Last month, we introduced an exciting project we’re working on called Durban Answers. In short, Durban Answers is a citizen-oriented platform for queries and quick and relevant information (i.e. answers) related to government services and processes. In developing this tool, there will be substantial effort required to populate both questions and answers into a database. Part of that effort will be open for collaboration with citizens in what we’re calling “Write-a-thons” and other co-creation opportunities. However, another part of that effort will be in using our own expertise to identify common breakdowns and develop process maps and user-stories to understand what some of the most pressing issues are that citizens are facing. Our evidenced-based approach to projects ensures that we continuously keep the user in mind and focus on relevant challenges that drive the creation of our tools.
For example, we recently teamed up with the folks at City Press on a project in the Eastern Cape dealing with a very serious health-related issue quite specific to the South African context. Initiation Watch is a tool developed to deal with the sensitive issues around the Xhosa Initiation tradition, and specifically the dangers of illegal initiation schools performing circumcisions. Linked up to the provincial database on registered traditional surgeons, Initiation Watch allows users to search for registered surgeons in close proximity, verify whether their surgeon is in fact registered, report on unregistered surgeons and illegal initiation schools and report an initiate in trouble.
While many traditional surgeons are trained professionals and recognized by the provincial department of health, there are other communities who rely on illegal initiation schools with substandard tools, procedures and sometimes even malintent. Until now, voices of maimed initiates, parents of deceased initiates, and concerned communities members have not been given the platform for a collective voice and collective action. Initiation Watch is a collaborative effort between City Press, Open Data Durban, Code for South Africa, and the leadership of the Eastern Cape in an effort to raise awareness and address the life-threatening implications of illegal initiation schools.
In any town, neighborhood, city or province, citizens will in some way or another face a health issue. Health “issues” take many different shapes, sizes, duration, and severity. In an ideal world, every citizen across the entire planet would be equipped with necessary means, resources, and information to address the entire spectrum of health issues at any given time, no matter their circumstances. Whether it is your baby sick with a cold, or your elderly mother needing assisted living, humans are innately designed to care for other humans in need. Psychologist Dr. Tomasello says that this “urge to help” is evident even in infants. Other theorists observe “tendencies towards altruism” in societies that have just experienced a natural disaster — “our stress systems” are built “to connect us to others” and “calm down when we are feeling close to people we care about…and having no social support can be as destructive to health as cigarette smoking.” Whether a community in crisis or a family emergency, we all want information and help as quickly as possible.
But what happens to a citizen in a highly stratified society where access to information and help comes at a cost that many aren’t able to afford? How can access to information be un-stratified? Well, we think that’s a role that Durban Answers can play.
In the Durban context, we recognize the impact tools like Initiation Watch could play in accessing health-related information specific to our culturally-diverse society. Durban Answers is a platform that could provide health-related information ranging from how to obtain formal health insurance to whether your amakhankatha and initiation school are registered with the provincial government. As mentioned in the previous Durban Answers blog, other government websites or “answer” projects have taken off across the globe. However, Durban’s context presents a special case as a city in a less-developed country, with multiple levels of government and different forms of governance influencing policy and structures, and a highly stratified society with extreme wealth for some and extreme poverty for many.
There are other health-related questions and answers that Durban Answers could provide. Questions such as how do I renew my health insurance or how much does a TB test cost are easy questions that we envision the platform would be able to answer with a simple query. We also aim to deal with more sensitive questions similar to that of Initiation Watch, or questions around HIV care or rape counselling. Our hope is to cover as much ground as possible to ensure that any user can enjoy the benefit of accessible health information at their fingertips.
So what is the plan going forward for Durban Answers in the New Year? Plans are underway to kick-off Durban Answers with a “write-a-thon” to facilitate the co-creation and crowdsourcing of both questions and answers that stump Durbanites every day. We’re inviting everyone we can think of — people who recently navigated the laborious task of changing ownership on a vehicle (step 3. Wait in line. Wait for a long time) or people who work in informal settlements and can speak to what you must do when there are threats of floods. We want everyone. Keep your eyes and ears open for an announcement of the date, time and location and be sure to bring friends!
That’s it for now!
Your blogger for all things Durban and all things Urban,
Sophie McManus is ODD Inclusive Cities Fellow, who enjoys teaching yoga in her spare time.