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Empowering R users to work with open spatial data in South Africa: Open Data Day 2020 report

- June 8, 2020 in Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020, South Africa

On Saturday 7th March 2020, the tenth Open Data Day took place with people around the world organising over 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Thanks to generous support from key funders, the Open Knowledge Foundation was able to support the running of more than 60 of these events via our mini-grants scheme This blogpost is a report from Exegetic Analytics in South Africa who received funding from Mapbox to expose the South African R community to a range of resources for working with open spatial data. satRday Joburg warmed up with an RLadies Joburg event hosted by Rain where our keynotes, Heather Turner and Colin Fay, spoke to us about publishing and promoting your R package as well as contributing to the R ecosystem. Coupled with pizza and great company this event was thoroughly enjoyed by all. satRday Joburg officially kicked off on 4 March 2020 with a 2-day “Introduction to R” workshop held by Bianca Peterson. The purpose of this workshop was to provide foundational knowledge to empower new R users with the right skills (and confidence) in order for them to efficiently tackle real-world problems. This workshop covered everything from connecting to Rstudio cloud to Data Visualisation. On 6 March, satRday workshop participants were spoilt for choice with a selection of three full-day workshops. Topics included “Building Successful Shiny Apps with {golem}” by Colin Fay, “R Package Development” by Heather Turner and “Web Scraping with R” by Megan Beckett & Andrew Collier. The satRday conference took place on 7 March 2020 at the Discovery building in the heart of Sandton. The programme (consisting of 21 presentations) was varied, catering for the diverse range of interests. Attendees seemed to really enjoy the diverse range of topics and variance in presentation lengths ranging from 5-minute lightning talks, 20-minute standard talks and finally to 45-minute keynote talks. Throughout the day the hashtag #satRdayJoburg was flying all over Twitter with the R community (both in attendance and elsewhere) sharing words of encouragement and admiration for talks and the atmosphere of the conference as a whole.  Here are some of our favourite excerpts: Organising a conference is a huge endeavour and it would not have been possible without the hard work of the organising committee or the generous financial assistance of our sponsors:

Open mapping minibus routes in South Africa: Open Data Day 2020 report

- May 22, 2020 in Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020, South Africa

On Saturday 7th March 2020, the tenth Open Data Day took place with people around the world organising over 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Thanks to generous support from key funders, the Open Knowledge Foundation was able to support the running of more than 60 of these events via our mini-grants scheme This blogpost is a report from the University of Pretoria in South Africa who received funding from Mapbox to develop a complete map of minibus taxi routes in Mamelodi East with the local knowledge of school learners. Our Open Data Day event took place on 7th March 2020 at the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology at the University of Pretoria, Hatfield campus. We celebrated the day by hosting 61 Gr 12 geography learners from Dr WF Nkomo High School in Atteridgeville.  Open Data Day is an annual international event that promotes the awareness and use of open data, and our event focused on open mapping. The aim of our event was to map minibus taxi routes in and around Atteridgeville. This was done in two phases, firstly using an approach called participatory GIS and then using QGIS. Participatory GIS focuses on using local knowledge to collect geospatial data in a community. In small groups, the learners were guided by a student to map the routes and stops using markers and stickers on a A3 aerial image with main routes and points of interest indicated. The learners presented their maps and one of the main observations that the learners make was the lack of information available in their area. The students then explained to them how OpenStreetMap can be used to map their community and the importance of this. During the second part of the day, the learners were introduced to QGIS (an open source Desktop GIS application). They used QGIS to digitise the routes and stops indicated on their paper maps, to create a digital map of the minibus taxi network in Atteridgeville. Thank you to all the lecturers, students and learners that made this day a huge success. Most importantly, thank you to our sponsors, the NRF Community Engagement Grant, the Open Knowledge Foundation and Mapbox.

Creating open air quality data with low-cost sensors in South Africa: Open Data Day 2020 report

- April 22, 2020 in Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020, South Africa

