Watch our latest African Civic Tech Case Studies Series

CTIN hosted four engagements to create a reservoir of case studies on civic tech best practices and lessons for other civic tech initiatives in Africa.

This project builds upon initial work based on CTIN’s own outreach and databases, and SACN/CTIN’s COVID-19 civic tech responses survey. The initiative aims to both share and invite case studies. The webinar sessions were modelled around initial experience creatively designed to attract and engage participation. The project was supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The Sessions

Session 1: Illustrating the Use of Open Data

Open data is heralded as a game-changer for transparency and government accountability. Several civic tech organisations in Africa are using open data to allow citizens to hold governments accountable, and thereby drive better service delivery. The session explored how a few organisations in Africa are driving accountability and service delivery using open data technologies.

Two major research insights that emerged from the session:

(I) How to get the government to understand why citizens would want data

(II) How COVID-19 is driving innovation and has been good for the civic tech community

Session 2: Illustrating Regional Experiences in Implementing Civic Tech

The objective was to look at the common stories that emerged from the group discussion and explored the meaning and significance in the different stories. Listening to the stories of the other discussants, the group may discover possibilities for new perspectives on current challenges.  Implications for group collaboration, cross initiatives and across countries were initiated through the discussions.

Session 3: Business Models for Funding in Civic Tech

This session explored why many civic tech projects are not able to scale and what emerging business models and earned revenue sources for civic tech practitioners are available.

One major research insight that emerged from the session was that there is potential for scaling and developing business models among African civic tech, but it will be essential to create an “enabling environment” and via:

(i) Creating visibility of their platforms to commercial businesses
(ii) Engaging more citizens via their platforms
(iii) Creating a buy-in and develop trust with governments
(iv) Building the civic tech Infrastructure

Session 4: Civic Tech in Low Tech Environment: mHealth in Mozambique

In this session, the strategies used and lessons learned from implementing civic tech in a low tech environment (such as 2G) were explored. A representative of a civic tech initiative from Mozambique shared their stories and lessons.

The following themes and observations emerged from this discussion:

  1. The problem, not the technology, should drive the project
  2. About 90% of successful civic tech projects is non-tech related
  3.  The political and political economy of civic tech is too often ignored

Our researcher is currently collecting case studies on civic tech practices and lessons in an urban African context from each session, these will be shared on our case studies database upon completion.

Reimagining Policy and Governance in Africa

During this session, the speakers presented stories from their respective countries regarding their transformation journey in the digital age. They spoke about how the journey has been and the lessons they have drawn out of the process. They shared practical actions for governments, civil society, and business could consider in being responsive to some of the policy and governance challenges Africa is experiencing. Discussion around the digital systems such as E-gov and Open Gov that transformed policy and what it means for government, civil society business and other urban stakeholders ensued.

Session Speakers

Aidan Eyakuze, the Executive Director of Twaweza East Africa, argued that the best quality governance should be characterised by decisions that are inclusive, execution that is competent, and distribution of costs and rewards that is equitable. Aidan added that new media and social media are at the core of quality governance as new media is transforming governance by shaping truth and disrupting trust.

Paul Plantinga, a specialist in the Impact Centre at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa, discussed his three areas of research: open innovation, open research evidence and open data. He went on to explain how his work uses new digital systems to transform policy in government sectors.

Lerato D. Mataboge, the Deputy Director-General for Trade and Investment in the South African Department of Trade and Industry, highlighted that from a policy implementation standpoint, the COVID-19 pandemic has given them the opportunity to test innovative ways of doing business and reaching their stakeholders. One the country went into lockdown, the department had to start thinking about innovative ways to deliver digital solutions which would help to sustain the economy. Digital solutions helped the department to become much more inclusive and provide information to a wider audience

How Africans are re-imagining New Narratives

As we reimagine the future of cities, of human society and how we live and intermingle with one another, technology and the planet — what is the role of the narratives we hold, and how are we using stories and the new narratives within our pursuits? How can we transform ourselves and our society through our narrative(s)? This session presented a unique storytelling session that enabled the participants to reimagine the stories they told themselves and how these can be used to ourselves and our society.

