Strategies for cities


According to a recent United Nations report on urbanisation in South Africa, nearly two thirds of the country’s population occupy urban landscapes, with correlating figures for the rest of the continent. Governments are now facing the increasingly challenging task of managing the overpopulation and social crises that arise from this phenomenon.

Drawing from the various discussions that were held at the recent SAP Urban Matters event in Cape Town, we find a surprisingly enthusiastic new assortment of government officials willing to engage critically and in an innovative way with the issues that have arisen over the past few decades.  

Among the many topics covered, one of the most significant focal points addressed the integration of technology, especially ICT, in an attempt to connect and empower citizens and enhance local government processes. Another important area of debate included local government practices and the importance of value focussed processes aimed at improving the lives of citizens.

On the topic of ICT integration in an African context, Nirvesh Sooful from African Ideas elaborated on the importance of including these strategies in local government practices to enhance their efficiency. “With the challenges that we have, we need efficient and cost-effective government, as all available resources need to be spent on dealing with our massive infrastructure backlogs. One of the challenges facing South Africa, is the burgeoning cost of government administration, without the necessary investment in infrastructure. This is a very dangerous position. Technology can help. In fact, it is the only real answer. We need to increase our investment in effective technology so that we can reduce the running costs,” Sooful said.

He mentioned that when looking at best run cities, they are improving lives of citizens through ICT by cutting spending, transforming services, developing sustainably, accelerating innovation and empowering communities. According to Sooful, key objectives of an ICT enablement strategy within the context of a developmental state can be broken down into three categories with specific aims. The first would be efficient and effective administration, which targets government employees and elected politicians. The second is improved governance and customer service aimed at citizens. Finally he mentioned social and economic development which targets society at large and the economy.

He says;“ICT offers great promise and potential to look at innovative ways of managing and governing cities. However ICT on its own will not do this – we need an effective and integrated strategy that looks at people, processes and technology across society.”

Innovative governance and leadership practices were also important topics covered at the event and looked at best practices from cities within our country, as well as case studies presented on best practices from cities abroad. 

Sean O’Brien, vice president (global) of SAP Urban Matters & Public Security, discussed the broader theme of improving the lives of citizens by integrating innovative governance and leadership practices through transforming government and driving prosperity. He proposed that five government pillars be put in place: good governance, user empowerment, urban resilience, service innovation, and community engagement. The five SAP strategy pillars that seek to integrate technology with the aforementioned are analytics, applications, mobile and cloud technology and databases.

Looking at case studies, local examples of best practices and proposed strategies were discussed in an attempt to highlight solutions that can be implemented to address the issues governments face with regard to urbanisation.

City of Cape Town CIO, Andre Stelzner elaborated on the topic of promoting social and economic value in modern urban environments. When speaking on the issues the city has experienced, he focussed on transformation as a central point that needs to be addressed. 

He highlighted some of the technical difficulties the city has faced in this regard: “The lack of standardised policies and procedures, old order IT systems, out-dated back office systems that are functionally inadequate and not properly integrated—these systems hinder the ability of municipalities to improve governance, be responsive to changing citizen needs and render services.”

Elaborating on value creation, Stelzner says that value in a city context refers to “the extent to which goods or services are perceived by customers to meet his or her needs or wants, measured by the customer’s willingness to pay for it. It commonly depends more on the customer’s perception of the worth of the product or service than on its intrinsic value.” 

This, he says, is not simply a reflection on monetary value and he distinguished between social and financial value as two separate – yet interrelated – concepts that need to be addressed. When referring to social value, he says addressing historical backlogs and service inequalities goes hand in hand with social upliftment and improved service delivery. 

Financial value, Stelzner said, can be increased by focussing on long-term financial sustainability and improved efficiencies, to mention a few.

According to a 2012/13 survey by the city of Cape Town, citizens mentioned that essential services remain a priority. Road maintenance, affordability of services, responsiveness, billing and payment channels and ease of doing business are some of the most important areas to be looked at in improving liveability within the urban perimeter. Stelzner added that public value can be created through efficiency, effectiveness, trust and fairness.He said in order to create value for city customers you need to:

  •  Have a vision of what kind of city you wish to be and share this vision with your citizens.
  • Create value through focussing on process and people which will then deliver against strategy (use technology to enable this).
  • Know that citizen value is created when we are effective, efficient, trustworthy, fair, communicate and measure and adopt an open data strategy.