On Saturday 7th March 2020, the tenth Open Data Day took place with people around the world organising over 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Thanks to generous support from key funders, the Open Knowledge Foundation was able to support the running of more than 60 of these events via our mini-grants scheme This blogpost is a report from Open Cities Lab in South Africa who received funding from Datopian to create an open and accessible space for community scientists to meet, network and collaborate on an air quality project. Open Data Day was an opportunity for Open Cities Lab to gather our collective of community scientists in one room to work on our air quality monitoring project. This project endeavours to create an open data platform on air quality in the city of Durban. Our data collection method has involved building low cost particulate matter measuring sensors. Our sensor is made up of a small number of components, namely a Nova SDS011 PM Sensor which measures PM10 and PM2.5. This is connected via four F-F jumper cables to a NodeMCU 8266 board which holds the script and connects to a network to be able to send the data readings to the data platform. The NodeMCU board is powered by a Raspberry Pi plug. The first prototype was housed in a rectangular Tupperware container which has two holes drilled into opposite sides, one for the plastic piping that is connected to the Nova sensor, and one for the power supply cable.  These sensors have been disseminated and deployed through many channels via our community science curriculum, environmental justice community based organisations and hackathons where interested citizens build and become the custodian of their sensor. This growing community of air quality monitoring citizens connect and collaborate over our community sensors Slack channel. As the number of online sensors out in the field grew, we were able to analyse and hypothesise towards strengthening the reliability and integrity of the streams of incoming data.  We centred our Open Data Day event round addressing a number of challenges we’ve experienced on this project. We had a list of challenges, to which the solutions were able to be implemented and explored on the day.  Our first challenge was the Tupperware container that the sensors were housed in. No design process had been considered for an easy user experience install. One of our hosts volunteered his time to design a case that would optimise installs that take better readings.  These cases are 3D printed using PETG filament which is a strong plastic suitable for outdoor instalment, the case was also designed in such a way to minimise exposure to rain – users are still encouraged to install in areas sheltered from rain. On Open Data Day we invited hosts to bring their sensors to swap out the old container for the new containers.  We had some occupational health and safety scientists from Apex Environmental on board who brought through a Gilibrator Air Flow Calibration System for some calibration work on the sensors that were present on the day. We were able to gain insights on the mechanics of our Nova sensor component; for example, how long it takes to suck in air for each reading. We discovered that the code on the NodeMCU board was not allowing the Nova sensor component enough time to pull in a big enough air sample for each reading. During Open Data Day we were able to work on the sensors present and modify the code so that each reading was of a sizeable air sample.  On the day we also invited citizens who were interested in hosting a sensor to come and build a sensor that they can then take home to install. In this way, Open Data Day helped us to expand our network of sensors collecting data on the platform.  The turn out was a mix of people from different professional backgrounds who sat down to puzzle together sharing skills, knowledge and ideas. Citizens were encouraged to share their findings on the slack channel, so that the work may continue there after the event. What was most special was the presence of a few students who are part of the community science class that we run in areas plagued by poor air quality. They were exposed to a real-life experience of what it truly means to be a community scientist, surely the greatest lesson of the curriculum. The end of the session left us with 15 empty old containers, exchanged for the new designed cases. There were 5 new sensors built that left with their new hosts to be installed in their homes.  Our work on calibration continues with what is yet to be seen from a comparison of PM value readings from sensors that collect on varying air sample sizes. Our homework collectively is to test installs in new cases – with the placement protocol advice from our Apex Environmental official which is to have the rubber pipe facing the hypothesised direction of inflow of bad air quality, help new sensor hosts with their home troubleshooting over our Slack channel, and further investigation on the airflow of the sensors to be able to define the calibration equation. Our Open Data Day saw us cover important ground in our work towards a useful and reliable air quality platform for the people of the city of Durban. A successful day that will surely be recreated in the near future.


- November 9, 2016 in municipal, Open Spending, South Africa, Spending Stories

Code for South Africa just launched, a New Municipal Money project for South Africa, in partnership with the National Treasury. This is a step forward in collaboration with government. Code for South Africa’s goal is to empower citizens to hold their municipal officials to account. The focus of the portal is on municipal financial performance. It is partly built on the babbage engine being used by OpenSpending. Most citizens have a reasonable idea of the basic services municipalities should provide and don’t look too closely at their municipality, its budget and spending until something goes wrong. Even then, finding the necessary information could take many hours of analysing complicated reports, financial statements, and other documents, and would only be possible for someone who has a certain level of financial literacy. But now Municipal Money, a new web-based tool built for National Treasury by Code for South Africa makes this information for all South African municipalities accessible in an easy-to-understand format with a few clicks of a mouse. The site also links to all the original Treasury source documents allowing anyone with the requisite skills to dig deeper. It is searchable by municipality or street address, and it also allows side-by-side comparisons between two municipalities. screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-16-54-12For example, at the end of 2015, the town Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape had a negative cash balance of over R60-million and it was not even able to cover a single day of its day-to-day expenses. In the last four years, the municipality has spent nothing at all on repairs and maintenance, which has heavily affected service delivery in the area. And the total it spent on operating expenses is unknown, as the municipality failed to report to Treasury for the 2014/2015 financial year. This is clearly a municipality in dire straits. Normally, this information would not be easily available to the public. Now, Municipal Money gives citizens the information and ability to hold municipalities to account if they are not performing.  according to a Treasury statement. “The creation of this portal is in response to the commitment made by the Minister in his 2016 Budget speech to launch a data portal that will provide stakeholders with municipal financial information, in order to stimulate citizen involvement in local governance. It is also in line with international best practice, in terms of which governments are increasingly opening up their data to the public and specifically budget data – to promote oversight, transparency and accountability.” Says Greg Kemp, head of technology at Code for South Africa, which built the tool: “National Treasury does a good job of making information available, but there’s a difference between that and understanding the information. The goal is to use technology to bridge that gap. People can see financial performance indicators in a way that is easy to understand, whether they’re good at reading financial information or not.” Monitoring the performance of municipalities should be an ongoing conversation and not just limited to election time, says Kemp.
“Residents often engage with their municipalities at the edges: when paying their rates and when things aren’t working. In reality, municipalities provide an enormous number of services and need to be run effectively. It’s our job as residents to understand what their obligations are and to see if they provide the services up to the level that we’re happy with.”

