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Texting in struggle against corruption
24 January 2012
Corruption is a widespread problem in public administration in many developing countries. Gudrun Wicander from Karlstad University in Sweden shows how text messaging can be used to counteract corruption and how the mobile phone can be a tool for more efficient administration and resource distribution in the education sector.
Through field studies in Tanzania, among other methods, Gudrun Wicander has developed a model for how mobile phones can be nodes for reporting statistics from the country’s elementary schools. Statistics are the foundation for distributing important resources. Sending in information via text messages simplifies and speeds up administration and resource distribution while also making it more transparent.
The school system in Tanzania comprises some 15 000 elementary schools and 10 million pupils. The system for following up and for distributing resources has major drawbacks, not least owing to problems with reporting statistics, which takes a long time and is not always reliable.
“You can’t trust the mail service. Forms need to be distributed all over the country, and completed forms then have to be taken to local offices. Manual compilations are done there and, once again in physical form, they are then physically delivered to the ministry,” says Gudrun Wicander.
There is a strong will in Tanzania to modernize government administration and, not least, to invest in schooling. Wired Internet connections are not available all over the country, and they cost ten times as much as in the West. Any commitment to electronic administration using computers is also hampered by the shortage of electricity.
“On the other hand, the mobile phone network covers the majority of the population. But Internet connection via the mobile network would be far too costly. But it would be possible to use text messaging to send in statistics directly to the central government’s computers. Many people in the countryside, including all the school principals I interviewed, have mobile phones. Mobile phones are easy to use, cheaper, and more reliable than computers,” says Gudrun Wicander.
In her dissertation Mobile Supported e-Government Systems (http://kau.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:447593) she presents a model that covers not only the technology as such but also methods for implementation and follow-up. The solution proposed is to make use of the well-developed mobile network and link it to other communications tools.
“I see great opportunities in reporting statistics regarding the number of students in schools, for instance, with the aid of texting via mobile phones. This would mean faster and more reliable base figures for distributing resources to schools, which would ultimately benefit the pupils,” says Gudrun Wicander.
Widespread access to mobile phones in developing countries would also entail that the rural population would not have to travel to convey information.
“Paradoxically, the mobile phone presents an opportunity to remain ‘immobile,’ so to speak,” concludes Gudrun Wicander.
Gudrun Wicander completed her doctorate in informatics at Karlstad University in December 2011 and is working today at Stockholm-based Spider – a network for researchers, public-sector actors, and business collaboratively advancing the use of IT (ICT4D - ICT for Development).