OpenUp seeks to empower people and government, through data, technology and innovative-thinking, to become active agents in creating positive social change.
Our former Director, Adi Eyal, resigned at the end of 2020, with an Acting Director scheduled to take over functions from the start of the 2021 financial year.
We established our own Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Framework.
A massive surge in users to the Evictions Website during lockdown showed how our responsive and targeted information could help users navigate evictions worries wrought by the COVID-19 crisis.
Wazimap became a central, and versatile, product in our growth strategy.
We launched a massive, collaborative project alongside organisations like Open Cities Lab (OCL), Odipo Dev in Nairobi, Orodata in Nigeria, Media Hack Collective, and Media Monitoring Africa, called the Africa Data Hub. It provides COVID-19 Data about Africa for Africa using responsibly sourced data that supports accurate reporting and an informed citizenry.
Youth Explorer was cited in the President’s Youth Day address as a notable youth development “success” in South Africa.
OpenUp gives us valuable information and tools at the tips of our fingers, especially today, where we are overloaded with information and free tools and not always sure what is usable information/tools and what is junk.
OpenUp helped me to make use of digital tools that allowed me to continue community projects in a time of Covid
OpenUp and CBY helped me to bring change in whatsoever environment im in by using data and technology to address any problem that’s preventing anyone to move forward.
New Hope for Youth Development and participation in Cederberg
The first experience with CBY Cederberg Youth Forum was rejuvenating. I'm excited about the journey ahead and the change we will implement in our communities.
I really feel honored being part of this program whereby I have learnt so much in this short time.In my experiences thus far with CBY, I've grown so much in taking part of our community activities and programs.
Stellenbosch started the relationship with Open-up with the codebridge youth program within the pandemic. It has opened new ways of communicating, especially starting online interventions with the youth. We are looking forward to a more positive and productive relationship once this pandemic has passed.
OpenUp equipped me with the tools needed to drive meaningful change in my community. It has also empowered me through the tools made available by Open Up seeing that it keeps me informed.
My ondervinding wat ek sover ervaar het by Cederberg Youth Forum was n goeie leer sessies in Lambertsbaai ek vind die hele proses wat leer saam.
2020 was the Year Zero for COVID-19; the year that would come to define the new normal. In South Africa, our country base, the first case was confirmed on 5 March 2020 and a National State of Disaster was declared on 15 March 2020, with the first hard lockdown commencing from 26 March 2020.
Constantly striving for sustainable progress
Processes and relationships exist between citizens and government that, if functioning, can improve social, political and economic outcomes. And where they don’t exist, these processes could be created. Like a Strandbeest machine that is forwarded by cogs, if it is working properly, the Beest moves forward.
Theo Jansen walking one of his Strand Beests
Increase the force exerted on the cogs
Through community-building, creation of awareness campaigns and content development
Reduce the friction between the cogs
Through relationship-building, enhanced or facilitated communications and the implementation of tools
By creating new systems that connect citizens and state, or forward shared aims
By removing or adapting systems that connect citizens and state, or forward shared aims
To action these ideas, OpenUp believes we should undertake activities (and see impact) across three main sites “government”, “citizens” and “processes”.
For the two beneficiary groups, the key to our interventions are summarised under our Inform, Empower and Activate (IEA) mission. In relation to both processes and relationships, our key objectives are to improve and refine existing connections. Central to all decisions around these strategies are data and information, which we both extract, repackage and disseminate.
Building impact-centred technology
Building impact-centred tools
Making and/or opening data
Building evidence and knowledge
Training and passing on of skills
Engaging stakeholders, communities and knowledge-sharing
Community-building is a challenging area of activity, which is very personnel intensive, whilst also requiring particular skills. Looking at our MERL Framework and Theory of Change, communities are sites of intervention, but the building of such communities as intervention sites is not the same in terms of the potential to influence social impact as compared to the building of the civic tech communities. Sustaining communities is an issue of trust with our beneficiaries, but reflecting on our MERL Framework helped us to gain insight into the fact that trust-building is better served by intensifying productive sites, rather than intensifying the expansion of sites.
OpenUp had active municipal community engagement in Cederberg, Bergrivier, Cape Agulhas, Swartland, Stellenbosch, Kouga and uMngeni. While of course the how of engagement was materially impacted by COVID-19 restrictions in the period, OpenUp consciously worked on strategies to effectively engage technology (and strategy) to try and ease these impacts (read for instance our discussions here).
These forms of direct engagement also helped to demonstrate why it is not just specific technological tools, but the creation of a civic engagement environment, which can lead to impact.
