Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab (02 June 2017)

JOHANNESBURG - This week, the global technology organisation that sets standards for the industry visited the South African technology community. As part of this visit, the delegation from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) visited Cape Town to assess the impact of its open data initiative.

The IEEE hosted the Open Data Summit to discuss progress and the way forward for open data in the region.

The summit was attended by various members of the technology community, academia, civil society and local government.

Highlights and outcomes from this summit can serve as lessons for other cities.

Councillor Raelene Arendse, who oversees technology and economy within the City of Cape Town, highlighted some of the achievements of the city and what needed to be done to go forward. The following are just some of the points highlighted by Arendse.

Open data policy

“The aim of the policy was to make the city's data available to all, for free and in a usable format, so as to enhance transparency and openness and promote the use of the city's data for broader social and economic benefit."

By making data available, the city would be able to tap into the creativity and innovative thinking of society in general.

The City of Cape Town’s open data policy was approved by the city council on September 25, 2014. The city’s open data portal (opendata.capetown.gov.za) was completed in December 2014 and launched by the mayor on January 27, 2015.

Since the launch of the portal, the city has continued to develop the open data portal through which "the city’s data is made available to the public in order to promote the use of the city’s data for broader social and economic benefit.”

This was an important and necessary step towards ensuring that the city advances the open data cause within the region.

This is a step that will be necessary for any city that seeks to advance the open data cause.

Open data committee

To ensure that the policy is implemented and that violations are not committed, the city also established a committee that oversees the process of sharing its data.

The councillor highlighted the following points in relation to the committee and its role: “While we are committed to being open and transparent in this process, we need to be mindful of certain data that cannot be placed in the public domain.

"This will include copyrighted third party data; information that infringes on the privacy of individual citizens; information that the city cannot legally disclose and information that is deemed to be confidential.

"An open data steering committee, which includes external representatives from the open data community, therefore reviews and approves requests for additional data sets.”

Open data portal

The city did not just formulate a policy and set up the committee, but it also created a platform to enable access to data.

The policy paved the way for the creation of an open data portal that would allow the residents to have access to city data.

The councillor mentioned that the portal has been undergoing changes to cater more to the public.

This is what the councillor had to say about the improvements to the portal:

“Some technical enhancements to the open data portal have been completed; the current portal will be updated with the following functionality:

"Ability to view spatial data on a map and preview non-spatial data in tabular format before downloading, filter data, based on specific attributes before downloading; aggregate spatial data by using charts and graphs. The enhanced functionality will initially only be applicable to spatial data (data linked to specific locations) and the remaining data will be integrated in the next phase.”

The step taken by the city to create an open data portal for ease of access to data has to be commended. It is a step that other cities can follow to make data available to residents. When the city created the portal it could not know what the residents could do with the data. What is known is that some users of this data have used it to build information and companies.

Some have used it to inform themselves about decisions taken by the city.

Open data users

A civil society organisation, Ndifuna Ukwazi, is one of the organisations that used the city data to inform the residents about budget allocation within the city. The organisation built a website (capetownbudgetproject.org.za) that enabled data visualisation of the city budget.

This intervention enabled the residents to easily view how the city uses its budget.

Model for cities

The process followed by the city is worthy of emulation by cities across the African continent to build the data economy and create open governments.

African cities can do more with openness by following the model of the City of Cape Town.

The Infonomist will be embarking on a process of assisting cities to create open data platforms that can allow residents to have better access information.

Wesley Diphoko is the founder of Kaya Labs and chief executive of Infonomist. He currently serves as the chairperson of the IEEE (SA) Industry Connections of Open Data.

- BUSINESS REPORT