The SEMA team. Photo: SEMA
The SEMA team. Photo: SEMA

SEMA, a startup developing feedback tools, wants to change how the public sector receives feedback. This, in the end, they believe would lead to increased accountability.

Nathalie Dijkman, a co-founder and CEO, says that she conceived the idea after realizing the lack of accountability. “I thought of the idea about a year ago when I realized that there was no accountability of public services in Uganda,” she said.

Adding that she “knew there had to be a better way to give voice to the citizens about how they experience services.”

It was from here that she teamed up with two other friends, Connor Sattely and Timothy Kakuru.

Connor had before co-founded Gov Faces in Switzerland while Timothy co-founded BarefootLaw. For Nathalie, she had worked for 3 years on access to justice and accelerating start-ups with HiiL.

Together, they decided to bring the idea to life. “We applied for D-Prize and as soon as we got it, we set up the legal entity [and] incorporated in February this year,” Nathalie wrote.

Seven months later, the startup has prototypes and testing them in the market. “We are still testing new versions of our products, but at the same time have gone to market with what we have and are selling.”

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To-date, they have had at least 7,000 people use their tool for feedback in Kampala.

Most of SEMA’s clients are government institutions. “We currently work with 2 clients – Uganda Police Force and KCCA.” Beyond these, they have also deployed their tools at 12 public offices around Kampala.

SEMA places feedback tools at places where it is easier for the users of the government services to see. This is usually the entrances or exits. The tool has five emoji buttons ranked from angry to happy and the user can press any, depending on how they feel.

One of SEMA's feedback tools. Photo: SEMA
One of SEMA’s feedback tools. Photo: SEMA

The tools then gather the data that the SEMA team analyzes. “Our feedback tools gather data on a daily basis, and we analyze it weekly,” she wrote. Though they bring out the reports monthly,

“This means that every month, we produce a short and easy to understand feedback report for each office,” Nathalie wrote. These reports show “exactly what the rating is of that office, and the feedback given.” Beyond data and reports, they also offer customer satisfaction training to these institutions.

Their model, thus, is that these institutions pay for all these services.

Currently, SEMA deploys hardware tools with the emojis. Yet, these are prone to bias especially when one person presses the buttons several times. Nathalie says that the devices can ignore multiple button presses within a certain time limit. In other words, they will time out after 10 seconds when you do many presses.

“Even if someone does ‘game’ the system by learning the time limit and pressing the button at perfect intervals, such intervals are easily identified in our live data dashboard, and data can be corrected during analysis.”

Apart from the pressing bias, I also think that the data gathered that way can’t be informative enough.

For example, if one presses the happy button, you’d have the data but no reason on. Which, in the end, does little when it comes to improving processes or services.

But, Nathalie says that they have lined up other ways of capturing feedback and the devices are one of them. Together, she believes that the data can be informative enough,

“The other two feedback tools we deploy – an IVR phone line encouraging voice recordings, and face-to-face interviews at the offices themselves – add richness to this data.”

Apart from the $30,000 received from the D-Prize, the startup has also received $18,000. This was from the Knowledge Management Fund to “test how the data can actually lead to improved public services”. Nathalie also said that they have put in their own savings.

Though a not-for-profit, SEMA is looking to explore raising external funding to the tune of $250,000. Additionally, they are also looking at the possibility of registering a for-profit arm that can be in a position to raise equity investment.

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