Looking to Learn from African Civic Tech Initiatives

The Civic Tech Innovation CTIN has recently documented 25 African new civic tech case studies through the support of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) foundation in South Africa. These case studies depict a picture of what African citizens and tech innovators have been up to in order to better their livelihoods and democracies.

The African Civic Tech Case Studies is a project aimed at building and creatively disseminating an aggregation of African case studies on civic tech practices and lessons from various contexts with the aim of promoting sustainable urban development by providing a platform for peer learning and collaboration. The case studies were identified based on thematic areas that included: urbanisation and cities, partnerships with government, supporting livelihoods and entrepreneurship, strengthening voice and inclusion, food security, threats to democracy, gender issues and creative industries. The project identified a rich array of initiatives which all offer interesting insight into what the growing civic tech movement is offering and how.

Government Systems

We found that civic tech initiatives are steadily infused as tools to advance and shape governance systems across the continent. These tools range from mobile applications to web data portals responding to various issues such as corruption, food security, and women development to name just a few. A good example is Sema, an SMS chatbot that facilitates feedback about public institutions and public service delivery in Uganda.

Tracka is another great example, demonstrating how citizens are using technology to engage government. Tracka is a platform designed to enable citizens to follow up on government budgets and projects in their respective communities to enhance service delivery by the Nigerian government at all levels.

Voice and Inclusion

While these civic tech innovations responded to a variety of issues, innovations addressing voice and inclusion emerged prominently across the regions. The increasing demand for these citizen feedback platforms can be attributed to the lack of transparent citizen-government engagement in most of the African democracies. An example to this is Yogera, a tool from Uganda used to report service delivery issues with the aim of reaching out to government officials and giving a voice to the citizens. Odekro, a platform from Ghana, is another example that responds to voice and inclusion by informing and empowering Ghanaian citizens on the work of parliament through open data analysis. South Africa also has a similar civic engagement platform called GovChat that enables citizens to engage with their voted government officials.

It is important to note that not all civic tech in Africa is focused on government issues though; entrepreneurial exploits responding to the prominent agricultural sector in the continent were also occupying the civic tech space. Two great examples are Farmerline, an organisation helping West African farmers by connecting them to markets and financial institutions using their mobile app Mergdata, and in East Africa there is m-Omulimisa, an enterprise that leverages technology to improve access to agriculture related services for farmers.

Common Players and Cross-Regional Innovations 

Most of the innovations we found were founded for a particular community but have scaled up to serve citizens beyond their country of origin. An example of this is PesaCheck, a fact-checking initiative founded in Kenya to hold public officials and the media honest and accountable; the initiatives have now spread to neighbouring countries Tanzania and Uganda. 

While these innovations were founded mostly by individuals with various civic interests, there were also a number of prominent civic tech enterprises involved in several initiatives. One example is Code4Africa a federation of civic technology and data journalism labs who manages tools such as Hurumap, PesaCheck, and Gottovote among many other initiatives. In South Africa, a common role player is the Open Cities Lab (OCL) a non-profit organisation that combines action research, co-design, data science, and technology with civic engagement for inclusive urban development –  through collaborations, OCL developed tools for governments and NGOs; tools such as The Durban Edge, eThekwini Municipality’s open data portal as well as CheckIT a community reporting tool for Cape Town’s informal settlements to name just a few.

International collaborations at various levels were also traceable including technical and funding support. Most noticeably is the involvement of MySociety, a UK based organisation providing technology, research, and data for active citizenry. MySociety provided Pambola, a free open source software for running parliamentary monitoring websites such as Mzalendo, Odekro and Yogera. Funding for the initiatives was sourced from various global donors, with noticeable funds granted by the Indigo Trust.

While civic tech has resulted in some successes in Africa, there is still a lack of robust empirical evidence about the impacts or benefits it brings to societies across the continent. As such, there is a lack of reliable knowledge that could guide new initiatives. Collaborative and systematic documentation of civic tech case studies – such as this CTIN study – could form part of the cross-learning process. Such collaborative work could bear benefits to the sector, which could include deepening insight into the civic tech ecosystems, and stakeholder mappings whereby groups can form partnerships, identify and build on shared priorities towards addressing challenges with increased and leveraged resources. Mapping the civic tech ecosystem could help in identifying key stakeholders – funders, programmers, organisations, local/national government, etc. and highlight their connections to each other, to different initiatives, and to funding streams.

Beyond documentation of the African civic tech case studies, stakeholders in the sector can also consider dynamic knowledge-sharing initiatives through formal and informal training programmes, incorporating new information as the landscape evolves. 

The studies will be published on the CTIN website.

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