But analysing information that makes holding municipalities accountable is often left to those with a little more financial nous. Municipal Money removes the middle-man, and encourages all citizens to get involved even providing contact numbers for municipal officials. fruitless-and-wasteful-expenditure Adi Eyal, director of Code for South Africa, says that while local budget information has always been accessible, it’s difficult for most people to understand what it means: do the numbers mean the municipality is doing well or not? Municipal Money is neutral on the state of municipalities, but aims to show whether spending is “good” or “bad” based on defined indicators that have been identified by government. The collaboration between National Treasury and Code for South Africa fits within the context of an Open Government Partnership – an international movement that aims to connect civil society with governments to make them more transparent, says Eyal.
“This is an opportunity to help citizens become more aware, more engaged and more involved in holding local government accountable.”
The website “puts a friendly face to complex data”, presenting it in a way that users can assess what the numbers mean. Technical point of view The data provided by the National Treasury is made available for applications via an online analytical processing (OLAP) interface using the Babbage framework from OpenSpending. Two websites were then built to provide easy access to the data: one aimed at end users with simple municipal profiles and performance indicators; and for those interested in performing deeper analysis, a financial-statement-style view for finding and extracting hard numbers and downloading subsets in CSV and XLS form. The latter also contains documentation for accessing the information structure form to build applications. The full power of the advanced interface proved to be a bit overwhelming at first. Workshops held early in the project with civil society organisations showed that people using the more advanced interface struggled to navigate the data due to its scale and flexibility. This motivated us to present the data in a more structured form. We decided to use the same structure that municipalities use to submit their financial data to treasury. As users familiarise themselves with the data within the structure, they can find what they are looking for more easily. But ultimately, it is about empowering ordinary people with the skills “to better understand the budgeting process for local government, and to participate in the creation of budgets”, says Eyal.

Open Education in South African Higher Education

- November 3, 2016 in Data, Featured, oer, Open Data, open-education, South Africa, world

This post, written by Glenda Cox showcases an insightful perspective of the Open Education situation in the South African Higher Education System As I write this piece in late 2016 Higher Education in South Africa is in crisis with the sector facing a wave of student protests calling for free higher education under the call #feesmustfall and for the ‘decolonisation of the curriculum’. The ideals of transformation following the end of Apartheid in 1994 appear not to have been satisfied and although Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are attempting to rectify what they can, protest action has forced many institutions to suspend their teaching programmes.

Fees must fall, Picture by By Ian Barbour; Wikimedia, CC BY-NC-SA

Public Higher Education Institutions in SA

South Africa has 26 public institutions of Higher Education. South Africa’s universities accommodate in excess of 1 million students. While SA has the best HE system in Africa, it has flaws and these are becoming very apparent during the #feesmustfall crisis. A major problem for SA, is that while SA has 2 million students in tertiary education, there are 3 million 18-24 year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEETs). For a detailed and expert review of the post-school situation in SA the CHET website has many reports and includes Open Data on

Shape of Post-school system (


Open Education at the University of Cape Town (UCT)

I work at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) and we developed UCT’s first open content directory. The purpose of the initial directory was to provide a place for UCT academics to share OER. That same OER is now shared in the new OpenUCT repository, launched in June 2014 and managed by the UCT Library. Contribution to the UCT OC directory is voluntary. In 2014, an Open Access (OA) policy was introduced that encourages the sharing of teaching materials. However, there is no specific mandate. There is no financial or status reward or recognition in annual performance reviews for contributing teaching materials to OpenUCT or any other Open platform. Before the OA policy came into being in 2014, 332 resources had been added to UCT OC on voluntary basis (some with the assistance of small grants). Over 200 lecturers, ranging from young lecturers to A-rated research professors across all faculties at the institution, contributed content to the directory (Cox, 2013). Nevertheless, those who added materials formed a small percentage of UCT staff (10% of approximately 2500 part time and full time academic staff). UCT also has a Massive Open Online Project (MOOC) project (2014-2017) managed in CILT. Guidelines for what is expected, how materials will be designed and how they will be openly licensed are set out on the CILT website.

