iCitizen: Mapping Service Delivery in a South African Municipality

Interaction type Public → Government
Trigger Event
Domain

Generic Mapping with investment on infrastructural issues that are reported in local level.

Organisation University of Witwatersrand, LINK Centre

http://www.wits.ac.za/linkcentre

Actors

The project is in its infancy however the aim is to actively involve the citizens in terms of participation, the Link centre which launches the project and the local government as the recipient of the action.

Data sets in use

Multiple datasets per service delivery issue that will be tracked.

Process

Collection of data points via cell phones. Adoption of different ways for  geo-tagging of photos in real time or via SMS or/and email.

Feedback

Generic and purpose-build maps for disaster preparedness.

Goal

Reporting and Solving fundamental problems with basic infrastructure and services.

Side effects
Contact person Dr Kiru Pillay, University of the Witwatersrand

kiru2010@gmail.com

In recent years, South Africa has seen a surge in political protest against slow pace of service delivery, corruption and nepotism. Although the United Nations’ Human Development Index (United Nations Development Program, 2010) considers South Africa to be a middle-income country, there is a large disparity in income distribution across the population; an estimated thrity-nine percent of the approximately fifty million strong population survive on less than ZAR 388 a month (USD 55). An obvious consequence of poverty, high levels of unemployment, and service delivery problems is social unrest.

Under these circumstances a new project is in its infacy having as a fundamendal target to improve the daily life of citizens by collecting crowdsourcing reports and solving them. The iCitizen project will give citizens the ability to report on fundamental problems with basic infrastructure and services. Until now, the inspirators of the project are in contact with local municipalities to discuss the extent to which this project can be embedded with current initiatives around citizen monitoring and evaluation. The main aim of the project is to give citizens’ active voice and help them understand and identify the role of cell phones in citizen monitoring and evaluation.

For example, South Africa is plagued by an ageing road network, which has resulted in numerous potholes that cause severe damage to vehicles. This has become a cause célèbre amongst South Africans and has garnered numerous news articles and has been taken up by local municipalities and local government. While trhe issue of potholes may seem fairly mundane, it is an obvious example in which to pilot the use of crowdsourcing and mapping, especially given the wide cell phone penetration in South Africa.

Citizens wil be able to report issues by forwarding actual geo-locations (geo-tagged photographs), or by sending in locations via SMS (e.g. Corner Smith and West Streets) or by reporting issues via email (geo-tagged photographs, or descriptions of locations). The list of opportunities in which we ulimately intend to involve citizens in the process of deepening democracy is numerous including: Potholes, Illegal Littering, Infestations (Insect, Rats, Mice, etc), Pollution & Toxic Waste, Structural Damage (Bridges, etc), Fire hazards particulalry in informal settlements, Park Maintenance, Burst Water pipes, Traffic Lights not working, Vandalism, Fallen trees (Road obstruction), Power outages et.c.

The first iteration of iCitizen was built upon the Drupal open source content management system (CMS). As more of an enterprise CMS, it provided a lot at its core out of the box – membership management, image upload, taxonomy (category) management, user commenting, thorough user permissions, fields API, views templating and reporting, and HTML5 theming capability developing a proof of concept in very little time.

Through Drupal’s user-contributed modules, the researchers were able to extend the core functionality to include mapping functionality enabled through Geolocation, Leaflet Maps (using OpenStreetMaps as the Map Tile Server), and the Voting API allowing users to verify incidents. Drupal’s permission system allowed us to facilitate users submitting incidents by its global geo coordinates, uploading images, and commenting. We lastly leveraged Drupal’s Services module, thereby allowing for communication with mobile devices over JSON web services.

The mobile application was developed using HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript, and compiled using the PhoneGap framework, allowing for deployment to multiple platforms. Through the mobile app, users are able to view all incidents in their proximity, filter the map by category, and submit incidents using their mobile devices’ built-in GPS features and camera.

Version 2 will see a complete rewrite of the web application, which will in itself provide the web service API for mobile-connected clients. For performance and maintainability reasons, it will be based on version 5 of the ASP.Net framework, using the model-view-controller (MVC) pattern, which allows for a good separation of concern. In addition, we will be utilising the .NET-based SignalR library that will facilitate real-time communication between the web server and multiple connected clients (desktop and mobile). Pre-styled Map Tiles will be provided by MapBox via OpenStreetMaps, and we will once again be using Leaflet.js – an open source JavaScript library for driving the front-end of mobile-friendly interactive maps.

The designers of the application will be extracting boundary data for South African provinces, districts and local municipalities and exposing these on the online map using GeoJSON data. This will be done so as to automate the process of calculating the jurisdiction of any reported incidents.

A live reporting engine and online social tool will also allow for bi-directional communication between the web server (and its user-base) and local municipalities and civil societies.

Mobile applications will be developed using native code for each of the major supported operating systems – namely Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry OS.  It will carry the same functionality as its earlier version, except that it will also include some social collaboration tools, and real-time push notifications (enabled via the PubNub Real-Time Network®).

The main difficulty that was experienced had to do with the required acceptance for the project within a University. One University found validity in the concept but was unable to commit resources for the development of the application.

Moreover, two difficulties are envisaged: The first is acceptance of the validity of the generated datasets by local municipalities i.e. what will be the appetite of local government to treat the generated datasets as valid data, representative of legitimate service delivery concerns and in particular service delivery points of failure.

The second difficulty is acceptance by the public for the use of mobile phone and applications as an effective tool for the voicing of service delivery concerns. Even though the penetration rate for mobile phone is fast approaching 100% of the adult population in South Africa, the use of mobile applications and GIS-mapping tools of this nature both to voice concerns and also as viable form of social advocacy and protest is largely untested in South Africa.

MAIN LESSONS

  • Multi-applied project in a variety of tasks in a local level.

  • A pluralism of various software and programming languages and platforms in technical level.

  • Difficulty by the university to provide recourses for the development of the application.

  • Concerns over the generated datasets by the local municipalities and acceptance by the public to adopt mobile applications.

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