How can we leverage and support civic tech in South Africa going forward?
“Democracy is a discussion of various values and over the last few years, the role of government has changed. However, social norms drive civic tech in Taiwan and people are at the centre of innovations. The innovations should reflect common goals or“public common values”. These are the words of Taiwan’s digital minister Audrey Tang, sharing the journey of how Taiwan has changed its values and began supporting civic tech transparently, during a Civic Tech Innovation Forum (CTIF2020) webinar focused on strengthening and expanding the civic tech community and its impact.
Other speakers during this session included the chief executive of the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, Lesley Williams, and Geekulcha COO, Tiyani Nghonyama.
This session also offered local and global reflections on directions, challenges and opportunities for civic tech actors focusing on the key messages and ideas for what the enablement issues are and how these could be achieved.
Tang explained that civic tech is integrating various sectors ensuring sustainable infrastructure and that the Sustainable Development Goals guide the procedures and outcomes of tech tools or initiatives.
Taiwan has implemented radical transparency where they have created or started online platforms creating public benefit arguments rather than personal private arguments. The platforms enable sustainable civic tech innovations which require integration of various sectors of the economy including institutional, educational, public (government) and private (private organisations or companies) sectors.
“Allowing and creating interactive technology such as voting tools for governance or rating services) will ensure broader access and collaborative learning,” shared Tang.
Williams tackled the issue of competition within the social innovation community and the framework of civic tech and social innovation.
“We want to change things permanently and do it in a sustainable way however there is competition in the social-entrepreneurship space around who owns the intellectual property, who owns the idea, who should get the recognition. But if it is about true social change, then we do need copycats. The more copycats we have, the more the solution gets shared. This helps in galvanising people into movements for working solutions to go forward,” Williams said.
The chief executive also mentioned that another problem in the social innovation space is that a lot of entrepreneurs in society do not like being called social entrepreneurs even though they are solving a real societal problem with their business.
“However social engagement comes in different forms, for example, social service providers, activists and social entrepreneurs are all involved in social engagement but regardless of how they use social engagement, they are essentially changing the status quo,” she explained.
She added that the qualities of innovation processes always include the end-user however the end-user is still neglected due to the capitalist systems.
“Going forward we need to establish ethical boundaries and the true intent of civic tech initiatives.”
She also said that social innovation and civic tech space need clear expectations and deliverables, especially when engaging new stakeholders and the end-users. “We need to stay true to the intention of what we are creating. We need to start galvanising people in any intentional way, figuring out who our allies are when we want to create change. We need a super clear call to action.”
Williams further added that mapping out the ecosystem actors is essential such as government, universities, corporates; and finding common purpose is best to drive and support various interests. “The best way needs to be aligned with integrated goals to be successful and establishing specific roles in which the actors need to play, and we need specialising and value chain needs to change.
Williams said that the civic tech community needs to build the community through exciting lobbying, telling great stories, evangelising and building champions, co-creating event or activities and giving people order roles.
Geekulcha’s Nghonyama shared how they are strengthening civic tech by engaging the youth and the government. He said people need to build culture and localise initiatives and be local champions for civic tech initiatives.
“The three fundamentals of civic tech are — the people, process and tools. When building civic tech innovations you need to take the people with you,” said Nghonyama.
He added that at Geekulcha, they are working to get the government interested in- and supporting civic tech in South Africa. “We make sure that we are as valuable to the government as we are to the youth. Geekulcha has made key strides in the civic tech space including a government-approved hack-a-thon that took place in six provinces to engage youth in imagining the new systems and tech-based innovation,” Nghonyama said.
The COO said civic tech is also tackling a lot of problems in the country including data sharing. “Platforms such as the Open Data South Africa project enable access to data but also it helps in setting guidelines on how the country releases and shares data.
In the end, the speakers agreed that the labour policy and governance mechanisms could help improve and strengthen the of civic tech innovations in the country. They also shared that the innovators need to be drawn and driven towards public and private partnerships and continue to collaborate going forward.