Date added: May 9, 2017

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Many governments, international agencies and civil society organisations (CSOs) support and promote open data. Most open government data initiatives have focused on supply – creating portals and publishing information. Much less attention has been given to demand – understanding data needs and nurturing engagement. This research report examines the demand for open data in South Africa, and asks under what conditions meeting this demand might influence accountability.

To explore these issues, the research team identified and tested ‘use stories’ and ‘use cases’. How did a range of civil society groups with an established interest in holding local government accountable use – or feel that they could use – data in their work? Ten broad types of open data use are identified, which are divided into two streams: ‘strategy and planning’ – in which CSOs used government data internally to guide their own actions; and ‘monitoring, mobilising and advocacy’ – in which CSOs undertake outward-facing activities.

Strategy and planning included:

  • Identifying areas for intervention
  • Comparing community-sourced data with government data
  • Learning about an area or region
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of their own interventions.

Outward-facing activities included:

  • Monitoring public services
  • Tracking public budgets and spending
  • Mobilising communities
  • Lobbying or advocating for change or action
  • Benchmarking
  • Raising awareness of municipal processes.

This research concludes that pursuing open government data initiatives is worthwhile and that there are many opportunities to take these much further. However, the experiences of the participants to date suggest that national-level open data portals are likely to be only one part of the solution. Decisions about which data to make open need to be based on demand; in particular, local data needs to be available, and at the local level. Also, open government may require more open government people, as well as more open data.

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