This article discusses the challenges of accessing IDPs (Integrated Development Plans) caused by the use of complex language and jargon heavy terminology. The potential of a digital dashboard to promote sustainable development is also discussed, along with a call to action for stakeholders to collaborate and enhance the accessibility and transparency of IDPs.
Why is the IDP important for change?
The purpose of Municipal Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) in South Africa is to provide a comprehensive and integrated planning framework for local government. IDPs are required by South African law and serve as the primary strategic planning and development tool for municipalities.
IDPs provide a strategic vision for the municipality and outline the goals, objectives, and projects that will be undertaken to improve the quality of life for residents and address local development challenges. The IDP provides a framework for prioritising projects, allocating resources, and coordinating the efforts of various government departments, community groups, and other stakeholders.
IDP Databoard for Bergrivier
Although in theory this sounds great, in practice IDPs remain inaccessible, this is mainly due to its often complex setup and use of government jargon and heavy terminology. Through my work at OpenUp I have been able to better understand the content of this often lengthy document. In the civic tech space OpenUp enjoys partnering with community based organizations. It's through these fundamental collaborations that we are able to test our civic tech tools, obtain user feedback, iterate and improve our tools, and provide focused training on specific competencies of data and digital literacy.
ICA and OpenUp long standing partnership
Through the years OpenUp has enjoyed a long standing partnership of this with the Initiative for Community Advancement or more commonly known as the ICA. This is an organisation based in the West Coast District, Bergrivier for exactness. I haven’t had the chance over the past year to implement an “experiment project” because time would not allow and that opportunity would never present itself.
Above: ICA IDP data dashboard
So when ICA reached out to me with a municipal dataset that included IDP projects for Bergrivier, I jumped at the opportunity to explore how best to visualise and present this data in a manner that would bring value to this organisation.
Above illustration, is the view of the dashboard which is accessible on the ICA website, https://theinitiative.org.za/idp-dashboard/
We often use tech to test whether the existing non tech approach can be enhanced with the inclusion of technology. We do understand from our experiences working in rural communities, that technology isn't always the most effective way to solve a problem. Rural communities face major challenges in just being able to access hardware and software for technology to thrive. But we will only know once we have developed something and put it out there.
Make no mistake, the strategic document is the foundation of the municipality’s planning for the next 5 years, but it's not the most reader friendly. For one, should you venture into Bergrivier Municipality’s IDP, a lengthy 278 page document, it's much like venturing into a maze, hoping you can find something of value for you as a citizen. This is what makes data visualisation dashboards such wonderful tools.
So what can one find on the ICA IDP dashboard?
While the data wasn’t filled with many possibilities of exploration, at OpenUp we firmly believe that making any form of data accessible to citizens can be meaningful in the decisions they make. The dashboard allows a user to zoom in on specific projects within their town. I have spent many years working in government, a good amount at community level. When you engage communities they are always interested in “what is the government doing or going to do in our community, ward or even more granular, street.”
For example when selecting your town all the graphs will adjust to reflect data specific to this. You will be able to see the project count for your town, the project total costs of these projects and the allocation of budget to projects (if budgeted for by the municipality). ICA have had a few sessions with community members and though we have tried to present the data as simplified as possible, citizens mentioned that only once the facilitator in the room was able to explain what the chart/ graph meant they found it easier to understand. This therefore still takes us back as an organization to the reality that, even if we present data in visually appealing ways, there is a great need for data literacy in many communities.
Project Costs budgeted for by the Municipality
Above: show to the right all the projects linked to a specific function in the municipality. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, not all projects are funded by the municipality, the above graph showcases the municipal funded projects. It is important to note that all the inputs received are categorised into three, Community, Ward Committee or Municipal (internal process of collecting information from officials.)
Detailed Project Breakdown
To give greater context to the data collected, each project can be further reviewed with a more detailed project breakdown section. This also provides a breakdown of cost by financial year. Again, based on your initial town selection this list of projects will reflect your selection choice made.
I wanted to make sure when reading this article, you understand that the inputs received are not always the mandate or responsibility of the Municipality. Municipalities though are closest to the citizens, in a way, this makes them the target for all kinds of requests.
Above is a breakdown of inputs received and part of the Bergrivier Municipal IDP.
Activation is a starting point
By interacting with citizens on the ground we are able to better understand the challenges faced in accessing important information. This information has an impact on their lives. Whether it's an IDP or a municipal budget or some other planning instrument, people need to understand the how, where, when and what of that plan. It does require activating a mindset and interest in it. Through Codebridge Youth, we inform, empower and activate youth to engage this process of decision making. ICA will continue to play a very important role in our efforts to know more.