At one of our municipal youth webinars, hosted on 30 June, one of the participants from Cape Agulhas Municipality (Graca), said that, before these engagements, she did not know about public participation, or integrated development planning, or ward committees; she wasn’t even aware that as young person she could participate civically.
These direct engagements have remained central to OpenUps strategies; building trust but also manifestly centering communities in user-centred design. An example is how our consistent engagements through Vulekamali have led to direct interactions with close to 2,000 individuals through Civic Information Drives, Hackathons, DataQuests, a webinar and a data visualisation competition over the projects totality and into this reporting period (you can read about some of the stories of these engagement types here. Our Vulekamali activities continue to help build both national and local level communities of engagement.
The Public Participation camps we hosted in Cederberg, Bergrivier and Cape Agulhas Municipalities in the year prior to this reporting period laid the foundations for the development of the new flagship project, the Public Participation Guide, outlined above. Launched in Matzikama, the Guide is a very literal expression of the “Inform, Empower, Activate” methodology we like to follow.
A further strategy for launching civic engagement tooling is not only by direct community engagement, but also through specific themes and issues defined by civil society and community-based organisation groupings. Several different forms of accountability and engagement toolings were initiated this way.
We continued to develop the Evictions Guide, a highly responsible mobile site (accompanied by a hard copy guide distributed by partners) which arose from collaborations with Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City. The Guide provides urgent resources to persons facing evictions, helping them navigate the systems and processes that exist. In the reporting period, the site had 31 500 new users, with sharp increases in users being seen after the announcement of lockdown (and increasing labour market volatility rendering many more vulnerable — supported by the fact that second to the home page, the COVID-19 committed page had the next most page views). The user figures for the site are significant, and apparently relate to both tenants and landlords.
We continued to partner with the Parliamentary Monitoring Group to develop their two sites: Parliamentary Monitoring Group (https://pmg.org.za/) and People’s Assembly (https://www.pa.org.za/). These sites are the backbone of all public accountability of Parliament in South Africa, forming essential democratic bedrocks. They also serve an immense community. In the reporting period, www.pmg.org.za saw 2 651 043 users, 10% of whom were returning visitors. Our users participated in 3 403 506 sessions on the site. Also in the reporting period, www.pa.org.za saw 463 250 users, 13% of whom were returning visitors, and an average user session of a minute and a half. This resulted in 592 841 user sessions.
In collaboration with National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa, we completed a project in the period which involved the development of a website centred on a digital survey, intended to help identify and contextualise digital skills for citizens (see https://k4i.openup.org.za/index.html). The intervention — which significantly centred UI design — was a further demonstration of how the critical contribution OpenUp provides within the civil society context, in particular, is not just technical skills, but significant experience insight into innovation-thinking and innovation methods for better problem solving. Another example of this more national focused, but civil society driven, collaboration is in the launch of a new project in the period with the South African National Editors Forum (https://elections.sanef.org.za/dashboard/). Several collaborations were also launched directly off our flagship product, Wazimap (read about our Next Generation of Wazimap here: https://www.openup.org.za/products/wazimap-ng), and Wazimap productisation will be an important part of our future strategy for meeting civil society needs.
Additionally, the growth of our MERL Framework — and our direct research capacities — has also reinvigorated the prioritisation of user-centred design in our intervention. This has been central to the successes we have begun to see in the Case Management Systems project, done in collaboration with the Community Advice Offices South Africa (https://app.casefile.org.za/). This system hopes to streamline data collection and file management for community advice offices in low connectivity and technology contexts. The project has been marked by consistent user engagement — which is helping to build a profile of capacities and techniques for user-centred design we are embedding across projects.
Government technology had two broad strategic gains in the period:
These gains are tangible. Not only is government technology (where government is the implementer) an important part of realising our theory of positive social change, it improves our sustainability and broadens our impact. The reality is that “Fourth Industrial Revolution'' discourses are dramatically spurring the impetus in both local and national government for digitalisation of services and processes, yet this ‘expansion’ also comes with significant risks. OpenUp believes that facilitating technical implementation in the public sector through productive public-social innovator partnerships, which emphasise user-centred design and are spurred by social impact rather than profit, is a vital mechanism for the kind of equal and just digital transformation we hope to see in the country (and also, in the region). OpenUp’s activities are leading the way in this area.
