This article reviews evidence on the use of 23 information and communications technology (ICT) platforms to project citizen voice to improve public service delivery. This study begins with a conceptual framework intended to clarify the different links in the causal chain in between ICT-enabled opportunities to express voice (platforms) and institutional responses. In other words,how and why are these platforms supposed to leverage responses from service providers? This conceptual framework is informed by a close review of the available evidence, primarily quantitative, about experiences with 23 ICT platforms in 17 countries in the global south.
Analysis revealed that we do not see a generic type of platform leading to a generic type of response. Instead, we see key differences in the institutional (not technological) design of the interface that may be relevant for voice, citizen action and institutional response. The evidence so far indicates that most of the ICT platforms that manage to leverage responsiveness somehow directly involve government.
The conceptual framework is informed by the key distinction between two distinct genres of ICT-enabled citizen voice – aggregated individual assessments of service provision and collective civic action. The first approach constitutes user feedback, providing precise information in real time to decision-makers. This allows policymakers and programme managers to identify and address service delivery problems – but at their discretion. Collective civic action, in contrast, can encourage service providers to become more publicly accountable – an approach that depends less exclusively on decision-makers’ discretion about whether or not to act on the information embodied in feedback. This conceptual distinction between two different ways in which ICT platforms mediate the citizen–service provider relationship allows for a more precise analytical focus on how different dimensions of these ICT platforms contribute to public sector responsiveness.
The empirical evidence available so far about the degree to which voice can trigger teeth indicates that service delivery user feedback has so far been most relevant where it increases the capacity of policymakers and senior managers to respond. It appears that dedicated ICT-enabled voice platforms – with a few exceptions – have yet to influence their willingness. Where senior managers are already committed to learning from feedback and using it to bolster their capacity to get agencies to respond, ICT platforms can make a big difference.
ICT platforms can bolster upwards accountability if they link citizen voice to policymaker capacity to see and respond to service delivery problems. This matters when policymakers already care. Where the challenge is how to get policymakers to care in the first place, then the question is how ICT platforms can bolster downwards accountability by enabling the collective action needed to give citizen voice some bite.