Key Individual:
Richard Gevers

Who can benefit from this study?
Civic Tech initiatives

Organisation responsible for case study:
Name: Open Cities Lab

Org. type: Non-Profit

Would you like to suggest an edit?
Click here to email us.

OCL – People-centered informed decision making for participatory democracy

Post Status:
Main Project Location: Durban
Project country/countries: South Africa
Project dates:  –
Last updated: 23 March 2022

Brief overview of the Case Study   

Open Cities Lab was earlier called Open Data Durban and it started out as a meet up of its founders who desired to serve common good through driving transparency in government.

It is a non-profit open and non-partisan organisation that combines the use of action research, co-design, data science, and technology with civic engagement to enable the development of inclusive cities and urban spaces.

Open Cities Lab (OCL) focuses on building inclusion and participatory democracy in cities (such as Durban) and urban spaces through empowering citizens, building trust and accountability in civic space, and capacitating government.

The challenge or problem

Lack of understanding of the use of data by national governments and municipalities in South Africa
Little understanding of the use and power of public data by citizens of South Africa in driving transparency and accountability in government

The solution that was implemented

OCL empowers citizens to know their rights and understand the data, knowledge, mechanisms and processes they can use to make their lives, and those of their communities, better.

OCL works proactively with the government to build capacity for informed decision-making and evidence based policy and planning, with a focus on areas where this can uplift vulnerable and excluded communities. They enable co-design of existing and new processes and mechanisms for including citizens in decision-making, including sharing and opening data and information, and ‘crowding-in’ of intelligence and insight.

OCL works with key actors including communities, the media, academia, and government to build accountability and trust in civic space. This includes fair and independent media, monitoring and transparent oversight of power, such as state-owned enterprises, and increasingly, the use of AI and machine learning in areas that affect privacy and democracy.

Which actors, resources, conditions, tools, etc. were required?
Working with key actors including communities, the media, academia, and government to build accountability and trust in civic space were required
Finding advocates of open data within government
Marketing the use of open data

What results were achieved?

Through its various projects, including CheckIt, SCODA, Planning for Informity and many more OCL has achieved an impact on participatory democracy. OCL connected with so-called champions by being present at events, partnerships, talking a lot about its civic work, and “marketing” open data through in-person meets and digitally.

Lessons and recommendations

It is critical to understand the incentives that drive data owners, and what makes them open it up
Change in government is slow and a long-drawn-out process
A future inclusive city is one where openness is pervasive in spaces, structures, data, knowledge and much more.
It is necessary to show the data owner (the government in this case) the positive outcomes of opening up data access, and also help them understand the use, demand and impact of such data
It is critical to find a champion within the government and provide/demonstrate incentives. The role of such a champion is to be an advocate and “evangelist” to their fellow officials and departments, and then also support the work however they are able. It is not necessary that they are a “data person”.
During the COVID crisis, many barriers between communities and the government fell away. The government was able to make decisions and assist communities. So, it requires understanding the structural issues that create barriers and overcome them.

Case study images

Scroll to Top