Several mechanisms of offering feedback to politicians or central/local public administration representatives and public service providers are used now in Moldova, ranging from elections to written petitions, audiences and periodic public meetings. Some of these systems are provided by law - others, driven by the officials’ own interest to understand public opinion, by ordering polls or having direct discussions, to make sure that their policy/services provided are acceptable enough to their constituents to get re-elected.
Recently, some Moldovan public institutions have tried to diversify these means, by calling on people to signal problems or offer feedback via new technology, setting up websites, Facebook accounts, or for example by crowdsourcing pictures of drivers committing traffic offenses. The Chisinau(capital)’s municipality has even welcomed the creation of a Ushahidi platform-based website, www.alerte.md, although many of the problems signaled through it have remained unsolved.
Although the law provides for concrete terms on answers to written petitions by public institutions, there is a general public dissatisfaction with their function, and many people consider the answers received formal and unengaged. On the other hand, for active or busy people, the traditional petitioning mechanism is too much of a hassle. This situation leads in its turn to general lack of trust in the system of publicfeedback, and compounds to the general lack of trust towards politicians and public officials existing in Moldova (most central public institutions have trust levels below 30%, with slightly higher trust towards local authorities – 55%).
The effect of innovative methods has also been limited to a certain extent. Some of the reasons are:
-Still reduced technical abilities to use new media/tech by officials and constituents/public service users. While mobile phones are widespread in Moldova (mobile telephony penetration rate is 126% in 2014, with more registered users than people), and broadband internet coverage is picking up fast (almost 30% in 2014), most people only use the basic functions on their phones.
-Lack of personal incentives for officials to address the signalled issues.
-Difficulties in sorting/prioritizing incoming feedback in terms of importance – officials find it hard to assess the weight of signaled issues in terms of the scale of public opinion behind it, thus having fewer incentives to act upon them.
-They are too easy to overlook or ignore.
The solution proposed by our team, called StiMuluS, addresses these challenges, and has several advantages, that would help bring the general public in a country closer to public institutions:
-It’s simpler to use. For both the public and the officials. StiMuluS is simplifying the path of the public’s most important messages in reaching directly the eyes of the officials
-It’s Personal. StiMuluS is inspired by behavioral studies’ findings on the power of the Nudge. StiMuluS is a personal nudge from the public. It will remind officials at least every Monday about the constituency they are supposed to serve
-It incentivizes action. StiMuluS offers tools to officials to get a first real-time impression on what people are thinking, and possibilities to showcase their responsiveness. For the constituents, being certain that a message reaches the needed official could raise confidence in the possibility of being heard, as well as in the desire to hold the official accountable for their action or non/action
-It’s inclusive and promotes diversity. It offers the possibility of participation of people with only basic gadgets at their hand (mobile phones), which are widespread already in Moldova,
-It could offer access to valuable data. Valuable, real-time big data on the most salient issues.
StiMuluS helps the public get its most important messages seen personally by officials and decision-makers:Anyone can send a short message (140 characters), via SMS, app, Twitter, etc, to communicate the desired information to a politician/official. Each message is automatically posted on the StiMuluS website/App, where people can support it by voting, re-tweeting, sharing, SMS. Top 3 most voted messages destined to a certain official (or group) will be sent via SMS every Monday on officials' mobile phone. The participation of officials is voluntary, by signing up as recipients. Incentives will improve their participation and reaction: They can display their answers on a webpage. Parties/ institutions will be asked to encourage members to sign in. Media campaigns will call for officials to sign in and the public participation The big data generated would inform on public opinion and interactions, and offer a real-time public mood update. The platform is scalable
StiMuluS would need to be based on a system that integrates web-based platforms with mass-SMS sending/receiving mechanisms. UNDP Moldova has already the experience of working with the largest mobile phone service providers in the country during the post-2015 Development Agenda consultations with mass SMS sending/receiving campaigns. The main technical effort in this regard would be to design a platform that would be able to integrate existing web-based services with a mass SMS sending/receiving mechanism.
The smart use of technology in this regard would consist in using the web/cyberspace as a more versatile environment to collect/process/sort/direct the message traffic, integrate already existing platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc., and then send the messages to officials via mobile phones, which are more widespread, simpler to use and more personal.