Colleen Ryan of Black Sash invited us at Paarl Advice Office to participate in its Making all Voices Count (MAVC) communitybased monitoring programme. We attended a workshop in August 2014 to learn about the MAVC project. The workshop covered how to administer the questionnaire, how to interview people, and how to introduce ourselves to the government department that we would be working with. We get many complaints from the community about government services. When Black Sash invited us to work this project, we realised that this could help make a difference. If government offices worked better, there would be fewer problems for our clients.
Gaining access to the government facility
We had never worked with a government service provider like SASSA before. When we started monitoring at the sites, we did not know that we had to have IDs and a permission letter. Black Sash helped us by sending SASSA our names, IDs and a permission letter from a senior SASSA official. SASSA staff members were afraid that we might say bad things about them, but we reassured them. It felt good to have completed so many questionnaires, and capturing information on the tablet.
Developing the survey tools
The Paarl office did not participate in developing the survey tools, but it made some suggestions for improving the survey. We felt that some of the questions were irrelevant, and felt excluded because it was not invited to participate in the early stages.
Training in monitoring: Getting to know the surveys and use the tablets
Black Sash provided training in how to administer the CBM surveys in September 2014, and the Paarl advice office monitors started work the following month. Black Sash assisted the Paarl office staff to organise themselves participate in this project. This helped to improve work productivity.
Monitoring of government service facility
We explained the survey process to the people in the SASSA waiting room and responded to questions. We told them we could not make any promises, but that we would talk to SASSA staff about the results, and that this could lead to service delivery improvements. There were a lot of angry people waiting for explana - tions about why deductions were being made from their SASSA accounts. We told them that we were at the of - fice to do monitoring, not to deal with deductions. Only SASSA staff could respond to their queries, we said, but the people had received no answers from SASSA. We had to listen carefully to their problems and patiently ex - plain our role. People queued to speak with the monitors and to complete the questionnaires. A Black Sash staff member was present at the beginning of the monitoring process to help us and provide support. It was not an easy exercise.
Capturing the information and sending it to Black Sash
We completed 300 questionnaires on the first day and 145 on the second day of monitor - ing. We discovered that some of the questions were not easy to complete. We used the paper questionnaires to gather information and then captured the answers on to the tablet. The training we got the Black Sash team on how to use the tablets was helpful. Black Sash loaded data airtime on to the tablets beforehand. As we captured the data, we could see that it was being uploaded onto the MAVC database.
Feedback preparation: Getting ready to report the findings to the community and the government facility
Black Sash provided us with support to organise community dialogues around the results of the research and how to resolve service delivery problems at SASSA.
Dialogues: Feedback about the survey and engaging the government service facility
Black Sash gave us the monitoring results on posters, explained the results, and told us how we could communicate the results in a simple way so that the project beneficiaries could understand. At the beginning it was very difficult to understand the report, particularly what the percentages meant.The Paarl office prepared the programme for the Dialogue and prepared a presentation on the MAVC project, the law on social assistance, SASSA norms and standards, the process of gathering information from clients at government service centres. At the end of the Dialogue, the Paarl office and Black Sash staff held a debriefing session to speak about lessons learned for future dialogues and how staff felt about the dialogue process. The Paarl office staff appreciated the support of the Black Sash staff to prepare themselves for the Dialogue.
Action/ improvement plan and action committee
The community and government officials agreed that the service could be improved and that certain issues needed to be addressed. The SASSA officials agreed to do a presentation about Regulation11 of the Social Assistance Act to all advice officers in the Western Cape. SASSA staff members now all wear uniforms and name tags, and there is a better working relationship between SASSA and the Paarl advice office. The posters about the results of the survey have been placed on the walls of the SASSA office in Paarl, as well as information about Regulation 11. The good relationships that have been built mean that problems can be resolved more easily, and that there are fewer problems overall. This has helped the advice office to deliver a better service to its clients.