Improving Urban Governance: Developing a Strategic Blueprint to Strengthening Data Use in City’s Decision-Making

The South African Cities Network (SACN) was established in 2002 by the Minister of Provincial and Local Government, the mayors of the major cities and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). Its aims is to promote good governance, analyse strategic challenges, and share experiences among South African cities. One of its primary tools, the State of the City Report (SoCR), was initiated in South Africa in 2004 with support from the Cities Alliance. It served as a vital tool for reporting on the progress, challenges, and strategies of cities in achieving their developmental goals.

A crucial part of the SoCR is to provide up-to-date information to inform policy, planning, and decision-making processes.It was while published the SoCRs, that the SACN noted varying results over time, prompting a need for more consistent and reliable data. The SACN recognized the necessity for credible data and improved data collection methods. With improvements in data and collection methods, the SoCR would contribute significantly to the advancement of urban intelligence, knowledge bases, and research skills as well as facilitating ongoing improvements in urban development and governance practices.

The SoCR in South Africa has set a high standard of data presentation and analysis that has reaped international recognition. With the involvement of metropolitan municipalities and national partners, the SoCR has added credibility and analytical insight to urban development discourse globally. AfricaScope was commissioned in 2013 by the SACN to conduct a scoping and planning exercise to establish a comprehensive business plan that would encompass institutional coordination mechanisms, efficient data collection and analysis approaches, methods for custodians to regularly provide credible data, and a review of the costs associated with implementing such mechanisms.

The business plan sought to facilitate institutional development and management of performance indicators while providing a pragmatic and cost-effective framework for data collection and analysis across various sectors. The research addressed these concerns and proposed measures to ensure ongoing access to comprehensive and credible data for informed governance and management of South African cities. The study approach was to gather relevant documentation and conduct a review to inform the development of indicators and data sourcing methods for the SoCR. Stakeholder engagement involved identifying key individuals in national and provincial departments, national agencies, and metropolitan areas through established networks with facilitated meetings to gather insights.

Data-Driven Urban Transformation through Stakeholders Engagement

National stakeholders included Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), National Treasury, South African Local Government Association (SALGA), and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). These engagements highlighted various key issues regarding coordination, indicators, data collection, and knowledge management. Stats SA emphasized the importance of streamlining data collection with metro stakeholders and establishing uniform databases. COGTA stressed the need for standardized indicators and data collection procedures to prevent disputes. National Treasury’s aim was to improve data credibility and reliability, particularly focusing on financial data collection. SALGA advocated for collaboration with Stats SA to enhance data collection capacity at the municipal level. CSIR suggested establishing a team to analyse data and develop knowledge management systems.

At the metro level, cities like Tshwane, Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Msunduzi, Buffalo City, Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, and Mangaung highlighted challenges such as duplication of reporting, lack of coordination, disparate data collection methods, and shortages in human resources and tools. Coordination, standardization of indicators, integration of data systems, and improved knowledge management were also identified as crucial areas for improvement across both national and metro stakeholders.

Metros in South Africa are burdened with an extensive array of reporting requirements, with over 100 questionnaires/returns needing to be submitted annually and over 127 reports when considering additional requests from various stakeholders. Even well-established Metros like Cape Town, Ethekwini, and Johannesburg face significant pressures to produce data required for these reporting purposes. The City of Cape Town anticipated further increases in reporting burdens with the introduction of new indicators by the National Treasury. Concerns about the sustainability of existing systems were prevalent among respondents from medium and smaller Metros, indicating a need for careful evaluation and potential reconfiguration.

Stakeholders advocated for the SACN to source data from agencies already compiling data in accordance with legislation to populate indicators in the SoCR rather than imposing further reporting burdens on Metros. The need for coordination, standardization of indicators, and stronger legal mandates for data collection at the local government level was highlighted, with respondents urging the National Treasury and Stats SA to be the primary collectors of financial and non-financial statistics respectively. There was also a general lack of awareness about SACN’s role and mandate among metro stakeholders, consequently, they prioritized reporting requirements that were legislated by government. Despite challenges, Metros possess comprehensive cadastral systems and GIS capabilities, albeit underutilized for reporting purposes, suggesting potential interventions by SACN to enhance data integration and use for improved reporting in the future.

Bridging Data Divides: Enhancing Coordination and Standardization for Informed Urban Development in South Africa

The need to establish coordinating mechanisms for data collection within Metros was identified and involved identifying key departments and individuals responsible for coordination. Despite some guidance from the SACN, much time was spent identifying coordinators, particularly in Metros where no clear department oversaw data coordination. The more established Metros like Cape Town, Ethekwini, and Johannesburg had clearer structures compared to newer, smaller Metros like Buffalo City and Mangaung.

A shift from monitoring output indicators to outcome-based indicators was observed across Metros, although challenges remained in aligning data collection methods. The importance of GIS departments in integrating spatial information for reporting was highlighted, suggesting their crucial role in data management within Metros. Overall, the need for formalized data coordination functions within Metros and the identification of key individuals or departments was emphasized to improve data collection mechanisms and streamline reporting processes.

Various mechanisms for collecting data in South Africa were outlined, including registers, censuses, and household surveys, each serving as sources for populating indicators. Official statistics, certified through the South African Statistical Quality Assessment Framework (SASQAF), are predominantly collected by national agencies like Stats SA and the National Treasury, ensuring credibility and preventing questioning by stakeholders. Registers, such as cadastral systems and property valuation rolls, offer accurate and continuously updated data, while censuses and surveys conducted by Stats SA and the National Treasury provide financial, non-financial, and capital expenditure information.

