The Problem: The Kenyan water sector is developing fast to keep up with population growth and urbanization. In this challenging environment of change and growth, water consumers are often faced with problems such as substandard water quality, disconnections or leakages.
The water sector regulator, WASREB, is responsible for ensuring that consumers are protected. A key element of this task is to make certain that consumer complaints are received and acted on, and that such feedback data is systematically gathered and monitored. However, the sector has been lacking an institutionalized, best-practice consumer feedback and complaint system. For this reason WASREB piloted Water Action Groups (WAGs), local community based organizations made up of citizens who have volunteered to address issues affecting consumers of water services. WAGs operate as an extended arm of WASREB and give a voice to the urban underserved as well as consumers of formal services, empowering them to demand better services. As the WAGs concept is being institutionalized, the challenge is now to complement the same with a digital complaint system to overcome geographical and time barriers and increase efficiency.
The proposed solution: The proposed solution is a system whereby consumers can submit complaints and feedback to a central database via SMS text-messages or USSD, and directly through a web-form, and receive an individual reference number in return. The feedback should prompt users for phone and water account number (where available) as well as location, and then give them the option to choose between a set of standardized complaints (options) or a typed feedback (open answer). Importantly the system should answer to the needs of the urban poor who rely on kiosks, and do not have individual accounts with the utility.
The central database will receive this consumer feedback and sort it according to urgency, submission date and geographic location. The central database should allow the data manager to review each submission and then mark it as either “not valid”, “valid and pending” or “valid and resolved”. Ideally, switching a submission to “valid and resolved” would trigger a confirmation text message to the customer.
Ideally, the application would add additional functionality such as (a) highlighting complaints which have not been resolved after a given time; (b) superimposing received feedback data on Google maps by city; (c) allow consumers to query the database using their reference number to see if their complaint has been reviewed and/or resolved yet.
A number of commercial mobile-to-web services already exist, providing real-time information processing - for instance: http://m-survey.org/ to carry out easy surveys using USSD or SMS text messages.
The basic mechanism of the proposed feedback system is the same: input of a complaint by users, receipt and categorization of that complaint by the database, and feedback (of at least a reference number) to the sender.
The World Bank in Kenya will be co-sponsoring the final development of a full, mainstream mobile-to-web complaint system.