How Africa’s satirists are reimagining public opinion

The role of satirists in undermining propaganda and challenging those in power has never been more important than it is in society today. These were the views of some of Africa’s emerging young satirists speaking at the Reimagining Public Opinion and Satire session of the Urban Festival 2020.

This article was originally published by Jamlab

Reimagining new media in Africa: content for us, by us

Traditional media will have to evolve to remain relevant to today’s audience and news will increasingly need to be packaged in bite-sized forms to suit different communities. These were the key themes that emerged from the Reimagining New Media and Voices webinar at the 2020 Urban Festival.

  1. Today’s reader is faced with a deluge of content and information which leads to people being less prone to consuming long content. This had led to the advent of short video

Tomiwa Aladekomo, CEO of Big Cabal Media, a youth-focused Nigerian digital media company, said the #EndSARS movement against police brutality in Nigeria, had shown how communication was changing not just the tools we use but the way in which we use them. He added that traditional print media in Nigeria had largely towed the government line ignoring the protests, while digital publications “took up the slack” and chronicled the protest.

This article was originally published by Jamlab

Watch this masterclass on Using Public Data to tackle key social issues

In the fourth and final session, the host focused on whether data is truly being used effectively to solve problems, or merely creating inefficiencies? The session dives into how data can align with and support positive spatial planning solutions and initiatives now and going into the future, the potential of data to tackle key social issues like Gender-Based Violence and how data reveals some the ramifications and implications of Apartheid Spatial Planning, manifested in increased crime rates in certain neighbourhoods.

This session was hosted by Pierre Schoonraad, who is the Head of Research and Development at the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI). He opened the interactive session with the catalytic statement that ‘Data is not just about trying to identify and understand what the problems are but is about guiding us to make better decisions.

Key Takeaways:

Organisations like Open Up is making data more and more accessible

How does Public Service look? At National Level, most people are in law enforcement On the provincial front, most people are in the education and health departments. 50% of departmental budgets are dedicated to administration and the rest dedicated to the mandate.

We need to look into automate admin processes and lock into auditable processes (PDUs, Blockchain) Can the geolocation of crime assist targeted/ intelligence-driven policing? Challenge is that the geo-locations are not the real locations of crime scenes; there is rather an approximation of where the crime happened. What does that mean for intelligence-driven policing? It means law enforcement cannot actually pinpoint the location of the crime.

The data is therefore problematic and therefore defies the purpose of what we want to do with geolocation data When we deal with data we assume that the data will give us the correct information Data capturing and computer programmes render data less useful Data points towards street intersections, public facilities Civic Tech finding the devil Linking communities directly with SAPS (Memeza, Namola) Supporting SAPS to improve data and share with CPFs When we have civic tech innovations we need to ask all the questions When we work from the Civic Tech perspective we need to work from an iterative way. Civic Tech finding the devil: Partnerships Facilitating real-time policing When we deal with data we need to do that within an ethical and human rights framework.

It cannot be outside our Bill of Rights How do you deal with wicked problems? We know what the underlying causes are. In order to deal with this right at the beginning, we have checklists and we try to understand what the risks are. We know what the pathways are We jump into solutions without understanding the underlying issues. We need to look at people as the centre of the solutions that we bring. In providing solutions, start with understanding human behaviour Find insights that can help leverage the system Design for complexity ‘Data is not just about trying to identify and understand what the problems are but is about guiding us to make better decisions.’

Masterclass slides

Using Public Data

Masterclass on Digital Activism

This masterclass sought to share ways in which citizens can use civic technology for new ways to collaborate, campaign, mobilise and exchange information. Moeti showed the class how she has been using tech in her work and gave the participants practical guides on how they can use social mobilisation and activism to empower themselves and their communities.

Youtube: Please note this session was not recorded at the host’s request.

This session was led by Koketso Moeti, founding executive director of Moeti showed the class how she has been using tech in her work and gave the participants practical guides on how they can use social mobilisation and activism to empower themselves and their communities. 

Digital activism can be defined as the use of digital tools such as mobile phones, the internet and social media to bring about change, political and social change. Moeti explained how digital activism is not a new phenomenon, adding that throughout history, communities have consistently used the tools and resources available to them to mobilise for social change, using the fax machine as an example of a communication tool that was used to mobilise. Although digital tools are useful, Moeti cautioned the participants against attempting to use digital tools to replace people. Tools are made to be used, who uses them and what they use them for determines their impact, she said. 

