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Informed Decision Making for Participatory Democracy

Richard Gevers is the Founder of Open Cities Lab, a civic technology lab with a focus on the development of open data for application to urban challenges operating within cities in Africa. We explore many projects they are involved in, overcoming the general ‘fear of data’, how to improve public-private sector collaboration on Open Data, and how cities may change over the next 5 years.

Discussion highlights

About Open Cities Lab (OCL) and major projects, they are involved in

  • OCL works to build inclusion and participatory democracy in cities and urban spaces through empowering citizens, building trust and accountability in civic space, and capacitating government.
  • Richard expands on the work done and why it is important.
  • The work in cities is long-term.
  • South African Cities Open Data Almanac (with South African Cities Network): Allows cities to implement their own instance of a data platform that helps them create an understanding around the use of data and information.
  • Big learning: The supply of data to citizens doesn’t lead to a lot of change or improvement. OCL working with cities to understand what citizens demand and what data/ public information they need and what they use it for. Richard uses examples.
  • Durban EDGE. eThekwini Municipality’s platform to provide cutting-edge economic intelligence and insight to economic decision-makers.
  • Future Cities South Africa programme (FCSA): Focused on improving mobility, access to cities, governance, and lately Covid-19 support and climate awareness.
  • OCL is assisting FCSA in Durban with building an informal settlement management solution to improve quality of life and build resilience into the city.
  • OCL is assisting FCSA in the City of Cape Town on the implementation of their data strategy.
  • OCL assisted the City of Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town with Covid-19 response (data modeling, data transfer, etc.).
  • Dexter - machine learning platform for transparent and fair media.
  • Richard touches on new initiatives (health, post-Covid recovery, vaccines, etc.) and working in Nigeria, Kenya.
  • They’ve built Check-It (with VPUU and Open Up) - citizen monitoring of service delivery in informal settlements. (e.g. taps installed vs taps working).
  • OCL has worked with National Treasury to implement ‘The City Integrity Transparency, Accountability and Technology Project’ (InTAcT). It is a CSP initiative to help cities improve their governance performance, with a particular focus on land development and infrastructure development.
  • Richard expands on smart governance, the term ‘Smart Cities’, and what it should mean.

Overcoming the general ‘fear of data’ in public departments

  • Through education.
  • Capacity (under-resourced) and literacy of officials.
  • The problem is global, not only South African/ African.
  • The fear comes from a lack of knowledge of what data can do and what is possible.
  • It does take leadership and risk.
  • Richard talks about POPI, PAIA, and responsible data.
  • Government has a responsibility to keep private what must be private (e.g. HIV status of individual) and open what should be opened (accountability, data that can spark development and innovation, etc.).

Improving public-private sector collaboration on Open Data

  • Once we move from the concept that data is the new oil to the actual use of data, the momentum and the collaboration it will spark real growth and development.
  • Understand what the goals are of collaboration between the public and private sectors.
  • Richard talks about the emergence of data trusts and it's benefits if we get it right.
  • Cities should have a clear data policy, understand their data, have their priorities straight around development goals, citizens having more access to rights, more informed and inclusive developments, etc.
  • Once it gets the policies right the private sector can come in and support it.
  • Capacity, education, literacy. These are the critical components.

How cities may change over the next 5 years

  • We will be informed of the pandemic.
  • Challenges and opportunities for cities will be remote situations. What does a city become when more things can be done remotely?
  • Public access will play a huge role in defining the future of cities.
  • We have been furthering inequality and the digital divide. We talk about the 4th industrial revolution when we haven’t got the 3rd industrial revolution right.
  • Data privacy and data management, people will become more informed.
  • Richard talks about the evolution of cities vs the revolution of cities, using examples.
  • African cities still need to deal with the context and challenges we currently have.
  • Citizens voting less around party lines and understand more who they are voting for.
  • City collaborations and coalitions, the ability to learn from each other.


About Richard Gevers

Richard is the founder of Open Cities Lab, a civic technology lab with a focus on the development of open data for application to urban challenges operating within cities in Africa. He is also the CEO and co-founder of Tenji, a data science startup with a focus on building data products and tools that aid socio-economic development and planning.

Open Cities Lab is a non-profit civic technology lab that uses open data and civic technology in initiatives that work to build inclusive and responsive cities in order to put citizens at the centre and enable participative democracy. It implements and advocates for active citizens, open data, future inclusive cities, open government, and civic technology. Open Cities Lab believes in co-design that is centred around people and that lets those in the centre of the issue set the frame, context, and measurement and verification of the results.

Prior to founding Open Cities Lab, Richard worked as an economist, based in Durban, South Africa, for eight years where he interacted with both private clients and all tiers of the South African government on a range of projects in various sectors. He is an entrepreneur with a dedication to the advancement of African communities through dynamic solutions and tools, hoping to empower socio-economic development and to affect social change. He has a deep interest in openness and transparency in society. When he finds spare time he grows his beard, brews beer, appreciates good coffee, and likes to tell people he listens to vinyl.

Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richarddirkgevers/


About Open Cities Lab
We work to build inclusion and participatory democracy in cities and urban spaces through empowering citizens, building trust and accountability in civic space, and capacitating government.

CITIZEN EMPOWERMENT
We empower citizens to know their rights and understand the data, knowledge, mechanisms, and processes they can use to make their lives, and those of their communities, better. ‘Better’ means more inclusive and participative, both in ‘hard’ topics such as service delivery and built environment, as well as social cohesion, dignity, placemaking, and community building.

BUILDING GOVERNMENT CAPACITY
We work proactively with the government to build capacity for informed decision-making and evidence-based policy and planning, with a focus on areas where this can uplift vulnerable and excluded communities. We enable co-design of existing and new processes and mechanisms for including citizens in decision-making, including sharing and opening data and information, and ‘crowding-in’ of intelligence and insight.

TRUST & ACCOUNTABILITY IN CIVIC SPACE
We work with key actors including communities, the media, academia, and government to build accountability and trust in civic space. This includes fair and independent media, monitoring and transparent oversight of power, such as state-owned enterprises, and increasingly, the use of AI and machine learning in areas that affect privacy and democracy.

Visit: https://opencitieslab.org/

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