Some South African cities share how they are using data to respond to COVID-19
The South African Cities Network through its South African Council for City Data (SACCD) supported by National Treasury Cities Support Programme (CSP) recently hosted a webinar where a few city participants from the City of Johannesburg, City of eThekwini, City of Ekurhuleni and City of Cape Town shared their internal data responses to the pandemic with reference to their outcomes achieved, processes undertaken, and challenges experienced.
Here are some key takeaways from the webinar
City of Cape Town
Delyno Du Toit from the City of Cape Town (CoCT) says the CoCT has been using data to respond to COVID-19 through the collection of data related to the pandemic around business continuity, finance, the impact on HR as well as data around COVID-19 worldwide. CoCT has also been using data to try and understand the state of health in the city. “We have put this data on a dashboard for a broader audience in the city, CoCT is also part of a data team within the COVID-19 response Unit. To fully implement the use of data against COVID-19, CoCT has put together a data workgroup with the Western Cape province,” explains Du Toit.
The city of Cape Town has augmented current resources by reaching out to universities and other entities to access data. Du Toit says before COVID-19, the city had already started gathering data, but now it has focused around COVID-19 crisis. “The City of Cape Town is trying to use data to assist with operational processes, we have also requested for other data custodians to assist with the process.”
City of Johannesburg
Monique Griffith from the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) says the city has been collating data on partnerships for example, for donating and manufacturing PPE required by workers. They are also collecting other data on the number of tests being conducted and the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths to understand COVID-19 hotspots.
Griffith says CoJ does not intend to not penalize people when they are trying to access food, so the city is enabling food banks to deliver food house to house to reduce exposure to the virus. She further shares that CoJ is developing a future-oriented disaster management plan and creation of a long-term commitment that operates with a vastly faster turn around times to ensure faster service delivery during and after COVID-19.
The city also has a “war room” collecting data for short term response as well as long-term transformation. They need to establish a “war kit” within risk dept and revising the disaster plan based on Covid-19 data. The city’s data is coming from ward councillors, police, health services and water services because access to water is a key factor in mitigating the spread.
The city is also in the process of collating data into one system. City of Johannesburg permits needed for businesses are providing the city with business data on where the business spread is and the profile of businesses, this data can be used to understand what business relief is needed.
City of eThekwini
Tshegang Chipeya from the City of eThekwini says eThekwini has prepared a presentation on the impact on the economy that relied on COVID-19 data to understand the most vulnerable areas of the economy and society to develop a response plan. She says eThekwini is also developing COVID-19 economic recovery plan which was presented by the mayor and used data to support certain interventions. eThekwini is also using local and global dashboards to communicate information about assistance packages which are available to businesses and citizens as well as Covid-19 figures specifically in Durban context.
The city eThekwini has collected data through external sources mostly as well as internal data through the EDGE platform. eThekwini has also conducted a business survey to profile different businesses. eThekwini’s next step is to collate city data such as water, electricity, etc.
City of Ekurhuleni
Meanwhile, Lucky Tsekeli from the City of Ekurhuleni says Ekurhuleni has established food banks as a phase 1 to respond to the need for food security using household data. The city has also made provision of health care services particularly in informal settlements that are unable to do social distancing by running tests in these areas. For areas where the city lacks adequate data, they are drawing on other sources of data and using different sources of data to respond adequately to the city’s needs during the crisis.
Tsekeli says Ekurhuleni has established a Joint Operations Centre (JOC) to coordinate the metro’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak; the JOC comprises senior officials from all the city’s departments. He explains that the JOC was activated as a response to COVID-19 for the city to assess how best to manage the city’s response.
The city also has the Ekurhuleni Enterprise Resource Management unit which is trying to put together one cohesive data platform.
“We need the data to understand who is most vulnerable in the pandemic, for example, low-income households. Ekurhuleni has been provided with a list of vulnerable households from ward councillors,” explains Tsekeli.
South African cities seem to have been able to gear up and respond fairly quickly to the requirement of local city data to inform the COVID-19 response, however they have been met with some challenges along the way.
