Civic Tech Innovation Forum & Jamfest 2020: Urban Festival

Empowering the Civic – an exploration into how the physical and virtual world can be harnessed to engage people in reimagining and shaping their own cities, both in these strange and uncertain COVID-19 pandemic times and into the future.

  • In this complex and changing world, how do we really empower and activate people to consciously participate in the transformation of South Africa’s cities and towns?
  • What are the big opportunities if people and places are empowered by technology to achieve our objective of inclusive, resilient, safer and liveable cities and towns?
  • And how can an all-of-society approach to activating citizens be ensured if tech remains inaccessible to many South Africans?

The inaugural Urban Festival presented and hosted by the South African Cities Network (SACN) in partnership with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Civic Tech Innovation Network (CTIN), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and Our Future Cities (OFC), will run from 1-31 October 2020, culminating on World Cities Day.

Urban Festival’s overarching focus on inclusivity, accessibility and digital innovation will be primarily based around the Main Programme of speakers from government, independent organisations and industry. This will be complemented by an Emergent Programme of wide-ranging additional presenters and organisations who have responded to our Open Call. SACN, partners and the OFC curatorial team, therefore, invite all civil society, organisations, designers, planners, storytellers, civil servants and city-dwellers to join the virtual conversation so that stories, tours, research and voices are preserved, and can be used to foster greater understanding and better solutions.

Events include workshops, lectures, discussion groups, film screenings, Instagram takeovers, podcasts and virtual exhibitions.h

For other Urban Fest content, check out the Urban Fest Past Events webpage. Watch the Urban Fest Highlights video. READ OUR FULL URBAN FEST REPORT

Urban Fest Past Events webpage. Watch the Urban Fest Highlights video.



Civic Tech Masterclasses, the weekly masterclasses focused on sharing case studies from around the world on several topics including, digital transformation in governance, public meetings and COVID-19, digital activism and using public data.

Digitalising Governance 101 Masterclass with Wits School of Governance

Session Hosts: Halfdan Lynge-Mangueira and Rekgotsofetse Chikane

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

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Public Meetings & Covid Masterclass with Citizen Lab

Session Host: Alexandra Chandran

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.

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Masterclass on Digital Activism with

Session Host: Koketso Moeti

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.

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Masterclass on Using Public Data to tackle key social issues

Session Host: Pierre Schoonraad

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 

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Smarter Cities — “Consciousness” with Anuraj Gambhir

CTIN kicked off its Urban Festival 2020 programme with the “Smarter Cities — Consciousness” webinar with Anuraj Gambhir. In the session, Gambhir shared his insights on how we can engage with tech and cities while shifting our consciousness to focus on what matters and is meaningful for humanity to survive and thrive on this planet.

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Smarter Cities – Participation

Smart cities and digital technologies present opportunities that can better public services for citizens, enable efficient use of resources and minimise environmental impact. The webinar focused on how communities and their stakeholders can engage in making “smart cities” and the lessons from around the world that Africa can draw from. Principles that can be employed and cautions about the future of African smart city-making emerged. This session, titled “Smart Cities and Participation” featured  Julien Carbonnel, Simina Lazar from ASToN Network,  Derrick Demeveng from GeOsm and Charlynn Ainembabazi from Kampala Capital City Authority.

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Smarter Cities — Imagination

The Smarter Cities” session titled “Imagination”, featured Thiresh Govender, an architect and Russel Hlongwane, a cultural producer and creative industries consultant. Who shared their insights on how we can transform our cities and settlements towards more sustainable and fulfilling possibilities through engaging our (African) imaginations. They implored the webinar participants to interrogate their perspectives around Afro-Smart cities and the narratives that have been created around socio-spatial spaces and new forms of data-driven urbanism.

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Smarter Cities – Action and policy

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. By the end of the session, the panellists all agreed that 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 panellists who led this conversation were;  Sithole Mbanga, CEO of the South African Cities Network (SACN), Avril Williamson, Director-General: Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and Angela Petzer from The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

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About Jam Cafes: The “Urban JAM Café” were a series weekly “conversational” virtual sessions at the Urban Festival 2020 on the influential role the civic has played in media to influence public opinion & voice, and shape policy & governance in African cities. The series was organised in partnership with JAMlab Meetup’s Reimagining Journalism Series, and with support from KAS Strong Cities. As the world prepares to open up, following a seismic shift in how things operate, we need to begin reimagining journalism post the pandemic. The Jamlab Meetup: Reimagining Journalism Series was created to explore the changes taking place within journalism and media in Africa.

Reimagining Public Opinion and Satire

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. 

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Reimagining 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

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Reimagining New Media & Voices

This session aimed to create space for the participants to reimagine new ways of delivering News in time where Africa is increasingly becoming younger and more urbanised.  The conversation concluded with a consensus that 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.

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Reimagining Policy and Governance

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 eGov and Open Gov that transformed policy and what it means for government, civil society business and other urban stakeholders ensued.

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Urban Fest Closing Event

The Urban Festival 2020 closing ceremony, chaired by South African Cities Network CEO, Sithole Mbanga, featured a conversation between Geci Karuri-Sebina and the poet, Emmah Mabye, as well as a discussion of key insights from the festival from Our Future Cities director, Rashiq Fataar.

Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Councillor Xola Pakati, Executive Mayor of Buffalo City, also shared their thoughts on the importance of an empowered civic.


Each day of the Urban Festival, we featured a different innovative or tech-inspired person or organisation.

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