Three ways South African initiatives are using data to improve public governance Copy

Author: Melissa Tsungai Zisengwe


From land issues and the state of townships to government services, here are some initiatives using data to innovate and influence decision-making processes as well as improve and digitise government services.
Melissa Tsungai Zisengwe
Melissa Tsungai Zisengwe
Apr 26 · 4 min read

Bev Russell from Social Surveys Africa presenting at jamlab
Three initiatives shared their work on putting local data to use during a recent Civic Tech Innovation Network event. “Food for Thought”: Civic Tech Breakfast Event — Putting local data together brought together data scientists, government officials, researchers, private companies, and civil society organisations — all keen to share and learn about the possibilities that data can offer South Africa.

Data for human settlement development
Agizo Solutions has used data to assist the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform with identifying strategically located land for agriculture and human settlement. You need to know about a fafafa free slots.

Their technology is called the Strategically Located Land Decision Support Tool (SLLDST). This uses with geographic information systems (GIS) and multi-criteria decision analysis to aid the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in identifying land to release in urban areas in the bid to accelerate the land reform programme.

Kang’ethe Matheri, CEO of Agizo Solutions, says that based on this model land was released by the government to address human needs in urban and peri-urban areas. Looking at human settlement needs and agriculture through the lenses of data assisted the department in determining the factors important for human settlement and agriculture.

Data for local community classification
Social Surveys Africa has built the Community Tapestry resource which uses data to classify South African communities and understand them better. “After 30 years of running around townships in South Africa and not having reliable and sufficient data, we decided to put the data together,” explains CEO Bev Russell. The community tapestry resource is a community level data and analysis resource built from data about clusters in South African townships.

She shares that in the quest to develop South African townships, there must be evidence-based analysis and understanding of the townships and for that, community-sensitive data is necessary.
“This segmentation of data will allow users to look into factors such as poverty, gender, trust, economic development, immigrants, safety, healthcare and much more. This kind of data can help municipalities and the government develop the area according to its needs. For example, the Community Tapestry data can help the government can study and identify the type of economic stimulus the township needs to develop to get to the next level,” says Russell.

Data in government services
The Department of e-Government in Gauteng is the only e-government department in South Africa. It is rolling out core network technology and infrastructure and strategically using data in various departments.
Mohamed Mahomed Gauteng eGovernment team says that the department is currently working on a new project where they are working on integrating all the government data onto one single platform. This would make data across government services easily accessible.

“Data has enabled government services to be more optimally functional and effective from the projects we have done and now we want to build this shared platform and assist the government function effectively,” explains Mohamed.

He explained how departments in the government have a lot of data — automated and manual — which can be used in the project. He gave the example of the Department of Health which currently has many entities functioning separately and the single platform would help consolidate them.

The Department of Education currently has the SA School Administration and Management System (SA SAMS) database which is a computer application designed to meet all school administration, management and governance needs of South African schools. “It is an innovative approach which tracks learner assessments across all government education facilities. Using the data on the database the education department can predict factors that influence passing matric,” Mohamed explains. He also mentions that they are also currently looking at using data to empower micro-economies and township businesses to give them opportunities.

While these three initiatives work in different fields, they experience quite a few similar challenges around using data in South Africa. The top three challenges are data collection, data access and data quality issues.

“Collecting quality data is quite expensive and this usually affects the data processes such as data planning, management, data modelling and sorting, and so forth,” explains Matheri. To address the data collection challenge, Social Surveys Africa employs unemployed youth in townships and trains them to collect data as survey takers.

“Although datasets exist around the country, they are usually in much broader levels and for a project like the Community Tapestry, you need up-to-date data on a local level and so we take the existing datasets, disintegrate them and overlay them again,” says Russell.

Despite the strides the Gauteng eGovernment has been making, Mohamed admits that it is quite challenging working with data in a government capacity as the government works in a bureaucratic way. He suggests that data must be looked at from a business intelligence and adoption perspective and this would help with the struggles of understanding data, understanding the data they have, its uses, using it intelligently in government services.

Another problem raised at the event is the issue of data sharing considering the quality of data available in public spaces. “When it comes to data sharing there is much to consider, for instance, data governance is extremely important. We need data regulating, anonymising confidential data and data sharing because sharing data can open up partnerships, inspire people to build applications which can use the data and build platforms to analyse the data,” says Mohamed.

As more people and industries use data to create new insights and projects, it is important to keep track of the development of such progress. These projects show that there are while it is not simple, South Africans are exploring the increasingly exciting uses of data.

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Posted on Jun 14, 2020

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