National politics are important. Who did what and took what and said what? It indicates the way the wind is blowing and hich direction South Africa is moving in. But none of this helps me make ordinary decisions on a daily basis. I am much more interested in property taxes and liquor licences awarded in my neighbourhood. These are the things that affect me directly and which I know relatively little about. Greg Kempe’s excellent Open By-laws is an attempt to make it easier to know whether your neighbour is allowed to slaughter a cow in his backyard or whether you can shutdown a very loud party down the street after 12pm (I promise, I’m not really the fuddy duddy that I’m making myself out to be).
There’s a lot more. Crimes took place in my neighbourhood last week, I don’t want the annual police statistics from last year. What about the matric pass rate in the school down the road or how many COPE voters live on my street. That’s interesting (and often useful) information.
Know your hood
OpenUp with the Open Democracy Advice Centre hosted a mini “Know your hood” hackathon in December last year (supported by the Foundation of Human Rights) to explore this idea a little more. At OpenUp, we are starting to develop building blocks that could be used to deliver neighbourhood level information. This inititative could hopefully teach us more about our neighbours (or gasp, even have something to talk to them about!).
These questions fit hand-in-glove with larger initiatives such as The Integrated Development Planning Nerve Centre project managed by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, which seeks to consolidate all the integrated development plans of South African municipalities and different forms of ancillary documentation and planning information that was used to develop these plans. In recognition of the trove of data available, the Open Democracy Advice Centre is working to answer the question: how can this information be opened up in a meaningful manner to assist South Africans in giving effect to their socio-economic rights? Collaborating with ODAC in its quest to advance the right of access to information, we are creating a prototype of the kind of system that could answer this question as part of our larger “Know your hood” initiative.
While we’re still a long way off from a hyper-local information repository, this hackathon took us one step further.
The following noteworthy projects resulted from the hackathon:
Which ward do you live in? The Address to Ward converter is an API that can be used by other applications to find which ward a particular address fits into.
An elections API for the 2009 general elections. Again, this is another tool that can be used by other applications to ask questions about the voting distributions at a ward level.
Mapper.js by brothers Sean and Justin Walsh, a widget that allows developers to overlay interesting spatial datasets on top of google maps.
Election map (broken link) (also by the Walsh brothers) is a visualisation that shows voting distributions by province, district and ward. Apart from the obvious merits of learning more about party strongholds this tool re-uses both mapper.js and the elections API. This is a great example of how a hackathon could be run in a collaborative fashion.
Ballot or Street (broken link) by Nerudo Mregi is a creative twist on the elections theme by comparing service delivery protests with elections. Were there violent protests in your area? Did people vote with their feet or their fists? There are quite a few technical problems that need to be resolved but the idea is a great one. This tool is another example of software re-use, as it takes advantage of both the Address to Ward converter as well as the elections API.
You might be wondering why the focus on elections. It boils down to how much one can do in a hackathon time frame. APIs that were developed before the hackathon involved much leg work and infrastructure development. Once they were ready, application developers could easily build on top of them. Following this hackathon, Mapper.js could again be re-used for similar projects.
Congratulations to Sean and Justin Walsh as well a Nerudo Mregi for winning through a public vote. They each won an iPad mini for their efforts.
Know your hood is one of our “fun projects” at OpenUp which we fiddle with during our lunch breaks. We’re building it slowly and will be promoting it through our Thursday night unhackathons. Our next event is on the 23rd of January. If you’re in Cape Town, pop in and start wrangling data from the most recent census.
Contact us if you would like to know more.