Coordination between stakeholders, including the SACN, Stats SA, and the National Treasury, was felt to be essential to align indicators, streamline reporting mechanisms, and minimize duplication of data collection efforts. Engagements with Stats SA were proposed to facilitate access to data, incorporate new questions into surveys, and enhance the efficiency of reporting processes. Additionally, efforts should be made to designate data collected by Metros as official statistics and ensure standardized and comparable statistics across cities. Household surveys are conducted quarterly and annually that yield nationally representative data and should be accredited by SASQAF,.

Leveraging Household Surveys and Data Integration for Informed Urban Governance

Quality of Life (QoL) and Customer Satisfaction Surveys (CSS) serve as valuable instruments for collecting data, particularly for impact-based indicators and enabling measurement of interventions’ implemented by Metros. Efforts were made to standardize these surveys across the nine Metros, focusing on core indicators and methodologies. While progress had been made, further standardization efforts were needed, requiring a participatory approach and rigorous data collection and analysis. Stats SA’s potential role in standardization surveys through SASQAF implementation was highlighted, and they expressed their willingness to assist Metros in survey implementation. It was also recommended that a forum be established under SACN’s auspices for surveys to be coordinated, along with a recommendation that a Citizen Report Card (CRC) approach be considered. Additionally, metro surveys were proposed that would be conducted by independent agencies, tailored to metro-specific circumstances and aimed at measuring impact and monitoring unique indicators in consultation with the Metros.

The populating of indicators for SoCR has heavily relied on external data providers, including consultants, for data such as population or gross value add (GVA), but challenges arise due to the political contentiousness and validation issues of such data. Stats SA suggested using alternative indicators like rates and taxes or government expenditure for understanding local economies, given the complexity of calculating GDP or GVA at a municipal level. Geospatial information was emphasized for its use in reporting on various aspects like infrastructure, services, and demographics, with Spatial Development Frameworks (SDF) being integral to the development of Integrated Development Plans (IDP).Customer Care Call Centers also serve as data collection points for issues and complaints, while monitoring stations within Metros collect data on indicators like air and water quality, with departments suggesting data exchange with SACN to streamline reporting processes.

The CSIR and stakeholders, particularly at the Metro level, advocated for the SoCR to use existing indicators and data collected by national departments and agencies to alleviate the burden on Metros. COGTA recommended analysing this data to distil key interventions and policy requirements for sustainability, producing concise policy briefs tailored to individual Metros or for comparison purposes. Stakeholders expressed concerns over the academic and lengthy nature of the SoCR, suggesting shorter briefs for practical use.

The CSIR underscored the need for dedicated personnel and collaboration agreements to access and analyse data effectively, proposing forums for knowledge exchange and standardization across Metros. Additionally, thematic frameworks were recommended for organizing and interpreting data, with a focus on outcome and impact indicators, while knowledge portals were seen as vital for data dissemination and collaboration among stakeholders. Stakeholders called for a review of the SoCR to align with user needs and existing reporting mechanisms, minimizing the reporting burden on Metros and ensuring timely engagement and planning.

Bridging the Gap: Overcoming Data Challenges for Smarter Urban Management

Metros face significant challenges with extensive reporting requirements compounded by capacity issues, including unfilled positions and reliance on consultants for data collection and reporting. Disparities in technology use, ranging from advanced enterprise software to basic Microsoft Excel, further hinder data management and dissemination efforts. However, opportunities exist for streamlining data coordination through designated personnel and integrating information systems with GIS for enhanced efficiency and reporting. The SACN needed to facilitate discussions on these matters, develop guidelines synthesizing existing reporting requirements, and establish frameworks for standardizing data collection and analysis methods. Additionally, the SACN needed to create a knowledge portal for benchmarking and produce tailored information products to meet Metro needs, potentially aiding in policy advocacy and securing research funding for critical R&D initiatives aimed at sustaining cities.

After conducting the primary research, a reflective process distilled key findings, leading to the development of a business plan shared with SACN and external stakeholders for feedback and refinement. The report concluded by outlining proposed mechanisms for indicator development, data access, and knowledge product creation, along with associated timelines, finances, and human resources needed for implementation. The conceptual framework for the business plan outlined four interconnected spheres crucial for securing indicators supported by relevant data and institutional arrangements: coordination arrangements, output/outcome indicators, impact indicators, and knowledge products.

At the core, coordination functions needed to ensure alignment between output/outcome and impact indicators and the creation of knowledge products. Challenges in coordination stemming from superficial cross-sectoral arrangements and hierarchical organizational structures within Metros, necessitates strategic advocacy to confer power onto coordination units. Output/outcome indicators should pivot on existing efforts, comparing, and reconciling indicators already reported to various state agencies. Selection of indicators needed to prioritize strategic relevance and comparability across member cities. Knowledge products should be user-friendly and accessible, facilitating informed decision-making and knowledge sharing among Metros. Centralized data systems, web portals, and standardized methodologies for data collection could enhance comparability and usability of data across Metros.

This is a summary of the findings of the research conducted in 2013 that were included in the business plan put forward by AfricaScope to the SACN. It has been a decade sine the primary research was done and it would be vital to review the progress that  the SACN and Metros have made in accomplishing the recommendations made

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