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.

Melissa Tsungai Zisengwe
Aug 31 · 4 min read
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World Cafe presenters
  • 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.

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.


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The mural board from the session

Civic Tech Innovation Network

The CivicTech Innovation Network newsletter and online…

Melissa Tsungai Zisengwe

Written by

Program Project Officer at Civic Tech Innovation Network at Wits Governance School

Civic Tech Innovation Network

The CivicTech Innovation Network newsletter and online magazine is produced by the journalism and media lab, university of the witwatersrand, johannesburg

Melissa Tsungai Zisengwe

Written by

Program Project Officer at Civic Tech Innovation Network at Wits Governance School

Civic Tech Innovation Network

The CivicTech Innovation Network newsletter and online magazine is produced by the journalism and media lab, university of the witwatersrand, johannesburg

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