WATCH |Thinking outside of the box to reclaim African narratives

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Leveraging key developments in data analytics, big data and AI for social entrepreneurs in Africa

In an era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), climate change, high poverty levels, and deep inequalities, the challenge remains how to harness the potential of big data and data analytics in order to come up with innovative solutions to various societal problems.

CTIN recently hosted a webinar on building social enterprises in Africa based on digitisation and data analytics. The conversation aimed to explore how digital technologies and new data capabilities might be leveraged by social entrepreneurs and civically-minded young Africans to address pertinent issues and create livelihood opportunities.

Facilitated by Lesley Williams, CEO of Tshimologong Precinct – this conversation was particularly insightful due to the rich and diverse experience of the illustrious panel of speakers which included: 

Social entrepreneurship has become one of the most spoken about terms in the social problem-solving space.  However, the definition of “social entrepreneurship” remains broad and vague. The discussion kicked off with the panellists emphasizing the highly contextual nature of social enterprises and social entrepreneurship, meaning that they can be interpreted in varying ways depending on the sets of activities they might be undertaking, as well as the principles and goals of the institutions advocating for them. They concluded that social entrepreneurship is a blend of complex social values and commercial business activities in the pursuit of positive and impactful change, with long term sustainability.

“One has to be able to distinguish between a social entrepreneur and social enterprise” – Prof Celik, Wits University

According to Prof. Celik “one has to be able to distinguish between a social entrepreneur and social enterprise.” He argues that organisations trying to create a positive impact for the public can be viewed as social enterprises. However, this requires entrepreneurial ecosystems in which these enterprises are situated to be created as this will influence the success of the ecosystem.

Having resolved on definitions, the issue of big-data was then brought into the conversation with the aim of identifying the opportunities and challenges that arise from the accelerating proliferation of data and the increasing capabilities using that data productively – in this case, to be used in endeavours aimed at fast-tracking positive social change.

It turns out that how big data and data analytics are used and their role in social innovation are also topics of debate. The contemporary big data debates bring to the fore key questions on issues such as access, privacy, safety, the usefulness of data and representation. The recent gains in fields such as financial and digital technology (fintech) require states, civil society and the private sector to deeply question how social enterprises could benefit more through big data and analytics –  transforming eligibility assessment to reduce bias or improve targeting, the measurement of social impact, and support for scaling.

“Big Data” captures the idea of managing vast amounts of data using a variety of modern computing technologies and infrastructure from a variety of different sources. (Wits University)

The speakers identified the existing chasm between the potential of data-driven intelligence and its use in addressing social problems. In South Africa, big-data and new digital platforms have been useful in developing innovations that solve societal issues. An example cited as Namola, which enables users to access emergency assistance at the push of a button.  Users request help on the Namola app, Namola operators quickly call back to verify the details of the request, and they then dispatch the emergency service providers required. Another app, GovChat, is South Africa’s largest civic engagement platform accessible online, on any mobile handset and feature phones. GovChat leverages administrative data to offer a chatbot interaction via WhatsApp which is used to enable an interaction between the government and citizens. It has been applied to monitor and evaluate provinces’ and municipalities’ service delivery, response times, failures and successes, and corruption, in real-time.

“It is about creating an enabling environment; data alone is not helpful.” – Claudia Juech, Cloudera Foundation

Supporting the great need and potential to use data for positive change, Juech said she sees the promise big-data brings to every sector, including agriculture. She cites an example from Cloudera Foundation’s engagements in Burkina Faso where she has seen an organisation that collects data on behalf of the government. This data is used to diagnose and distinguish diseases and identify treatments.

However, the challenge remains how big-data can be effectively harnessed to sustainably solve the most critical and human social problems such as food security, climate change and poverty. While big data and data analytics have the potential to change decision-making processes for entrepreneurs, countries and civil society, there is limited understanding and intervention into how enabling ecosystems can be developed to embrace and support the actualisation of this. The question of how big data and data analytics can be successfully exploited towards achieving social good and sustainable change becomes an important question in how social innovation is supported through policies and institutions, particularly when data has become a commodity!

