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Translating complex realities through technology

Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation

“We need to assess the most appropriate technologies for citizens’ voices to be heard, and which kinds of knowledge work best for which kinds of government representatives.” — Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation


households living in informal settlements in Cape Town

12 million

people live in extreme poverty

Start date
December 2015
End date
May 2017
Period: 18 months


Although some CSOs in South Africa have used technology for enabling citizen participation, there is limited evidence of the effectiveness of technologies for accountability in this context. Many technological approaches and policies remain inadequately grounded in the country’s diverse and complex local realities, undermining their potential to address exclusion.


SLF already uses geospatial mapping, digital storytelling, collaborative video and technology-enabled design in its work with citizens and decision-makers in the impoverished, informal settlements of urban Cape Town. This research will examine several tech-enabled research and engagement processes that SLF has undertaken over the past five years, asking

  • what conditions are necessary for participatory knowledge processes to use technology effectively to increase government responsiveness?
  • what do different tech-enabled processes for fostering citizen engagement contribute to shifting the perspectives of government actors at different levels?
  • what are the criteria for choosing the most appropriate combination of methods and technologies?
  • what is the role of intermediaries in using tech to increase government responsiveness?

It will also carry out three case studies – focusing on socio-ecological regeneration, health, and the informal economy – to track the influence of tech-enabled processes on the responsiveness of citizens and government actors.


The Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF) is a research organisation based in Cape Town which works in urban townships and informal settlements. SLF brings decision-makers and citizens together in innovative ways to shift the terms of public debate about how social and economic problems are framed and treated. It uses a range of participatory, technologically-enabled processes for generating knowledge and creating space for constructive dialogue between government and citizens.


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    Translating complex realities through technologies: lessons about…