Documenting Citizen Challenges in Rural Romania
Describe the problem that you want to address. How does this problem effect people in their daily lives?
Rural Romania is on a positive trajectory of change but there are vast regions that remain a fragmented, poorly resourced; as a result, citizens are finding it hard to engage meaningfully with local and national decision-making. Dambovita, located in the central southern part of the country has seen investment in e-infrastructure for engaging citizens but there is still the need for a simple means for people to share concerns and document issues regarding the challenges to development. One of the most exciting investments in the region has been in the form of the upgrade to community libraries. This project will build on the success of these spaces to install a central Citizen Information Bureau in 20 libraries which will be populated by mobile submissions from citizens and can be easily accessed by visitors, using the public libraries network as base for action.
Dambovita county has a population of more than 0.5 mil persons, mostly rural communities with a high poverty level, yet there is a real appetite for citizen-led change. There are no easily accessible communication mechanisms to link the governmental entities and the communities. Our initiative comes to tackle an indubitable lack of civic and political engagement of citizens in Romania, with the exception of the elections period and some major situation and/or challenges that occur which have a major and direct (usually negative) impact on them. Communities are fragmented and traditional models of meetings and protests are no longer popular or appropriate. Using the public libraries as digital centers for addressing this good governance initiative, guarantees a major impact in the target group, through easy access to a large number of communities, which, otherwise would be hard to access.
Describe your proposed solution – How does your approach build on or add to more traditional ways of dealing with problem?

The project will harness the affordable power of mobile to open a new channel for documenting citizen challenges. A public SMS reporting hub will encourage citizens to submit issues relating to five sub-themes, which will be guided by an automated submission service: 1. heritage; 2. environmental issues; 3. social inclusion; 4. health; 5. access to education. These reports will flow through a monitoring team to the Citizen Information Bureau, a public site which can be accessed through the libraries and is shared with councillors/media contacts as an evidence base for directing dialogue and change. To action the concerns, we shall have two working groups, one that will focus on addressing local needs to the local authorities, another will address regional needs to the regional and central authorities. This would give us the opportunity to grasp the most efficient means of addressing the local agenda and needs to the relevant stakeholders and authorities.

Which technologies are you planning to use and why? Please make reference to other similar uses of your proposed technology.

A virtual SMS number will route all SMS and Voice messages into a central secure database via a mobile gateway; the database can automatically organised the information in themes and regions. Behind the scene, a group of 20 coordinators (one attached to each library) will be engaged in citizen reporter training and can help to manage the database and the Citizen Information Bureau site. They will have a secure log in to the message datatbase and can publish content once it is checked and cleared. The site will be easy and attractive to use - allowing users to filter and search for common issues and leave comments. Online platforms have globally proven to be the easiest and most effective mean to bridge citizens to the representatives. In Dambovita there is a particular lack of resources to gather relevant information from the local level. The initiative can easy scale at national level, which is something that we very much want to achieve after piloting the system.