Talking to the issue of ecosystems and sustainability of social enterprises, Dr Nkomo said: “people should be able to transform their environment by using their knowledge – building sustainability by developing capacity in society, creating jobs and financially sustainable solutions.” 

Non-profit organisations were used as an example of how organisations that traditionally focused solely on donations for revenue are increasingly struggling to be sustainable. On the other hand, the social enterprise model is different in that it hybridises; it employs commercial business models while addressing social problems, sometimes also tapping into a diversity of funding streams including from grants. This mitigates the financial hardship of solely depending on donors and government-generated funding. 

Furthermore, recent years have seen a growing number of new hybrid options for financing social impact organisations. The distinct dual mission [profit and purpose] of social enterprises requires an exploration of the nuances around the funding and structuring of social enterprises, and how these influence the decisions and strategies of funders.  With this said, it has become apparent that social enterprises need to demonstrate that their business models work, regardless of how interesting their value proposition may be; organisations need to demonstrate how they ensure/measure social impact, and how they will sustain their activity.

Bridging the gap between academia and entrepreneurs

The speakers also urged entrepreneurs, governments and universities to urgently leverage the rapid development of technology as an opportunity to combine the theories of collective impact and the tenets of social entrepreneurship to leverage place-based knowledge to build community capacity – where community demands can be better addressed. By creating and supporting a collective approach, social entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurs can tackle social problems such as food insecurity by collectively starting initiatives such as community urban farming projects.

“There is a disconnect… There is a lot of data that is untapped in academia. It is about how we bridge the gap between academia and entrepreneurs to lessen the increase in social problems. It’s not scientists who see these problems – social entrepreneurs are the ones. We need interdisciplinary ways of problem-solving.” – Dr Nkomo, Embedded Ingenuity / Hailer Technologies

While big-data has great potential to inform decision-making in solving some of Africa’s toughest social problems such as human trafficking, issues relating to data collection pose a challenge as the data are largely unstructured and unmanaged. The lack of structured data for addressing social problems is a result of poorly managed administrative systems, lack of data governance, unreliable data, and the fact that data uses can result in unintended consequences. 

Nevertheless, there is a proliferation of open data platforms, where citizens are creating new products and ideas to solve their community problems. National data platforms or banks would be key in addressing these challenges, provided these data platforms have the capacity to hold multiple different data types, ensuring that social entrepreneurs and citizens have access to well-curated data sets from the government and corporate sectors. A multi-sector alliance that promotes data sharing on thematic issues is one way of democratically ensuring this.

“There is a need to collaborate with innovation hubs and incubators, provide tax relief to support the ecosystem itself, a need for governments to collaborate with institutions. These efforts must be supported by the government, but free from politics.”Prof. Celik

We hope, if not now, at least in the near future that there will be more solid partnerships between the private sector, government, and social enterprise. These partnerships will enable social enterprises to develop more channels with data companies, building secure relationships, and show that businesses also benefit when they provide consumer data to non-profit and social enterprise actors.

Watch the Session Here

[Watch & Share] African Civic Tech Best Practices and Lessons

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. The following 12 case studies were collected from various African civic tech initiatives.

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 Case Studies

  1. Open Cities Lab: People-centered informed decision making for participatory democracy
  2. Les Villageois: Young people take ownership of digital technology
  3. BudgIT: Illustrating the use of open data to drive transparency and accountability in Nigeria
  4. Open Up: Civic Tech vs Gender inequality
  5. Mobile Web:  Illustrating the use of open data to drive transparency and accountability in Ghana

Session Video

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 Case Studies

  1. MobiSAM: Improving Makana Municipality’s communication and responsiveness
  2. WoeLab: Creating African Smart Cities Through technology startups
  3. Tanzania Data Lab: Promoting innovation and data literacy

Session video

 

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 Case Studies:

  1. iCampus: Business Models for funding civic tech in Africa
  2. Gavel: Using technology to accelerate Justice in Nigeria
  3. iTakeActions/Noble Missions: Improving access to quality education for children

Session Video

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

Session Case study:

  1. Pensa: mHealth platform providing free and MOH-approved health information to Mozambicans

Session Video

 

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.

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 Amandla.mobi. 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