Black Sash, a non-governmental human rights organisation in South Africa, partnered with Making All Voices Count (MAVC) in mid-2014 to conduct an independent community-based monitoring pilot project across the nine provinces in South Africa.
Problems and Purpose
Black Sash, a non-governmental human rights organisation in South Africa, partnered with Making All Voices Count (MAVC) in mid-2014 to conduct an independent community-based monitoring pilot project across the nine provinces in South Africa. MAVC is part of a global fund initiative, which aims to empower community-based organisations (CBOs) to take ownership of and participate actively in citizen-based monitoring of government services. Together with MAVC and Code for South Africa, the Black Sash developed a technologically innovative model of community-based monitoring to create a solid foundation for community empowerment and advocacy as well as state-civil society collaboration. MAVC uses creative and cutting edge solutions – including mobile and web technology – to amplify the voices of citizens and support governments to listen and respond.
Community-based monitoring (CBM) seeks to give citizens a voice in how public services are managed. It provides a way to build effective and meaningful participation in communities by providing an opportunity for citizens to engage with the governance processes that affects their lives. Importantly, CBM is a way of promoting accountability and responsiveness of government officials, and to improve the delivery of key services.
In the South African context, different methods of monitoring and ‘social auditing’ have been developed as ways to shed a light on the problem of service delivery — the provision of public goods and services like water, electricity, sanitation and roads. As Section 27 (1) of the 1996 South African Constitution states, all citizens have the right to health care services; sufficient food and water; and social security, including appropriate social assistance, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants.
Although the South African government put many policies and mechanisms in place to address service delivery, many South Africans, especially those in rural areas and informal settlements, are not able to access services of an acceptable quality. Many families are forced to share poor and undignified sanitation facilities and have no access to clean drinking water. In some communities, families are largely excluded from government decision-making processes and are not always aware of important legislation and policy. As a result, communities often turn to protest that results in destruction of property or loss of lives to raise grievances.
Through its MAVC CBM project, Black Sash is enabling citizens to hold the government accountable when poor services are delivered and to realise and claim their constitutional right of access to quality service delivery.
Background History and Context
Black Sash, formed in 1955, works for the realisation of human rights – particularly socio-economic rights – and promotes open, transparent, and accountable governance. As outlined in the South African Constitution of 1996, Black Sash emphasizes social security and social protection for the most vulnerable groups, in particular, women and children, who are often the main beneficiaries of government services. Black Sash advocates for a strong and vibrant civil society comprising community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations, coalitions and movements, and as such, from among their various projects, CBM has become a key component of their work.
While Community-Based Monitoring (CBM) as a methodological approach is a relatively new and developing way of promoting accountability and transparency in governance, Black Sash has been engaging in forms of monitoring for some time. In the late 1950s, Black Sash members offered legal advice to women who had been arrested for violations of the unjust pass laws during apartheid, setting up their first advice office in Athlone, Cape Town. Black Sash members also conducted ‘silent’ protests; they sat and observed court proceedings, and witnessed home demolitions and forced removals.
In 2009 Black Sash took their monitoring work one step further and began a Community Monitoring and Advocacy Project (CMAP), which acted as a foundation for their current Making All Voices Count community-based monitoring approach. CMAP was a three-year pilot project that was rolled out across the nine provinces in South Africa, from 2010 to 2013, funded by the European Union (80%) and the Open Society Foundation (20%). The key objective of CMAP was to collect detailed and accurate information around service delivery, and use this information to advocate for improvements at the public facility level. CMAP was implemented by civil society organisations (CSOs) based within communities, who were the drivers of monitoring and advocacy in their own contexts. Over the project period, over 400 individual monitors from over 300 different CSOs, drawn from all nine of South Africa’s provinces, conducted the monitoring. The work of CMAP and its methodology has been shared with government and civil society, at conferences, in publications, and with the media in an attempt to create a better understanding of service delivery challenges across different sectors of society. Some of the limitations of CMAP (such as a lack of cooperation from certain government departments) were addressed and improved upon in the MAVC CBM funded pilot project.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The non-governmental organization, Black Sash, has been promoting the realisation of human rights in South Africa since 1955. Founded in response to a government bill to disenfranchise coloured voters, the Black Sash made it their goal to ensure the constitution is upheld, human rights are recognized in law and respected in practice, and the government is accountable and responsive to the people. The organization monitors government progress in this regard, particularly to ensure access for poor and vulnerable populations.
The Making All Voices Count (MAVC) programme is implemented by the Humanistisch Instituut voor Ontwikkelingssamenwerking (HIVOS), the lead organisation, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Ushahidi. MAVC is also supported by four donors: DFID, USAID, SIDA, and the Omidyar Network (ON).
To begin the project, Black Sash and its partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Department of Performance and Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) in the Presidency to work collaboratively on the 18-month MAVC pilot project. In the MoU, it was acknowledged that Black Sash would run an independent monitoring pilot, working with community-based organisations (CBOs) to undertake monitoring of government facilities across South Africa. Black Sash selected thirteen public facilities in the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA); five facilities in the primary health care sector; and two local government facilities. Once permission was granted by DPME, Black Sash discussed their intention to monitor public facilities with the selected government departments.
