As more time goes by, the harder it gets to write. 😛 Over the past few weeks, the shape of my placement and the specific areas I am investigating have been rearranged several times, to (hopefully) be more relevant to the Assembly and to the knowledge the G&RI team could use to move towards a consultancy model.
I could take you on a guided journey through this, but that might end up being a little long. So I will present a brief of my placement as it is today! As I mentioned a few posts back, I am working to establish a Client Service Unit (CSU) at the Yendi Municipal Assembly. One of the biggest challenges when the CSU idea started was figuring out how not to be redundant, or even step over responsibilities that already lie in various Assembly areas. Some general intentions of the unit are to:
– Increase importance of regularly sharing information in both the greater Assembly’s eyes and the public eye;
– Make is less intimidating/confusing to deal with the Assembly, and therefore more encouraging
– Create a buffer for difficult situations; much of the animosity that happens is due to some form of misunderstanding, which could be mitigated by offering information and having an open question line much in advance of the event in question.
Two of the main investigations I have been looking into is how information is brought to and from the Assembly, and what information is brought to and from the Assembly. As far as how, here is a general diagram:
The main information link for the Assembly is the Assembly Members (AMs). I know, it’s confusing, the word “Assembly” is everywhere. Basically, Assembly Members are classified into two categories: elected and appointed. Most AMs are elected, each by their own electoral areas, where they reside and represent their constituents. Those who are government appointees are part of the Assembly’s executive committee, without a specific electoral area. Yendi has 50 elected Members and 20 appointed Members. AMs are not paid, and go by the surname “Honourable”. Some AMs have a paid job within the Assembly on top of their role, such as the Community Development Officer at the YMA. The whole of AMs is headed by one elected group member, who becomes the Presiding Member (PM). The PM holds certain extra responsibilities, such as chairing the Public Relations and Complaints committee.
All Assemblies in Ghana are mandated to hold a General Assembly Meetings. All AMs from the district gather, and there sits a panel consisting of the Director, Municipal Chief Executive and Presiding Member. In the week or so leading to this meeting, the 7 sub-committees in the Assembly must also meet to bring their issues to the executive committee. All AMs sit on one of the sub-committees, and therefore should also be present at this meeting; granted the invitation makes it to them on time.
At the General Assembly Meeting, AMs get the chance to express their concerns, and submit requests pertaining to their electoral area. AMs can also do this if they wish at their Sub-Committee meeting; however during the meetings I have seen so far, these inquiries were almost made in passing and were left in the hands of the chairman who may or may not end up following through.
What challenge is here? Assembly Meetings, as well as the associated Sub-Committee meetings, only happen 4 time per year. So what happens in between? Some AMs may have a closer relationship with the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE), and feel at ease to go and talk to him when they want to know the status of their request. My guess is that this is more the case with appointed members than it is with elected members, as this group generally has the similar favour with the central government as the MCE.
In Ghana, messages of any importance beyond asking how the day is going and what did you eat for breakfast are done face to face; especially when it comes to meeting the MCE. Luckily enough, Yendi District was able to provide motorbikes to all its AMs; this is not the case in all Districts. However this is still a challenge for many AMs living further out in the District, who may not be able to pay for fuel out of his or her pocket.
The issue is not that the Assembly is not prepared to share its information; as much as possible, the Assembly will be transparent when specifically asked. The issue is that it is unclear as to whom to approach for those who are not familiar with District functions or who do not have a particular relationship with someone who works there. This way, either Assembly Members or other public leaders may not feel comfortable putting fuel in their motorbikes, hitting the road and showing up to a big building with some 30 offices, trying to figure out whom to best approach.
This is one aspect that the CSU may be able to take a stab at. The unit will be a physical space in the Assembly, and will also have a full time reception line. The person working the unit, whose official name has been chosen as the Public Relations Officer, will be equipped to answer certain questions upfront and know how to redirect calls that come in based on their nature. This space is meant to make it easy for people to interact with the Assembly.
…. Good question. It is especially hard make to predictions on what people would mostly value the in the CSU when you are a 20 year old Canadian who has only been immersed in the District for two months. It is even hard for most people at the Assembly, as they usually can give the most expertise in their given area. Beyond that, how can you predict the reactions of opening a service to over 110,000 people? I think you are getting me.
So far, possible inquiries have been classed into 3 categories; questions, requests and complaints/feedback.
Questions: This one is hard to predict. The current plan is to have the PRO well trained in the functions of each department, and therefore be capable of making a good guess as to where the question should be redirected.
Some general question predictions right now include Internally Generated Funds (IGF) use, project planning, financial reports, information on by-laws, and service provision such as renting the Assembly’s grader, tipper trucks, and other road equipment.
Another possibility for questions is to have a records database. This would keep track of every question that comes into the Assembly, so that the CSU and support staff can look at trends and evaluate whether some sort of action should be taken, such as a mass public outreach or equipping the unit with specific documents.
Requests: Requests are usually made around physical development around the district or funding, in which case some flow is already in place at the Assembly for processing. Some requests however may be around financial statements, requests for documents, etc. Most likely, the CSU will be advertising that people are able to check the status of their requests, explaining the typical flow and relaying phone calls to the Registry.
At the moment, requests follow a certain process when they enter the Assembly- if you are interested in this, I would be glad to explain it over a phone call 🙂
Complaints: The current structure handles complaints based on their nature. Certain complaints are handled by specific people, such as a complaint about construction would go to the Engineer. However, complaints about actions or specific Assembly staff go to the Public Relations and Complaints Committee. The CSU will provide an easy way to submit those complaints, and the staff will have the knowledge on where it should be redirected.
What else? The bigger question right now is what functions can the CSU have purely in information dissemination. There is talk of purchasing a flier printer to produce quarterly compilations of what is happening at various district departments. An AM even suggested to me that the CSU take video records of decision making in executive meetings, and screen them in public using the information van. This exploration area has a ton of potential to support community relations at the Assembly. I would love to hear any of your ideas on what role the CSU could play!!
Another important mission for the CSU is to determine how it can be a self-improving body. There is an understanding pretty well across the board right not that the best functions of the CSU are hard to predict without having tested it. It is hard to guess what the public and targeted leaders will use the unit for; what questions will they ask? Or will they only be concerned with checking the status of their requests? What is really the best form of information dissemination outside of Assembly Members?
Sooo many questions. Well, this is where I am at; the questions just keep rolling in, and at this point, will remain unanswered until the unit actually gets functioning. Just today, the PRO job posting was officially set out, as well as the budgeted items needed for the unit’s space. Heeeeeerrrre we go!
PS: About the title, I didn’t know what to put. But I just had a massive mango for lunch, and it was pretty darn good.