In 2020, we began development on the Citizen Engagement App for the Cape Agulhas Municipality. The Application simply, and clearly, centres the correct engagement channel for citizens to access services or manage complaints and queries, all through one bespoke portal. The application has incredible scaling potential, with discussions already underway with Cederberg and others. The Municipality demonstrated exceptional buy-in for the transformational nature of the Application publicly, and the Chief Information Officer of the Municipality stated:
“I am very happy, from where we came to where we are, I think it's been great. I love the app, I have no complaints”
OpenUp also began the more earnest development of our Public Participation Guide pilot in Matzikama Municipality, a product idea spurred by our engagements with both citizens and government over the past few years. The Guide clearly, and responsively, makes engagement opportunities clearly categorised and highlighted to citizens — manifesting exceptionally important political opportunities for citizens to democratically participate year round.
In many ways, a significant impetus for the Guide became the inability to host engagements directly in communities as a result of COVID-19 — with the Municipal Manager of Cape Agulhas approaching OpenUp on the Guide for that express reason. This highlights the importance of OpenUp to be able to respond to critical environmental shifts and changes, and ability which is possible because of receiving both unallocated funds and revenue funds, which contributes to our flexibility.
One of OpenUp’s central products is our geo-spatial information tool, Wazimap. While we have a variety of instances of Wazimap, the Youth Explorer remains a strong showcase of its dynamism. The focus of the instance on youth specific data that does not just relate to demographics, but also vitally to service points, has been an important supportive tool both for expanding the data available to our youth and citizen communities, but also for engagements with municipalities at the policy level. The project has been so successful, that the President of South Africa mentioned it as a success in his 2021 Youth Day Speech.
OpenUp is evolving an ecosystemic approach to change. Informed by our Theory of Action, our engagement on not just multiple tiers of government, but multiple points of stakeholder intervention, means almost all of our projects and programmes act as mutually reinforcing cogs in a machine of improvement.
As an example, our national level support for both development of Vulekamali and Munimoney have led to the provision of better municipal and national budget data, which we feed both into our engagements but also into our strategising. You can see, as an instance of such cross-pollination, the workshop held in the reporting period based on our MuniMoney data, to help explore accountability in the Makhanda Municipality. The multiple-year focus of both of these projects is in itself a vital gain: OpenUp believes in supporting government to create sustainable and implemented technology: our long-term support through a significant capacity building focus, as well as our promotion of open source development, helps to mitigate against the vendor-lockin experienced through other forms of public-private partnership in the technology arena.
Examples of other govtech initiatives include for instance the Presidential Employment Stimulus dashboard — a central dashboard for helping to track expenditure and progress made under the Presidential Stimulus Plan — the Presidential programme to respond to the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic (and associated lockdowns).
We achieve change in our community by:
Building a civic technology community remains a central strategy within our broader Theory of Change. And our general community-building has often productively coalesced with our civic technology community-building, demonstrated through our Codebridge Youth initiatives.
Our building of civic engagement, but also civic technology communities, have seen the expansion of Codebridge Communities (there are active Codebridges in Newlands and Goodwood) and the establishment and fostering of Codebridge Youth Hubs (see here).
In Cederberg Municipality, our activities resulted in the Municipality establishing a Youth Council (through a nominations process) appointed in May 2021 (profiles of the Council can be explored here). In CAM, a Youth Council was also elected in April 2021 - which meets and engages regularly (profiles of the Council can be explored here). We also launched the uMngeni Hub with a 2-day in-person Digital and Data Literacy training event on 14 & 15 September 2020. The event included participation from existing OpenUp partners, Geekulcha and Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). This also led to a Commitment Letter of partnership between uMngeni Municipality and OpenUp.
We maintained a presence in Matzikama Municipality (profiles can be found here) and, as of the very end of this reporting period, discussions on a Youth Hub have begun for Kouga Municipality. Although no Youth Council has been established, Codebridge Youth activities were active in Stellenbosch Municipality as well — a WhatsApp group was created to introduce the programme and its objectives virtually, and the youth participated in an online webinar hosted by OpenUp on 11 November 2020. The webinar was themed Democracy in Practice, which was centred around the IDP. The details of this webinar will be discussed later in this report. A Virtual Youth Summit was also held on 3 March 2021 across three venues within the municipality: Cloetesville, Klapmuts and Groendal (a recording of the summit was uploaded here).
Codebridge community events (see a promotional video here) continue to be a key mechanism not just for maintaining an interest in civic tech amongst a broader community, sharing learnings and collaborating on projects, but also as a source of talent — a number of OpenUp recruits have learned about our work from these events, and thus it creates a strong sustainability for both the community at large, as well as our own work. In turn, even once staff have left the organisation, connections and talent are to a degree retained through the continued relationships these events promote. In the reporting period we hosted around 105 attendees of 26 different events.
