Three key points from our recent virtual World Cafe
Our recent virtual world cafe enabled South African city officials and public practitioners to engage face to face with civic tech doers to learn about innovations, tools and techniques, to share experiences, and to meet potential collaborators.
Through a partnership with the South African Council for City Data (SACCD), CTIN hosted an online ‘World Café’ to showcase and expose locally-based civic tech initiatives to South African city officials and public practitioners on July 30th. The event was born out the need to connect and enable fruitful engagements between civic tech doers and city officials in South Africa. CTIN and SACCD hoped that the event would be a platform for the city officials to gain exposure on what is happening in the civic tech environment in South Africa.
CTIN and SACCD encouraged participants to make connections and linkages during the Show and Tell presentations by the civic tech innovators. CTIN and SACCD invited six South African civic tech initiatives covering many issues including digitising government services for the citizen’s benefit, civic mobilisation and citizen action, increasing access to legal information, making municipal finance data simple and accessible to all South Africans, open data and public safety. The World Cafe presenters were
- GovChat is a citizen-engagement platform that enables citizens to speak directly to the government.
- Grassroot, originally a tool for community organising, is now an e-learning platform. The tool is based on WhatsApp where a community organising teaching guide was started. Grassroot is a tool for people who organise communities and would like skills and tools to resolve the real problems their communities face.
- NAMOLA is a mobile safety app created to send smart alerts to track people as they move around with their phone through GPS technology.
- LUMA LAW a chatbot initiative which uses tech to enable access to equitable and affordable justice.
- OpenUp — Municipal Money Municipal Money is a free, impartial, politically neutral, online tool to find out about how municipal funds are spent and
- Coronavirus COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) Data Repository for South Africa is a dashboard and data repository which curates and applies publicly available data on COVID-19 in a way that is computer-readable so that information can be shared to the public — using both a data repository and a dashboard.
During the session, the participants were also encouraged to comment on the civic tech innovations and raise challenges and opportunities to civic tech uptake in local government
The below key points emerged:
Lack of Access
Access to local government information remains a critical challenge that cities face, and this can be attributed to challenges such as lack of awareness and access to tools and information. Therefore civic tech innovations are an opportunity for local governments to offer free or reasonably affordable access to information, leverage social media platforms to achieve access by ensuring platform usability, and investing in data management and ensuring data is packaged and put onto open-source data portals. Two presenters, Grassroot and Govchat were highlighted as tools to improve access to local government, empowering community leaders to lead more effectively, and raise awareness while avoiding bandwidth limitations and slow response times from officials.
Lack of Awareness
While civic tech solutions are available they are unfortunately not hugely marketed for several reasons including lack of funding for civic tech innovators to market their innovations and lack of endorsement or support from the government. The innovations are useful on many levels including community level, local government, municipalities and more. Civic tech organisations have observed that the uptake of their services is dependent on public awareness. The lack of awareness of civic tech innovations can also be attributed to a lack of tech knowledge, excessive data costs data. Furthermore, there is a large demographic that is missed due to the lack of access to social media and lack of capacity, that further exacerbates the multiple barriers in cities for civic tech solutions uptake.
Local Government Capability
During the session, several participants raised this point, city officials struggle with making correlations between existing tools or capabilities and how these could support challenges and mandates. Government has been observed to always seek out innovative ideas, particularly from the youth; however, these calls do not always result in the government taking the innovation and actively using or promoting its usage. There was a suggestion that perhaps cities and other government sections should make their challenges public so that innovators can understand where and how to assist.
To further address these challenges, local government departments should foster the opportunities that emerge from collaborating with various stakeholders in the civic tech environment by reaching out and seeking collaborative projects, convening more connections and continuing hosting more sessions. This includes linking the right people from NGOs and local governments. Collaboration between more organisations and helping to bridge the gap between city challenges and civic innovators, and facilitate connections. It also means civic tech innovators and local government have to actively create awareness about civic tech innovations and their benefits for citizens. The government on all levels could also increase the availability and affordability of resources such as affordable data, wi-fi hotspots to ensure that citizens can access civic tech innovations.
The World Café event is considered a fruitful first-step engagement with various institutions engaged in adopting civic technology, particularly within local government. Going forward, SACCD and CTIN are planning further strategic workshops to take the conversation further towards action-oriented interaction between the civic tech innovators and public practitioners (such as government officials) seeking public service solutions.