Note: This follows an earlier post that covers our pre-development human-centered design (HCD) phase.

In recent years, Kabul residents have lamented the hours-long queue to access services at their municipal office. Several weeks ago, Kabul Municipality’s solution was hard to ignore. News of a new citizen engagement app was seen displayed on 21 billboards throughout the city, broadcast on local television and online sites, shared on social media, and proudly showcased by the Mayor of Kabul at a launch event that drew 250 attendees and local media.

App Billboard-03.jpgAdvertisement for the Kabul Municipality mobile app.

The launch was the culmination of a 16-month, multiphase initiative implemented by DAI’s Strong Hubs for Afghan Hope and Resilience (SHAHAR) project to improve communication and engagement between local governments and their citizens, civil society, and businesses in Afghanistan. With technical guidance from DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration (CDA)—including yours truly, Addie Ryan and Trevor Olexy, and former CDA-er Adam Fivenson—the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded SHAHAR worked alongside municipality counterparts in a consultative, iterative process to transform this initiative from vision to reality.

SHAHAR created this video clip, which was broadcast on national TV in both Dari (embedded above) and Pashto (linked below) to showcase the app features.

Bringing Citizens to the Design Table

To ensure the app’s functionality aligned with the interests of local stakeholders, we guided SHAHAR through a HCD approach, working closely with the mayor, municipal departments, community leaders called wakeel-e-guzars, interested civil society, and citizens to deliver an application based on users’ needs and expectations. In the initial discovery phase, we mapped and then met with relevant stakeholders, identifying the objectives, data, systems, and commitment of the municipal staff. By applying Frontier Insights, DAI’s proprietary user discovery and research method, we explored the local digital ecosystem and learned how citizens in Kabul engage with technology. Data collected from citizen surveys informed a Design Thinking Session that convened key stakeholders to workshop the app concept, design, and functionalities. If you haven’t seen it, we wrote about our Frontier Insights results in Kabul in greater detail during the design phase.

Design Thinking Session_cropped.jpgDesign Thinking Session participants discuss which functions the Kabul Municipal App should perform.

The design process led us to four primary app functionalities:

  1. Municipal Plans and Information: Kabul citizens can access detailed information about development plans, public services, municipal laws and regulations, tourist sites, and phone numbers for emergency services and key municipal personnel.
  2. Complaint Registration: Kabul citizens no longer need to wait for “office hours” to register a complaint with the municipality. They can file and track a complaint anytime, anywhere from their smart phones and municipal staff will address their concerns.
  3. Safayi Fee Calculator: Kabul citizens can calculate their annual safayi (property tax) fees directly through the Kabul Municipality’s mobile app and will no longer need to physically travel to their municipal office to do so.
  4. Municipality News: Kabul citizens can follow news and discussions related to the municipality’s activities including easy access to the municipality’s Facebook page and website.

Stakeholder meetings photo 2_cropped.jpegSHAHAR's ICT Municipal App Project Manager orients municipal staff to the new mobile app ahead of the public launch.

Building the App Citizens Asked For

Once the design phase was complete, SHAHAR hired a local software development firm to build the application. While CDA provided technical feedback and guidance, SHAHAR’s all-star, Kabul-based ICT Municipal App Project Manager Hafizullah Shinwari provided day-to-day coordination and communication between the developers and Kabul Municipality counterparts. Absolutely critical to the success of this project was Hafizullah’s ability to keep things moving amidst bureaucratic delays, administration changeover, mission creep, and last-minute requests for changes. After several iterations, SHAHAR conducted user testing with 25 citizens—including government officials, wakeel-e-guzars, civil society representatives, and SHAHAR staff—and subsequently incorporated a second color theme and additional icons on the landing page to provide quicker access to important sub menus within the app.

billboard_cropped.jpg The app advertised on a billboard in Kabul City.

Launching the App for Citizen Engagement

Following a robust promotional campaign—including an animated promo broadcast on popular national TV stations in Pashto and Dari—and a successful launch event, the app quickly saw more than 1,000 downloads. SHAHAR is currently engaged in customized expansion of the app for Kandahar, Hirat, Jalalabad, and Mazar-e-Sharif. Government counterparts have expressed interest in further expansion and even presenting the app to President Ashraf Ghani. We’re thrilled to see citizens using the app and Kabul Municipality’s commitment to improving service delivery through this platform.

“Now our citizens will be able to contact me or any other municipal official by simply clicking the button and registering their complaints. I promise that through this mobile application, the municipal services’ delivery to citizens will be quicker and more efficient than before.”—Ahmad Zaki Sarfaraz, Mayor of Kabul

Launch photo 1_cropped.jpegPresentation of the app at the launch ceremony in Kabul.

Learn More

To learn more about DAI’s design approach, check out our posts about other Frontier Insights research that CDA has employed in more than a dozen country contexts and a white paper detailing the Lean HCD approach we applied for Somos Chiantla, a local government transparency app in Guatemala. Additionally, keep an eye out for updates on the development of SHAHAR’s Regional Municipal Hub app.

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Download the app for free on Google Play to see it for yourself.