Through our civic technology community activities, we have also launched several very specific projects. The Water Commons was launched as a collaborative project through the Code for All communities as an open data response to water quality and security issues. We continued to contribute to Open Gazettes, also as a form of civic community building (https://opengazettes.org.za/). And, vitally, in partnership with our Codebridge Community member, journalist Ray Joseph and GroundUp, we built the Lotteries Tool as an investigative tool for scrutinising the National Lotteries Board awards (https://lottery-grants.netlify.app/) (the impact of this tool will be better reported under the next reporting period).
Our communications strategies should complement our community building. The growth of our research capacities has enabled us to begin more regularly developing content, which has been used to good effect through our blogs (see examples here: https://openup.org.za/blog). A massive achievement in this area has been the development of our brand identity. Launched in May 2020, we have reinvigorated our look and feel — creating a beautiful and consistent look for implementation across projects, programmes and products. This exercise was a significant undertaking, but was done with considerable thought and organisation-wide participation (you can read more about it here: https://openup.org.za/blog/new-identity). This lays an important foundation for renewed communications efforts: paving the way for our increased focus on contributing to the civic tech environment. It is strategically vital, too, to have an easily identifiable brand.
There is nothing that cannot be innovated
Whether our own internal processes and strategies, or our strategies for engaging with partners and implementing design solutions.
Move fast and fix things
Through relationship-building, enhanced or facilitated communications and the implementation of tools
Innovative thinking as product
What we offer as OpenUp is not just the building of technology itself, but also innovation and innovation thinking.
Diverse stakeholders make for resilient projects
Political volatility (and shifting political impetus), means we will continue to work through a multi-pronged approach with stakeholders so that an ‘over-reliance’ on any individual entity or person for cooperation does not derail impact for citizen beneficiaries.
Collaboration and open sourcing mitigate risk
Our collaborative approach to development, as well as our staunch advancement of open source software (and open data), acts as an important salve to the risks of vendor lock-in that currently plague other public-private partnerships on technology development in South Africa.
Impact and scale are not necessarily associated
In other words, expanding the scale of the project as a primary pursuit does not equate to expanding its impact necessarily. This has helped identify our primary learning for the period, which is that — above all else — OpenUp is concerned with impact.
OpenUp had 11 core staff in the reporting period, though with significant outsourced capacity as well, with our expenditure in terms of employed staff to outsourced capacity at 2:1 (with around 60% of total expenditure being on core staff). Expending on a strong team is consistent with the kind of impact we hope to see in our activities, but more should be invested into staff wellbeing and development to support what is a high-functioning team.
While the Board drove a recruitment process for a new Executive Director, Gabriella Razzano (a co-founder of OpenUp) has been Acting Executive Director, in a part-time role.
While we outlined above within the specific narrative sections key products that were developed, more broadly, we continue a low tech approach; technology is a tool, and as such must be context specific. This means actively choosing interventions that prioritise usability over stack preference — for instance, we have significantly benefited from the use of webflow.io for helping to implement highly responsive, simple websites, rather than pursuing on phone applications requiring software (unless necessary).
Our philosophy is fundamentally open (and open source). This contributes not just to transparency and re-use, but also to sustainability for public service development (it means we avoid vendor lock-in, in particular). As part of this too, we are proud of our Github contributions, which can be reviewed here: https://github.com/OpenUpSA. This is in itself an indication of our contribution to the development of a capacitated and socially focused civic technology community, where we have over 170 repositories with multiple forks and a few hundred stargazers.
In 2020, Emma Taya Darch was welcomed to OpenUp’s governing structure. She is a public sector innovation specialist with over 12 years of experience institutionalising experimental practices and innovation-oriented mindsets in a variety of business and cultural contexts. Currently the Head of the Executive Office of Tamkeen (a Bahrain public authority focused on innovation), she is able to offer extensive support in relation to both public sector innovation, and sound organisational practice.
Significant funders included:
In this financial year, OpenUp continued to hold a strong financial position - with significant cash flow (far stronger than the preceding period), in spite of COVID-19’s impacts on the sector more broadly.
Our grant income dropped from being 61% of our total income compared to project income, to 55% of the total income - testimony to our attempts to diversify revenue streams and partnership forms.
94% of our operating expenditure is on human capital, a result of the technical nature of our interventions, as based on our theory of change. We saw an increase in outsourced technical capacity, alongside the total growth in projects (which tend to demand this capacity).
Travel expenditure dropped from R336 045 in 2020, to just R15 501 in 2021. We are delighted to have been able to drop our carbon footprint in the year. We have begun a process to register our sustainability measures for reporting and policy development.
Read our Annual Financial Statements for more information.