ICT Tools for the Oil and Gas Sector in Ghana
The goal of the clinic is to help TTLs to introduce ICT elements into their projects, custom tailored to the needs of each intervention. The clinic will provide expert assistance in 3 areas where technology can be a useful enabler: citizen feedback mechanisms, participatory budgeting, and open data.
In order to improve social accountability (i.e. transparency, accountability and citizen participation) in the oil and gas sector in Ghana ICT tools have the potential to be used in all three areas:
1) Citizen feedback mechanisms and open data
Country context: In Ghana, away from the capital Accra, the Western Region is the region most directly impacted by the oil and gas activities: exploration and exploitation takes place at about 60 kilometers off the shore of about 6 districts. It is expected that these districts might feel the impact of oil and gas through an increase in the price of food, housing, and land; increased noise levels; an influx of people looking for work; increased alcoholism and prostitution; mud and/or oil spills; and a potential decrease in the quantity of fish caught. A baseline study does not exist.
Ghana has committed to an EITI process in the oil and gas sector. In about a year from now, the first data will be publicly available. Ghana does not have an access to information law and data availability is limited, although under the Petroleum Revenue Management law the government is required to publicly disclose certain data, for example information on the quantity of oil lifted and the price against which it is sold.
An example of how we have started to use ICT tools to improve social accountability is the extractive industries map of Ghana that we have been working on: it is a GIS map that displays information on the location of oil wells and mines, EITI data per district, extractives revenues per district, information about contracts, and also socio-economic data like poverty rates and unemployment at the district level. This way it is easier to have an overview of how the extractives sector affects the wider economy and society. The project is in a pilot phase, and we would like to expand it so that it shows changes in data over time, so that it is regularly and automatically updated once new data becomes available, and we would like to include citizen feedback loops.
How ICT could help:
- Technology might be able to regularly track the changes in each of the variables mentioned above. Internet access in the area is low, so the use of mobile phones is more likely to be effective. One idea could be that a representative selection of citizens in the Western Region answers a questionnaire each month sending data through mobile phones. For example, fishermen in the area have told us they would like to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the sea. Another idea is to set in place a warning system in the case of mud/oil spills, which allows people to report the location and time of the spill immediately.
- ICT tools could help to make existing data easier to access, in a better understandable format, to a wider audience. For example, we are planning to set up a (physical) information center for the extractive industries in Ghana. It will be a place where people (citizens, NGOs, parliamentarians, etc) can go to for the most up to date and accurate information on the oil and gas sector. The center can serve as a place where the data collected is processed, but also a place that disseminates the available data to an audience as wide as possible (for example to CSOs working on oil and gas, parliamentarians, but also district authorities and citizens in remote areas that are not able to walk into the center to get information). ICT could help do that. Questions: o What strategies should be adopted for providing timely and regular data updates and are these difficult to implement?
- This depends on the type of data that is being collected. Some citizen participation systems are primarily campaign driven and focus on capturing grievances. These systems have an organic flow of data based off of when citizens have experiences that lead to grievances. Others, such as Ureport in Uganda, push regular micro-surveys on a weekly basis and due to the large number of participants they get significant response. One regular issue with participatory feedback is maintain use of the system after the initial excitement around the program wears off. To develop effective incentive structures, a deep contextual understanding of the user needs to be established. Certain general principles do exist. Systems should be responsive, systems should update the user if action is taken, communication efforts should be made to educate the users on the impact the system is happening. If managerial or micropayment (talk time) options are available to increase participation they should be explored. Another common approach is to provide a useful tool or service for the constituents and use the data about the use of the tool or service rather than try to collect data directly. Due to the wide variety of approaches and data to collect the difficulty of specific approaches varies widely. There is often a correlation between the specificity of the data desired to be collected and the difficulty collecting it.
- Who are the best users and consumers of these tools and how do we ensure that tools are designed for them? How do we deal with issues of low connectivity, low bandwidth, illiteracy? A good way to think about the users and the consumers of these tools is by who can derive direct benefit from their use. Understanding the potential user’s needs and context can help shape the design and communication strategies around the tools. Often times, issues like literacy and technical capacity can be addressed by designing tools and systems that take advantage of communal structures rather than individual users. Are there local farmers groups, women’s groups or even church groups who are beneficiaries of services or potential victims of grievances that would have a direct interest in collecting the group’s sentiment and relaying it? Are there volunteer structures like community health workers already in place that directly engage with the community. Often times these groups need to be worked with and individuals empowered to be the reporter for the group. Issues around low connectivity and bandwidth are constraints that systems can easily be designed around. Developing asynchronous systems allow people who live outside coverage areas but frequently travel to church or market areas where they have coverage participate. Another way is tool look at the other channels that are available to spread the word such as combining a mobile campaign with local radio stations. Illiteracy can be worked around in a number ways. Working through community groups as described above is one such way. Alternatively using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or even call centers are other alternatives. Another issue to consider is to make sure that the tools and systems are available in local language. People may speak a common international language but may be much more comfortable in a local dialect. This can lead to difficulties interpreting the incoming data but it is a good design principle to put any burden on the system not the users. o How do we expand the pool of users and consumers of tools and information, both through outreach and capacity building? There are a number of ways to approach this. The most straight forward is through running a media campaign through the normal print, radio and television communication channels. Working with local communications firms can help make the messages relevant to the local population. Other methods include working through local community and power structures. It could be with community groups as described above or through local government, religious or labor organizations. Locally active NGOs often can be strong partners in this area as well. They often have mechanisms in place to engage with the populace and know how to contextualize the issues. Finally, the government may be engaged directly to reach out to the citizens. Ultimately they are the body most commonly having to deal with grievance redressal and they can use their political structures to notify the public to engage.