Speaking about social change, Moeti encouraged the participants to work within ecosystems. ‘You cannot affect change alone; you have to have the humility to work with others to mobilise’, she said.  Talking about effecting change, Moeti said ‘change is not linear, you must be in it for the long haul.’ Furthermore, she added that due to the volatility of mobile technology, people must think carefully about the decisions they make today and how they affect the future. She gave insights on the value of foresight; imploring the participants to be more forward-thinking in their attempts to make an impact, ‘forecasting connects the past, the present and the future’, she said. She continued to say, ‘activism is not only about using tech; you have to think deeply about the past, present and future to change the world.

The Masterclass was a session filled with provocative exercises, that required the participants to think about how they can build a shared vision for multiple futures. Moeti shared various strategic foresight toolkits like the Institute for the Future Foresight Essentials and Save the Children – the Future is Ours, that can help citizens think differently about digital activism and the use of technological tools to accelerate change.

Masterclass on public engagement and participation

This masterclass tackled citizen engagement, by showcasing the work of Citizen Lab - facilitating good, evidence-based, decision and policymaking by providing an e-democracy platform that enables co-decision making between communities and governments. The platform also aids in building and regaining trust between the civic and policymakers, acting in accordance with their overarching intention to facilitate and aid online deliberation to empower citizens to engage and participate.

This session was led by Alex Chandran, head of Partnerships at Citizen Lab, a citizen engagement platform, used by local governments and organisations to reconnect with their communities and engage them in the decision-making process.

Alex cited the issues with existing and former models of public engagement and participation, such as low efficiency with regard to both resources and processes, as well as a lack of transparency and public trust. To address these issues, Citizen Lab facilitates good, evidence-based, decision and policymaking by providing an e-democracy platform that enables co-decision making between communities and governments.

Public participation and deliberation present big challenges for public institutions and organisers even on the best of days. A myriad number of challenges are faced by public officials in trying to increase the levels of public engagement while also ensuring that these processes are effective for all those involved. 

Public engagement is an integral part of any functional democracy. Citizens Lab’s interest is in providing digital tools for cities and governments to enhance participation on local topics and include in decision-making processes.  Alexandra leads the Partnerships to work at Citizen Lab, growing the mission and impact with a variety of partners across different countries and organisations. She is currently working with and supporting in-country Partners in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Kenya, Poland, Romania and South Africa. With these Partners, Alexandra is building a network of citizen participation experts who can develop the impactful use of Citizen Lab in their country market.

This masterclass provided a window into some key experiences from around the world of effective public engagement on both offline and online platforms. Alexandra Chandran also focused on the role of tech in ensuring effective public participation during the COVID pandemic. 

Public engagement pre-COVID-19 predominantly happened in physical locations where citizens could engage robustly with decision-makers and other stakeholders. Public officials were faced with pessimism from citizens who find them to be ineffective and lacking transparency. These perceptions eroded trust between public officials and citizens. Pessimism is a major challenge for democratic institutions especially because the levels of trust between institutions and citizens have an impact on the willingness of citizens to participate in decision-making processes. Citizens lab’s e-democracy platform is an attempt at resolving some of the challenges faced by public officials in engaging and deliberating with citizens. This platform seeks to resolve challenges around transparency and efficiency of institutions and to restore public trust in processes of deliberation and participation.

Some key lessons from this platform indicate that it is important to first understand the kind of engagement wants to have. Democratic institutions need to understand that participation and deliberation are not the same issue. Both these forms of engagement have implications for the kind of outcomes desired. Participation needs to be understood as simply the empowerment of citizens to take action. Taking action could be anything from taking part in a survey or a poll and even joining a  protest. Deliberation focuses on discussions and debates between citizens and stakeholders, and as such is a different type of engagement from participation by the sheer number of participants that could effectively take part. These forms of engagement should all form part of the decision-making process of democratic institutions. 

Deliberation requires that participants have some knowledge of what is being discussed to be able to engage with decision-makers effectively.  This process does not require the whole population but requires an inclusive number of representatives from each group of the population to engage decision-makers and other stakeholders. 

Participative processes are to be employed when an inclusive deliberative process has been completed. Participative processes could occur through surveys, polls, citizen proposals, option analysis and other similar methods. 