Looking at urbanisation in another South African city, the City of Johannesburg’s Department of Social Development’s Jak Koseff spoke on a variety of issues that are being looked at in their municipality. The first topic he discussed included an exposition on the matter of poverty and deprivation. He spoke about the importance of social protection imperatives as a method of addressing this issue.

“To the extent that the city can effectively link social protection and assistance to transformative interventions, it can promote the stabilisation and movement out of poverty of its most vulnerable populations. This is the core principle underpinning the single window strategy of social intervention in the City, linking social protection to skills development and active labour market programmes,” Koseff said.

As for co-production and asset-based community development as a way to further the imperative of social protection;  “The asset-based community development model represents one of the most powerful current evolutions in thinking and practice around social and economic development of communities. 

“As much a mind-shift as a collection of methods,  the approach places communities themselves at the centre of the development process. It challenges those who wish to develop communities to work with representative structures.”

Youth development

Koseff is passionate about youth unemployment and the way it links to education. 

He says according to a 2011 City of Johannesburg report: “Only a small number of those without post high-school qualifications make it into formal employment, and those with qualifications are far more likely to be part of the labour force than those who do not. For example, across all age groups, 56% of those with matric or equivalent qualifications are employed, compared to 31% of those who left school in Standard 8. At the other end of the scale, 88% of those with honours degrees are employed, as compared to 78% of those who hold bachelor degrees.” 

Koseff suggested approaches to this problem by synthesizing the National Development Plan and World Bank data. On the supply side of the labour market, the city can connect the dots between the private sector, the key educational institutions and the basic education system such that schooling and skills training are expressly linked to market need.

On the demand side of the labour market, the city can stimulate demand for youth employment through its own contracting to some extent (as a condition of contract with all suppliers). 

But WB and NDP analysis strongly support a parallel set of interventions which increase the rate of firm creation at the micro and small level, since such firms are both more flexible and more labour absorbent than larger firms or the civil sector.

He says the city can act as a social change agent with technology as an enabler.

Among the international delegates who shared best practices from cities abroad, Birmingham’s former director of the Birmingham Transformation Programme and City Council, Glyn Evans, spoke on what their city transformation programme has achieved.

According to Evans, “Transformation is not the same thing as service improvement. It’s not about doing a bit better than what you do now, it’s about doing things very differently than how you do them now.” 

He contrasted transformational change which looks at replacing existing models with the improving of existing models which he links with incremental change.

Evans said that problems that arise with transformation include that the public sector generally comprises organisations geared up for incremental improvement. Resources are committed to “business as usual” instead  of change. 

They perceive transformational change as high risk that is commonly impacted by political ‘short term-ism’. 

The public sector makes limited use of evidence to underpin policy development and suffers from corporate frontline tensions, while often having poor availability and quality of data.

Reflecting on lessons learnt from their city programme, he advises that; “We should have had only one corporate change programme instead of having a parallel organisational development initiative. We should have had our employee engagement right from the outset. 

And we should have made transformation part of the DNA of the council and not a specific, time-limited activity that would come to an end.” 

What made it a success was: “An established approach that delivered change outcomes (not simply project deliverables) and realised that IT was crucial. But it wasn’t just about IT, we have also redesigned processes, organisational structures, reporting lines and responsibilities, job roles and grades, to mention but a few.

“We did proper research – it can’t be done as a side-line to day-to-day service delivery. We have also dealt (sensitively) with the perceptions of senior managers and politicians and saw it through!

“Though urbanisation in Africa is an increasingly worrying phenomenon, we are now at a stage where local government is willing to engage collaboratively and innovatively in an attempt to improve the lives of its citizens.

“We need to learn from each other as we expand our horizons and share our successes and best practices openly and across the board with a willingness to embrace new technologies, practices and policies.

“The city can act as a social change agent with technology as an enabler,” Evans concluded.

Michael Meiring

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This edition

Issue 68