Code for South Africa provided technological support, 'cleaning' the data gathered through monitoring so that effective responses could be identified and implemented based on the results. The organization also helped with data visualization to make the survey statistics readable and relevant to the community.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Community partners were trained by the Black Sash and Making All Voices Count to conduct on-the-spot surveys of people waiting in queues at various service delivery sites, as well as record their own observations of the process as they go. The surveys collect feedback on and from:
- Primary health service users (ordinary citizens)
- Primary health frontline staff
- Local government service facilities
- South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) frontline staff
- SASSA service point users (ordinary citizens)
- SASSA pay-point facility users (ordinary citizens)
Black Sash signed partnership agreements with twenty community-based organisations to conduct monitoring at the selected service sites. Considering that many community organisations have few resources, Black Sash agreed to pay a stipend of R1500 ($105 USD) per organisation for nine months, on the condition that the money would be spent on the MAVC project; this included specific activities such as travelling and collecting data at the facilities. Here, Black Sash requested that community partners properly account for these expenditures, and they ensured that payments were linked to delivery of milestones.
After the surveys, dialogues were held to develop improvement (action) plans. The selection of dialogue participants was not directly connected to the participants who supply the information in the initial surveys, but were draw from the same pool of service users by Community Partners to ensure some overlap, at least in terms of familiarity with the service and facilities.
Methods and Tools Used
Community-based monitoring (CBM) allows civil society to gather and analyse information from government service users’ points of view. The Black Sash CBM model involves eight key phases some of which run concurrently. The starting point is setting up infrastructural arrangements with the government. Black Sash also creates partnerships with community-based Organisations (CBOs), building the capacity of these Community Partners (CPs) to engage in their own local-based monitoring exercises. Relationships are then built with the local government facility and its managers and the the next four phases commence: monitoring and data collection, analysing and cleaning data into reports, disseminating reports in the communities for reflection in dialogues where improvement plans are developed and adopted. The final phase is that of advocacy.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Monitoring occurs through collecting data at the government facility sites themselves and door-to-door on citizen experiences with service delivery. Each community partner endeavours to survey at least 300 respondents per facility in order to ensure accurate sampling. Monitors conduct on the spot surveys of people waiting in queues at various service delivery sites, as well as record their own observations of the process as they go. Thus, monitoring occurs in various stages: the development of the survey, the completion of the surveys at service delivery sites, and then the uploading of this data on tablets, usually by the community partners.
The twenty community partners were trained on how to conduct a micro-survey of citizens’ and frontline staff perceptions and experiences. Survey respondents were not identified, so that they could express their opinions freely. The surveys try to highlight the voices of poor people and in particular women and children. Data collection at Health and SASSA sites commenced in September and October 2014, while data collection at local government sites took place from October to December 2014. From June to August 2015, monitors collected data for Cycle 2 of the Making All Voices Count pilot project.
After the data was uploaded onto the tablets and sent to Black Sash, it was ready to be quickly processed and made into reports. The role of technology was thus vital at this stage as well. Code for South Africa worked to “clean” the data — they needed to identify and organise the responses to the surveys. Their goal was to present the data back to community in a way that would makes sense for them. They conceptualised visual posters, and collaborated with Black Sash on what important information to highlight in order to determine what was relevant for the hand-outs. They also aggregated the data by gender, so that the final reports would represent gender-related responses. Black Sash then sent these hand-outs and reports to the Community Partners to help facilitate the community dialogues.
At the dialogue, improvement (action) plans are developed and adopted to improve service delivery at the public facilities. Although the selection of dialogue participants was not directly connected to the participants who supply the information in the initial surveys, they are arranged by the same Community Partners, who draws on the pool of users in the same facility and hence do follow particular related themes and topical issues.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
To date, the Black Sash Making All Voices Count pilot project has been very successful. It improved citizens’ awareness of their constitutional rights to receive quality services and, importantly, strengthened the voice of poor and marginalised communities in monitoring service delivery. The MAVC project also contributed to strengthening the relationships between service beneficiaries, government officials, and participating community-based organisations. The project is therefore a good example of how civil society can contribute both to improved service delivery and to democratic governance.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The project faced a few challenges with regards to the use of technology. Some monitors were not very comfortable using the Tablets provided by Black Sash to capture the data. They complained that the devices got “stuck” (their tablet screen froze) while busy capturing responses. Some monitors did not realise that they ran out of data bundles, and as a result, not all of the surveys were captured onto the central system. While technology can allow for much quicker capture, sending and analysis of data, there are challenges facing these systems, but especially in using them in communities with limited exposure to technology or resources to cope with glitches. A key consideration going forward is the establishment of an overall and ongoing training programme in technology usage, or even the establishment of a technological support system within CBOs, ideally with a stable staff who could assist in the communities. This could help maximise the benefits of new technological systems into the future.
The original submission of this case entry was adapted from Koskimaki, L., Moses, M. and Piper, L. (2016). The Black Sash Model of Community Based Monitoring: Report for Black Sash. Department of Political Studies, University of the Western Cape. http://www.blacksash.org.za/images/docs/MAVC.pdf. Please refer to the revision history for a detailed account of subsequent edits and additions made by the Participedia community.
 BS/MAVC CBM Project. http://www.blacksash.org.za/index.php/sash-in-action/making-all-voices-count
 Making All Voices Count. Retrieved from http://www.makingallvoicescount.org/
 http://localgovernmentaction.org.dedi6.cpt3.host-h.net/content/batho-pele-principles [DEAD LINK]
Update: similar information can be found at DPSA. (2014). The Batho Pele Vision. Retrieved March 3, 2021, from http://www.dpsa.gov.za...