The 2020 OECD study revealed that methods of deliberation and participation have had positive effects on the relationship between citizens and institutions. These processes have contributed to better policy making processes and increased levels of trust and transparency between citizens and institutions. The report also revealed that employing deliberation and participation has broadened the democratic approach for citizens and lead to better decision making for institutions. According to the report, interest in deliberative methods of participation has increased, and there has been a shift away from only participation as a form of engagement with the citizenry.  

Often deliberative and participative measures happen offline but they can also happen online platforms. These processes could exclusively take place on online platforms or could occur concurrently through live streaming services for instance. Livestreaming is a good way to get citizens to participate without having to physically attend official events. Citizens could participate in the events though asking questions and giving their inputs from different locations. 

The government enforced lockdowns across the world meant that these engagements needed to happen exclusively online and by so doing presented new challenges for public officials. OECD presented four key elements to consider when deliberation exclusively goes online. According to OECD, officials need to consider whether these engagements should happen in real-time or asynchronously. This is especially important if institutions are to be inclusive during the decision-making process. The organisers need to ask themselves “will everyone be able to attend a live event”? It is also important to consider whether citizens can participate in public deliberations anonymously or with their full identity should they wish to. This will also help to determine whether these meetings need to happen in real-time or asynchronously.

There have been success stories across the world about how online tools have been used for effective deliberation and decision making. National and local governments have used online platforms during this pandemic to maintain a dialogue with citizens and coordinate local volunteering efforts (Rueil-Malmaison), international conferences have happened entirely online (UK Climate Assembly), and national governments have partnered with civic organisations to digitise application processes for social relief grants (GovChat). 

Online deliberation is expected to continue throughout the world during the Covid19 pandemic. Here are some key factors for officials to consider inclusive online deliberation: 

  • Language

Officials should use appropriate language that can be understood by everyone. Ensure that there is no highlighting of stereotypes that may offend or exclude others. Officials should not make assumptions about their audiences 

  • Communication

Ensure effective communication with key stakeholders and people of influence in the communities that are being engaged. 

  • Privacy and data

Personal data should be always protected. There should be clarity about what the data being solicited is going to be used for. Data should be collected only when relevant to the work being done and not just for the sake of it. 

  • Compatibility and accessibility 

Digital platforms being used for public engagement should be compatible with all devices

  • Offline and Online 

Consider whether all participants have access to a digital device that they can participate from; if not, consider providing an offline platform for participants to be able to share their views as well.

  • Measure levels of engagement 

Officials need to pay attention to who is participating and responding and whether they have been able to reach a diverse audience.

More information on Citizen Lab’s work can be found on their website

CTIN’s Masterclass on how to digitalise governance

This is a masterclass for Government officials seeking to understand the impact of digitalisation on their work and for civic techies and innovators who work with government/issues

This masterclass was led by Wits School of Governance senior lecturer Halfdan Lynge-Mangueira and lecturer Rekgotsofetse Chikane lecturer.

They kick-started the workshop by sharing some insights on the topic of Digitalising Governance. Through a series of charts, they were able to highlight how the country of Estonia was able to implement key policy reforms by making use of technology and data science over the past 10-12 years. Halfdan shared three major trends happening in the space of data processing. 

  1. The first trend is that ‘Data volumes are increasing’ where he displayed a graph showcasing how the data available to us is on an exponential upward rise between the year of 2010 and 2025.
  2. The second trend pointed out was that ‘the nature of data is changing’ where we no longer are just obtaining organised structured data, but rather unstructured data that comprises of photos, text files and webpage posts.
  3. The third trend happening is that ’our processing power is constantly improving’. As we take note of these three global trends happening in the space of data processing, the question arises as to what are the implications on how we engage with public policy?
Smart cities- action and policy: An argument for inclusive smart cities

The creation of a smart city is a multifaceted journey, a journey that is entirely hinged on the developmental level of each city and the day-to-day challenges experienced by its citizens.

