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SA citizens can help strengthen democracy

Maricelle's picture

Administrators, companies, individuals and institutions are hard at work to develop democracy in South Africa by making more data available to the public.

Access to information strengthens accessibility and civic engagement. To get hold of public data means that citizens now have the power to engage in information that directly influences them. This engagement encourages citizens to become active participants in society and further allow them to form their own opinions in the process.
Allow me to elaborate as I can imagine that you are left in the dark at this stage.
The development of the Internet in the 90s has seen the rise of magnificent inventions such as Wiki’s, blogs, social media and data visualisation. These platforms have the ability to radically change the way in which we are governed and how we inform our political decisions.
Author W. David Stephenson claims that “free access to governmental data and Web 2.0 tools allow anyone to turn data into eye-popping graphics that help make the data understandable”.
He further states that, “the resulting "data visualizations" can highlight inefficiencies, break down barriers between programs and agencies, and (potentially) leverage "the wisdom of crowds" both within agencies and among the general public to find creative new approaches”.
In 2011 South Africa signed an Open Government Declaration stating that citizens should be given more access to the information pertained by the government. Given this declaration, the importance of Internet access for all comes to the fore.
Ivo Vegter writes that South Africa has a very low Internet penetration (below five million people have access to a PC that is connected to the internet), which can influence the way in which data visualisations are both created and distributed by and to the public.
Vegter also notes that the mobile device is becoming the most often used technology where Internet access is concerned.
He suggests that “governments, especially the South African government, are in a unique position to steal a march on the market by addressing this segment, designing, developing and populating Web 2.0 infrastructure designed to reach a broad mobile market”.  
Given the aforementioned, Mobilitate, a South African online application, allows users to report any issues that they encounter with service delivery directly to 200+ municipalities around the country.
It is easily downloadable to all iPhone and Android devices, but the website can also easily be accessed from a computer with Internet access.
Mobilitate is an online platform where South African citizens can report a municipal problem by pinpointing the exact location where the problem occurs via Google Maps.
The employees of Mobilitate report these issues to the municipality involved and further notify the ward councillor and citizens of the area.
The communication around the issue is available for everyone to see on an online platform. This model fosters and encourages citizen-participation.
Nate Graham states that initiatives, such as the Mobilitate platform, allow citizens to:
  • Actively engage with data that directly influences them
  • Empower communities to leverage public data
  • Increase transparency and accountability in society
  • Become collaborators where decision-making occurs

The YouTube video explains what the Mobilitate platform entails. YouTube video by MobilitateChannel.

In the words of author, James Surowiechi, in The Wisdom of Crowds, “put together big enough and diverse enough groups of people and ask them to make decisions affecting matters of interest, [and] that group’s decisions will, over time, be intellectually superior to the isolated individual, no matter how smart or well-informed he is”.
The power to transform and develop democracy lies not only in the hands of the government, but also in the public.
Data visualisation and choreography is the topic up for discussion in next week’s post.