Genuine local democracy relies on peoples’ active participation in public matters, transparency and accountability of local governments. However, even in small and rural communities people generally remain aloof from public issues and are little involved in the local matters. A recent study conducted by the UNDP Moldova’s Joint Integrated Local Development Programme revealed that participation rate in the local decision-making process is extremely low, with less than 10 % of people involved in the local matters. This is largely rooted in the low level of information about the local matters, with the majority of people still using unofficial information sources – neighbors, friends, local rumors. When that traditional means of communication with the public fail reaching out to people and securing their active involvement in local public matters, employing modern and efficient tools becomes imperative. Provided that the mobile telephony penetration rate is as high as 120% in Moldova and is continuously growing, it is obviously a tool that is worth exploring and using to improve communication between public authorities and citizens.
Our idea is to develop a SMS-application to improve communication between local governments and people, and stimulate public participation. On the one hand, the app will be used to convey to the citizens updated information about public matters. On the other hand, and most importantly, it will serve as a polling and feedback tool.The app shall be used to collect and categorize people’s opinions on various local stringent and strategic issues, feedback on mayoralty’s performance, and contribute with their ideas to settle various local problems, hence, leading to genuine local democracy. The advantages of this type of communication are indisputable, as it efficiently reaches out to a large number of people,, including the disabled, people with mobility issues, the elderly, the computer illiterate, etc.
The proposed solution will build on an existing tools tested in one commune from Moldova. The application proved to be successful in capturing people’s attention and stimulating their participation in local matters. Now the texting system is used only as a one-way communication channel, but does not allow getting feedback from citizens. Our idea is to build on this prototype, test it with the people, improve and making it more efficient and responsive to users’ needs, and most importantly, to create a fast, efficient and genuine polling system that will allow people to be involved in the community’s life. The system also has a high scalability potential. Initially, the system will be tested in 10 rural communities, and consequently scaled up in other localities. Worth noting, scaling up will not require significant financial resources as the main component - the software for SMS-ing system – will be developed at the initial stage.