The smarter cities series was wrapped up with the Policy and Action session, which focused on how South Africa is taking on the “smart city” concept — looking at how practically — what a “Smart City South Africa” agenda entails. Three panellists led the conversation, Sithole Mbanga, CEO of the South African Cities Network (SACN), Avril Williamson, Director-General: Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and Engela Petzer from The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

To provide a brief overview of where South Africa currently in terms of smart cities, Williamson referred to the President’s State of the Nation Addresses in June 2019 and February 2020. She stated that the President’s dream of a smart city had ignited discussion around the notion of smart cities within the South African context. She described a “smart city as a city wherein investments in human and social capital, and traditional and modern communication infrastructure, fuel sustainable economic development and high quality of life, with prudent management of natural resources.” The national government has developed the Smart Cities Framework for South Africa based on this idea, this framework is developed in collaboration with the CSIR.

This framework allows the national government to enable, guide, support, coordinate, and accelerate smart city initiatives. In a nutshell, the framework involves:

  1. Developing smart cities guidance and policy,

  2. Establishing and supporting partnerships,

  3. Facilitating information sharing,

  4. Supporting research and development and

  5. Monitoring implementation (Progress and Outcomes).

Engela Petzer from the CSIR elaborated on this, presenting the key findings of a study the CSIR conducted, titled “Inclusive smart cities appropriate to the South African context”. She said a South African understanding of a smart city should be based on the principle of inclusivity.

“A smart city initiative should improve the well-being of the entire city and that these initiatives should not have an adverse effect on certain communities or members of society. Moreover, a smart city initiative should not; further marginalise the poor and the vulnerable, it should acknowledge the “digital divide” (e.g. do not assume everyone is tech-savvy) and consider the diversity of potential participants.”

She added that municipalities should play a critical role in responding to the issue of building smart cities. Firstly, municipalities need to assess the smart readiness of a city by looking at its pre-conditions, meaning evaluate whether it’s able to provide basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity, shelter and economic opportunities under its current conditions. Secondly, municipalities ought to be enablers for implementing smart technologies. This essentially means that municipalities need to reflect on its means and ability to leverage smart technologies, such as having digital infrastructure, interconnection, intelligence and skilled people. In conclusion, she said, municipalities need impartial decision-support to identify context-specific smart city initiatives and select environment appropriate technologies.

Meanwhile, Sithole Mbanga dived to the core of what he thinks the focus of the smart cities agenda should be. Taking the participants through the history and legacy of slavery and colonisation in Africa, bringing this topic closer to home, he spoke about apartheid in the South African context and its relevance on governance in present time. He was using the challenges of apartheid’s spatial planning, water and road infrastructure to illustrate the legacy of apartheid and its impact on the urban space economy and the alignment of infrastructure development. Additionally, he said COVID-19 has intensified many systemic inequalities, from joblessness, women suffering from domestic abuse to systemic racism.

From a policy opportunity perspective, he said, “there’s a global, all-round, all-of-society consensus that the present disruption needs another disruption for a proper reset to be in motion. He identified four areas of action opportunity:

  1. Enhanced mobility of people, goods and services,

  2. Land tenure, settlements, spatial reconfiguration,

  3. Equitable exploitation of the digital world/generation/era and

  4. All these actions are underpinned by a sustainable development agenda.

In conclusion, Mbanga said; the smart city concept is about optimal convergence, the intersection of intelligent policy and action, it’s not about technology. Adding that the ultimate benefactor of the smart city should be its citizens.

The Smart Cities series webinar has presented us with an opportunity to think more broadly about the concept of smart cities in Africa. While smart cities can steer cities into designing opportunities for innovation and improved livelihoods, challenges during and after their development will have to be faced. Technological innovations for technology’s sake will not create solutions to some of Africa’s cities’ most pressing challenges such as inaccessible healthcare, poor road infrastructure, climate change and inadequate education systems. When promoting smart cities, municipalities and policymakers must keep the bigger picture in mind, ensuring well-implemented infrastructure that meets the needs of citizens — ensuring that no one is left behind.

This year’s Urban Festival, themed “Empowering the Civic” has presented us with a month (October) full of activity, inspiration, insights and engagement. The theme, Empowering the Civic was an exploration into how the physical and virtual world can be harnessed to engage people in reimagining and shaping their cities, both in these strange and uncertain COVID-19 pandemic times and into the future.

Event Blog published on Medium, click link below

Smart cities- action and policy: An argument for inclusive smart cities


Mmabatho Montse