Who can benefit from this study?
Civic Tech initiatives
Organisation responsible for case study:
Name: Open Cities Lab
Org. type: Non-Profit
Transparency, active citizenry, democracy, information sharing, voter advocacy
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Post Status: Complete
Main Project Location: South Africa
Project country/countries: South Africa
Project dates: 2021 –
Last updated: 9 Dec 2022
Brief overview of the Case Study
‘MyCandidate’ is a web-based application that was developed to enable citizens to access information about who is running in their local government elections, and any public information about them. Developed by Open Cities Lab, in partnership with OpenUp, MyCandidate is a web-based digital platform that operates as a transparency tool in democratic processes. Using the notion that more information supports informed decision-making, MyCandidate provides up-to-date information that helps voters in communities identify their potential future ward councilors.
The challenge or problem
Leading up to the 2021 municipal elections, there were a lot of conversations on social media with citizens sharing their frustrations around a lack of information on voting candidates per ward. Despite the short turnaround time of two weeks, the Open Cities Lab team decided to fill this gap to make this data more easily accessible. Ask any eligible voter to name every single candidate contesting local government elections in their ward and you're unlikely to get an answer. While posters and door-to-door campaigns are the best way for candidates to make themselves known to voters, this approach is only limited to a handful of parties.
The solution that was implemented
My Candidate is a portal where you can type in your ward and find all the relevant information about who is standing for local government elections in your area. Type in your ward, and you get a list of candidates, their age, party, and wards they are contesting. A web app was custom-built by the Open Cities Lab team. MyCandidate has a basic web front end that allows users to input their addresses. Using geolocation, the app is able to determine what ward users fall into and then apply the ward candidate details. The name, age, and the political party they are representing are listed, along with all the wards in which the candidate is running. A Google search link was then attached to the candidate names so that users can read more about the candidate's background and experiences.
My Candidate is a portal where you can type in your ward and find all the relevant information about who is standing for local government elections in your area. Type in your ward, and you get a list of candidates, their age, party, and wards they are contesting. MyCandidate was launched very quickly and the call was put out on Twitter for users to test the app and give feedback. This feedback was incorporated to fix any issues and improve its overall usability. A blog post about voting was written to explain the way local elections work and what the different ballots voters receive represent, and a link to this was included on the application.
What results were achieved?
There was an overwhelmingly positive response and MyCandidate was utilised by 118,000 unique users over a period of 10 days leading up to the election. There were a lot of conversations and debates generated both on social media and in the general media, with MyCandidate trending on Twitter over this period. The discussions on this and greater engagement around elections are a key step toward greater civic engagement.
Lessons and recommendations
The use case of MyCandidate demonstrates the potential and value of developing tools that support greater active citizen and democratic processes in South Africa. Now more than ever, communities deserve the right to know important information about the leaders that could potentially bring about change in their neighbourhoods. The technology used to develop MyCandidate has the potential to be replicated in other countries, particularly across Africa, to improve citizens’ access to information that empowers them. There is also an opportunity to create a similar application that monitors and tracks councilors’ contributions to their ward in order to hold local representatives to account.