The city of Cape Town says there was an issue of slow response and low-quality data from the national and provincial levels, but the response has improved. Another challenge for the city is that the processing systems are slow and they were not set up beforehand, this makes it difficult for the city to process and understand the data. Dut Toit says the city’s intergovernmental data sharing seems to be non-existent and this is a big gap that they need to address. CoCT says there is not one single data unit within the province.
Ekurhuleni’s challenge is that current data sets are sitting in different places which need to be consolidated into one system.
Chipeya says eThekwni had little data on Covid-19 when they started, “most businesses had already shut down when the survey was being conducted. eThekwini has declining coffers of the city during the pandemic and a huge amount of time pressure,” she explains.
Griffith says identifying the best structures to respond was challenging (slowed responses) for the city of Johannesburg and so was finding a central point for data to go through. The city also faced some communications challenges i.e how to communicate all of this info at the community level?. “Limited access to data for people means that many people are not accessing information or not understanding certain regulations. Nuanced regulations require very clear and consistent communication to empower people to understand the virus. Access to open data can be used to inform responses,” shares Griffith
She adds that the supply chain process in the absence of a disaster management process that expedites the acquisition of necessary equipment and protective gear is also a challenge. Hence establishing agile procurement processes (which has long been discussed) would be an important step towards this. Access to open up-to-date data on all elements of the pandemic — infections, spatial locations of infections, recoveries, deaths, ICU hospital beds, etc…
Richard Gevers from Open Cities Lab says some of these blockages may be a result of severe economic challenges and a lack of real-time economic data especially spatial data. “Access to data in cities even during this crisis is now very important and cities should now be documenting these gaps, especially real-time data on informal or vulnerable communities,” says Gevers.
“This is a new normal — so exploring and investing in digital and data-driven responses will bring a return on investment in terms of impact on citizens. This is a time where the crisis can provide an opportunity to better meet the needs of citizens by getting rid of the unnecessary blockages and siloes that exist currently in cities.”
“Open data has never been more important. Documentation is critical, the work and lessons being done now should be developing living assets for each city, and well as to share with other cities.” He also encouraged the sharing of research and getting academics, the private sector and civil society organisations to enhance resources for the cities.
The civic tech perspective:
Civic Tech Innovation Network’s national organiser, Geci Karuri-Sebina, PhD, presented what the civic tech community is doing, what resources are available for cities to harness, and also what potential opportunities look like between cities and the civic tech community moving beyond the crisis with some international and African examples.
Typical COVID-19 response data tools
● Epidemiological info — a disease spread maps, stats, dashboards
● Disaster Response information
● Health and risk information
● Services — food relief, disruptions, etc.
● Information, guidelines, resource tools — for businesses, communities
● Research and advocacy, e.g. on COVID impact
● Enhancing public communication and engagement and action
She says cities could also consider consolidating the data through civic data platforms such as UCT Data First initiative. In times like these, civic tech can be used for many purposes including citizen engagement, for example, in Tanzania, the platform Twaweza in a bid to strengthen trust between citizens and government is collecting data on citizens’ knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) related to COVID-19. This is done through a series of mobile phone surveys of a representative sample of the country’s adult population.
Civic tech can also be used for citizen mobilisation for example in South Africa, Amandla.mobi which has been campaigning for several issues during the lockdown including what mobile networks should do during the pandemic and Stopping the late payment of social grants.
She says while cities are doing what they need to do, they can also harness civic tech for:
● Civic tech organisations (dozens) have tech capacity
● Interest and ideas around citizen engagement and participation
● Civic tech could help reinforce / target/supplement government services
● Technology tailored for efficient and effective citizen usage
● Networked access to citizens and NGOs, CSOs, individual activists
● Access to digital experts, civic tech, gov tech experts (thousands)
● Civic tech can act as an interface between the government and the citizens
● Civic tech formations can assist governments in reaching out to the public
● The use of civic tech can increase transparency during the crisis
SA Cities network is an open evidence mapping of the use of open government data to address the COVID-19 response in South Africa’s cities and provinces. If you are aware of any data responses to COVID-19 in your city, we kindly request that you complete the form below, so we can document and share as an open resource for the benefit of all cities.