How can new technologies improve governance and accountability? How can we bridge digital divides and support service delivery? How can new technologies be used to monitor or provide feedback to government? How can they make cities work better? These are all questions about ‘civic tech’.
There are many initiatives in South Africa that are working on these questions, and working towards solutions. And there is an opportunity to extend and improve how these organisations and individuals share experience and ideas, distribute research, and strengthen the links between innovators, researchers and others, in order to make innovations work better and spread further. That is the premise of the Civic Tech Innovation Network, a newly launched newsletter and online magazine. The network will be sharing new research and innovations from Africa and elsewhere, especially from the global South.
According to their launch editorial: “[The] goal is to produce and deliver actionable learning for South African organisations and people active in or interested in innovation in government, transparency, governance, and accountability processes.”
Some examples of local civic tech work include National Treasury’s recently launched that publishes information on local government budgets and spending. And, also in the realm of civic tech, one of the oldest social justice organisations in South Africa, Black Sash, has developed new approaches to local community monitoring of government services. Some cities have started open data portals. Codebridge in Cape Town, the new Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Johannesburg and other tech hubs are supporting this work.
The Civic Tech Innovation Network wants to bring together a community of practitioners — from public and private sector — to promote quicker, smarter innovation that enables accountability, governance, and citizen participation. They will also be holding events at the new Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, and hope to support events in other cities too. A key aspect of their work lies in drawing together local players in civic tech. As such, interested parties are encourage to join the network through reading the newsletter and our publication, contributing on their Facebook page and following them on Twitter (@CivicTechAfrica).
The Network has been initiated by the Network Society programme at the University of the Witwatersrand and Gauteng Cities Regional Observatory. The CivicTech Innovation Network newsletter and online magazine have been produced in partnership and collaboration with Making All Voices Count (MAVC), as part of its learning programme for 2017. MAVC has supported over 25 civic tech initiatives in South Africa and over 170 initiatives in 12 other countries in Africa and Asia over the last four years. The research and practice reports that are being published about these initiatives are an important resource that the network aims to make use of in their content.