A New Era of Data Collaboration in South African Cities
Anele Ngcoya
October 31, 2023

South African cities are entering a new era of data collaboration, driven by the increasing availability and importance of data in urban planning and development. This collaborative approach involves various stakeholders, including government agencies, private companies, non-profit organisations like Open Cities Lab and community organisations, working together to collect, analyse, and share data for the benefit of the cities and their residents.

Step into the KZN Unconference

Photo by Derryn Schmidt Photography

We got to experience first-hand the enthusiasm that city practitioners at various levels of decision-making have for open data and collaboration. This was during the KZN Unconference that we hosted earlier in October with our partners, the UK Government office in South Africa and eThekwini Municipality through the Urban Resilience Programme. 

The Urban Resilience Programme is a 3-year project that aims to improve the livelihoods of urban residents, especially marginalised groups, through urban planning, and service delivery. This will be done alongside supporting city practitioners with data management, governance, and sharing.

The Unconference in Durban was run as a kick-starter to the Urban Resilience Programme and introduced stakeholders to each other and the project. It offered an opportunity to engage the critical project outcomes, two of which are the development of a regional data strategy for the City of eThekwini (ETK) and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) local governments. The KZN Unconference brought together stakeholders from various levels of society and government to understand their data needs. The goal is to understand how this Programme can improve service delivery and help the ultimate beneficiaries - the residents in cities through improved data management and sharing systems.

Why does city data matter?

In our previous blog post, we highlighted why cities are catalysts for change. But why does city data matter? 

Cities have immense volumes of data, and national governments have even more that can help city management and residents. City authorities and other government agencies collect and handle an incredible amount of data, like how many people work in the city, what jobs they do, and where they work. Community organisations like Asivekelane, Asiye eTafuleni and others also collect and process this kind of data. This information is critically important for planning and making decisions for the city and the people who live there. It's crucial that this data is shared with all stakeholders in the most inclusive and accessible formats. Furthermore, we want these datasets to speak to each other and provide a unified, integrated approach to solving challenges.

It stands to reason, then, that data collaboration at national, local, and community levels enables cities to make more informed decisions, optimise resource allocation, and improve service delivery. By pooling data from different sources, such as transportation, energy consumption, and social demographics, city planners can gain a comprehensive understanding of urban dynamics and identify areas for improvement. There are already existing pockets where such collaboration is happening -  the question is how this can be made universal across departments, communities and organisations?

Photos by Derryn Schmidt Photography

Why is this data era different and important?

In this new era, driven by both the digital transition and policy, governments and related agencies are empowered to have ownership of the data pipeline. This has led to a variety of data platforms and initiatives being established to facilitate data sharing by municipalities. Platforms such as the Cape Town Data Dashboard as well as the Strat Hub and EDGE by eThekwini. The pace at which data management and sharing platforms are being developed by national government, cities and community organisations calls for unified data strategies at community, local and national levels. It also calls for collaboration among stakeholders to avoid duplication of efforts and data.

Photo by Derryn Schmidt Photography

In our blog post about our collaborations on the SCODA platform, we talked about how different cities have different data needs but also different data maturity levels. Departments within cities also have different maturity levels. While other cities have gone through the processes of developing and sharing a city data strategy for public comment and sharing data, others have had success creating open data platforms and digesting data and have incredibly detailed and well-structured data that isn’t accessible. By making data more accessible to researchers, startups, and developers, cities can spur the creation of innovative solutions and services that enhance the quality of life for residents. Accessible open data platforms can enable cities to create data-driven policies and strategies that address pressing urban challenges, such as traffic congestion, housing affordability, and environmental sustainability.

The Urban Resilience Programme and OCL

Photo by Derryn Schmidt Photography

At Open Cities Lab, our role within the Urban Resilience Programme is to enhance learning and collaboration among cities and decision-making units. We aim to speed up the transition to open data and data-driven decision-making in cities by empowering city practitioners.

The KZN Unconference was a great reminder of the need to define and provide a regional, secure and standardised environment for data collection, storage, and analysis in South African city departments. The appetite for data, making it open and easily accessible to the public and using data to inform decision-making is exciting and presents many opportunities for improved service delivery. We look forward to collaborating with more cities in South Africa.

To stay updated on the developments of the Urban Resilience Programme and other related city developments and open data projects in South Africa, join the OCL mailing list today.

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