- What are the best practices in seeking volunteered geographic information? What challenges remain to be solved? Making sure the users have a way of identifying their location is the first challenge with collecting geographic information. Frequently, the more specific location the more difficult it is to collect. Larger pools of users are also useful when trying to get a subset to respond. Working with community groups or local NGOs is another way to target specific regions. If groups of people are registered to organizations or groups they can be segmented easily. Engaging people directly on local issues is another way to get responses. If recipients of questions see the relevance to their local context they can often feel more empowered to reply.
- You mention that a champion within the government is usually required to start an ‘open government’ initiative. In which department and at what level does such a champion usually sit? This is question that I can refer to colleagues with more experience than I. Often times there needs to be some political will at the top to get legislation in place to allow for open data, but that person does not need to also be the champion. Please reach out to me if you would like me to connect you to the ICT team members who have worked on open data and open government initiatives.
- One thing that we can learn from the mining sector is that even though information might become available, that doesn’t mean that 1) citizens or CSOs know how to interpret that information and 2) there is a forum/place where citizens or CSOs can voice their opinion on the information released. What is your experience with capacity building on the content of the information that ICT tools will help access or use? Direct engagement is still often the best way to educate populations. ICT tools can be used for spreading the word around training or information sessions. They also can be quite effective at reinforcing messaging that has been delivered. Quizzes have been used for HIV information awareness in Uganda and South Africa and taking advantage of local sports and music celebrities through voice messages was used to spread the message about HIV in South Africa as well.
- Do you have examples of the use of similar maps like the oil and gas one in Ghana, perhaps in other sectors? How did you handle information updates and sustainability issues?
- One example of a nationwide mapping of infrastructure is the Devtrac system developed by UNICEF in Uganda. They are not tracking oil and gas resources but are tracking all investments in health facilities, schools and water points. They have a simple reporting system that lets people add updates to the locations that are organized by time. The system is free and open source and could potentially be utilized in other sectors.
2) Participatory Budgeting
Country context: Participatory budgeting is relevant in the extractive industries sector as well. In Ghana, the mining sector in this case is slightly different than the petroleum sector. In the mining sector, part of the revenues collected are redistributed from the national to the district level, and a small part of total revenues is allocated to a fund meant for spending on sustainable development projects in the mining districts. It is relatively easy to track where how much mining revues are spent on. In the petroleum sector, however, the six districts in the Western Region are not compensated for the fact that they will be directly impacted by the oil activities. Instead, all revenues from the oil and gas sector are collected into a fund meant to support the budget and other priority spending areas directly, and a fund meant to accumulate revenues for future generations. According to the Revenue Management Law in place, the government does not have to explain how and on what it used the petroleum revenues. Access to information on the budget in Ghana is very low, and there is on Access to Information in place. Planned budget spending usually significantly deviates from actual spending.
Citizens in Ghana have the opportunity to participate in determining the spending and priorities of local and national budgets through national consultations. However, there are complaints that these consultations are not taken seriously as citizens input is hardly ever incorporated into spending plans. For the development of the legal framework for the petroleum sector in Ghana, national multistakeholder consultations were necessary to be able to pass proposed laws in Parliament.
How ICT could help: Technology could play a role in these national consultations as well. With the use of technology (perhaps through mobile phones), a larger number of people could be reached and will be able to give input into the decision-making process. Another use of technology might be for people to report on the quality of services/goods the government provides.
Questions: What options for ICT to support participatory budgeting do we have if information on the budget is limited?
ICT can be used to visualize what data there is. Often times data is presented in ways that are difficult for citizens to understand. Making data relevant can help create demand for more data.
Additionally ICT tools can be used for advocacy. Community Mapping can be used to identify local infrastructure, crime, and housing issues. Polling tools can be utilized to help prioritize advocacy efforts and identify unknown local issues.
ICT tools can also be used to gather people together in town hall style meetings and capture sentiments collected at such events.
Closing the feedback loop. While extensive development partner support already exists in promoting voice and participation, creating linkages between these demand-side initiatives and the Government’s capacity and willingness to respond remains a critical issue. What is your experience with this? How (if at all) can ICT tools help close the feedback loop?
This is generally the most significant issue in both citizen reporting and participatory budgeting. If people feel their efforts have little or no effect their interest in participating can wane. If ICT tools are used to collect information or data from the population, those same channels can be used to identify responses. Mobile phones are a two way communication devices and allow responses to be personalized easily. Even simple gestures like aggregating survey responses and sending that to all member participating can go a long way to letting people know their voices are being heard.
Other media sources can also be used to reinforce that people’s voices are being heard. Radio and newspapers are great places to reiterate citizens complaints and ideas.