns about local health service provision directly to government officials by email and/or text, in addition to making them public online.

Despite the potential for ICT channels to ease communication between citizens and their governments, and consequently improve governmental responsiveness and accountability, concerns exist about uptake, and about the possibility that these "new" channels might lack important features of more traditional engagement methods. Can ICT channels, by making complaints less time-consuming, increase participation by traditionally marginalized communities? Or will they be used only by those who are already more engaged? Will government officials use the feedback they receive via ICT channels to improve services? What is the most effective way to elicit a productive response using ICTs?

The MIT GOV/LAB collaborated with CEGSS to try to answer these questions. Using both qualitative and quantitative data, our research explores the determinants of participation by community leaders in ICT-based social accountability interventions and how government responsiveness to concerns raised by community leaders varies based on leaders’ background characteristics and the method through which the information is delivered.