“When we work together, the most beneficial thing is the ideas that come out” — ASToN conversations with city leaders
ASToN is a pilot project where 11 African local authorities work together to test and implement their own plans for digital transformation to support sustainable & smart development in their cities. This interview is part of a series of 3 conversations with city leaders in the ASToN network where cities and their local ecosystems are working together for an inclusive digital transition .
- Tell us about your city’s ASToN project?
In Nouakchott we are working on the addressing system, but this wasn’t our first choice. When we started our ASToN application in late 2018, we had 2 teams with 2 topics: the addressing system and waste management, but we managed to find a compromise. The size of Nouakchott is 2–3 times the size of Paris intra muros, it is growing very fast and every year a new district is informally created. The city is growing without the support of public authorities and people don’t have access to basic services, whether it’s water or electricity. For us digitalization can be a way to find solutions to our problems, not necessarily to solve the problem but to try to find possible solutions.
2. Who are the people and partners working on this project? What are the dynamics within your group and team?
First, there is the small team of 5–6 people, who try to make the project advance and we are in charge of all the formalities that are required for the experimentation phase to work well. Part of the core team we have the managing director, a person in charge of the socio-economic aspects who is in touch with the communes, an elected official, a technician in charge of the database, and representatives of the IT and finance department.
Second, there are the experts directly involved in the project, but also the partners who are indirectly participating by having the right to check out how the project is going. They are part of different ministries: the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning, the Ministry of New Technologies, and the Ministry of Finance. (1)
Third, there are the private partners like the water and electricity company, and the Post Office, for whom this project is really important. Besides, there are the startups that have already started working on matters concerning the addressing system. In parallel we have joined forces with the civil society and youth organizations. They will help us approach the population when explaining our addressing system project. For us there is no better way than civil society organizations who already have experience in the field of creating awareness and informing the population.
For me, because we work with all these partners, we can have more points of view and find the best solution. The reverse is that sometimes it can be really hard to get everyone together, or get everyone involved. I think the most complicated part is to bring everyone together at the same time.
3. How is the youth concretely involved in the project? How is this relationship going on ?
We really wanted to involve the youth in this project, so for the communication part we have reached out to The Young Chamber of Commerce of Mauritania (2). They have a lot of ideas for our communication plan and they are very interested in this project. Another group of young people who helped us a lot during the initial research phase was a tech incubator, Hadina Rimtic. They helped us with the preliminary research and the action plan.
We really like working with them, but you can imagine it’s not always easy when you bring together different generations. Not all the participants have the same ideas about what ‘digital’ means or how we can pass on our message. But we always try to find a way to never dismiss any idea. This is something that I’ve learnt with ASToN. We put everything down, we make notes and all the ideas are there when we make the restitution of the workshop. This allows everyone to feel involved in the project and moreover it helps us to keep everyone involved in the project.
4. As you already told us there are a lot of partners involved in this project, how would you say this is impacting the perception or the acceptance of this project among the people of Nouakchott?
Up to now, we know citizens consider the idea of the addressing system combined with the digital aspect relevant. I wouldn’t necessarily say that working with all these partners will increase the acceptance of the project, but I can definitely say that the project is better understood. The fact that we already did a tour within the communes, that we went to the lowest level of the participation process which is the citizen, that we listened to them and told them what we are planning to do is helping our project a lot. They will no longer say ‘ hey you did this project somewhere else and never told us anything about it’. For me, it’s very important that these persons or the final user, if you want, are not only aware of what we are doing, but they are also trying to understand our process and project. So the positive aspect is that people know how we got to this point. Even if the communication part is not 100% done, the fact that we did a tour of all these districts and talked to everyone will definitely help us during the experimentation phase.
5. ASToN brought in a new method to move forward Nouakchott’s projects for digital transition. Involving different partners from the beginning of the project, to an experimentation phase where a prototype is implemented, or being part of a network of 11 African cities, are just some examples. How would you say all these aspects are influencing your project for the addressing system in Nouakchott?
The idea of ASToN is different! Even if there are some similarities with our way of doing things, being part of a network like ASToN is the first time we have in Nouakchott. It is very beneficial to see the experience of other cities. What I remember is that we may be miles away, but the problems are the same. So seeing how others have overcome the problems, it allows us to save time and not repeat the same mistakes.
Also the method is really original because at each step ASToN is there to support us and at each step you know what to do. The quarterly guides are very important because they allow us to keep our focus. It is very easy to get lost in a project when you don’t really have a guideline.
As for working with all these different people, coming from ministries, startups, or the civil society, of course we also learned from them. For example when working with the startups we learned new workshop methods, how to work in smaller groups and how to explain our ideas, or how to choose the best solution among 4–5 ideas. Some of our colleagues are actually using these methods for different projects. But if you ask me, the most beneficial thing for the project are all the ideas that come out.
Written by Saam Stad
(1) The Interior Ministry was involved because Nouakchott’s project concerns urban issues; the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning is represented because the addressing system is linked to urban development; the Ministry of New Technologies covers the aspects concerning the digital transition; In Mauritania everything that is public domain or land registry is managed by the Ministry of Finance.
(2) La jeune chambre de commerce de Mauritanie is a group of young people experienced in everything that is communication and organizing events. They have worked on several projects with public institutions (such as the Ministry of Youth ) and startups.
SAAM stad* is a consultancy agency working at the intersection of innovation, society, economy, and sustainability in urban areas. SAAM stad is supporting the ASToN Network in capturing and sharing the extraordinary stories and experiences of its members.