Overview of Open Education in South Africa

In May, 2012, the South African Department of Higher Education and Training included a section on the value of OER in their Draft Policy Framework for the Provision of Distance Education in South African Universities (Department of Higher Education and Training, 2014). However, there is no South African national policy on OER as of yet. Only five of the public HEIs (UCT, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Limpopo, University of Venda and Rhodes) have policy that gives the lecturer copyright to release their materials as OER. The presence of policy does not automatically result in sharing of OER. There are number of other variables which also need to be in place before OER is adopted. The University of the Western Cape (UWC) was the first South African university to create an OER directory. Although the initiative was strongly supported by university policy, the path to sustainability has been a slow one with only a few lecturers participating. “Getting actual buy-in from participants” was acknowledged as important for the future of the UWC involvement in OER (Keats, 2009:54). The University of South Africa (UNISA) launched an OER initiative in 2012 which included developing a UNISA OER Strategy. This must still be operationalised and encoded in formal policy, but the Strategy suggests that this ideological commitment to openness may eventually pay off in concrete policies, mechanisms and actions. There is some recent interest from Stellenbosch University, although the institution’s focus is still on Open Access (Van Der Merwe, pers. comm.). Additionally, the University of Pretoria, Faculty of Veterinary Science launched AfriVip in 2014. The national landscape of Openness over the past 4 years is slowly shifting.

Barriers to Open Education and lessons from research

The current IDRC-funded “Researching OER for Development in the Global South” project (ROER4D) seeks to build an empirical knowledge base from across South America, Africa and South and Southeast Asia (Hodgkinson-Williams, 2013). Sub Project 4, for which I was the lead researcher, focused on three South African universities – UCT, the University of Fort Hare (UFH) and UNISA and aimed to understand the factors shaping lecturers’ motivations and concerns regarding OER use and creation. There are a number of fundamental structural issues that needed to be considered and in place before an institution can be considered “OER ready”. If any of these factors – access, permission, awareness, capacity, availability or volition – fall below a critical minimum of operational acceptability, it will comprehensively impact OER decision-making and activity at the institution. We also found that the type of institutional culture that exists at a university will have a powerful impact on the types of options institutions have for engaging with OER.

Open Education in SA: The future

Currently, it is difficult to gauge the impact of existing OER in HE in SA. Crucially, UCT will be hosting the Open Education Global conference in Cape Town in March 2017 in association with the Open Education Consortium for the first time in Africa, and it is hoped that this event can increase awareness and give African-based colleagues an opportunity to attend a conference locally that in this resource constrained environment would be difficult otherwise. The conference with its theme “Open for Participation’ welcomes delegates from all education sectors, the community and government. In South Africa we wait to hear how events will unfold over the next few weeks but the effects are already being felt as 2016 draws to a close. In this time of crisis the sharing of teaching materials and the development of open educational practices across HE must be seen as a priority- we cannot afford to reinvent the wheel. It is up to Open Education advocates to show institutions and lecturers the value in sharing. — About the author glendaDr Glenda Cox is a senior lecturer in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching  (CILT) the University of Cape Town and her portfolio includes Curriculum projects, Teaching with Technology innovation grants, Open Education Resources and Staff development. She has recently completed her PhD in Education and her research focused on using the theoretical approach of Social Realism to explain why academic staff choose to contribute or not to contribute their teaching resources as open educational resources. She believes supporting and showcasing UCT staff who are excellent teachers, both in traditional face-to-face classrooms and the online world, is of great importance. She is passionate about the role of Open Education in the changing world of Higher Education.

Expedition för ömsesidigt lärande i Kapstaden, Sydafrika

- March 15, 2015 in Adi Eyal, Code 4 South Africa, Creative Commons South Africa, designtänk, Internationellt, JAS Gripen, Kapstaden, Living Wage, Open Access South Africa, Open Data, open-government, ROT, RUT, South Africa, Sydafrika

Vad kan Sverige lära sig av Sydafrika kring öppna data och samordnande strategier för bättre transparens och samordning av det digitala samhället? Mycket! Det tror jag verkligen efter att ha upptäckt Code 4 South Africa (Code4SA) och de processer och projekt de driver sen ett par år tillbaka. Det är inget sammanträffande att jag funnit denna organisation och det är jag glad över.
Under 4 månader kommer jag nämligen att vara i Kapstaden i Sydafrika med min utbildning Kaospilot. Tillsammans med 35 kamrater från Kaospilot Danmark och 14 från Schweiz kommer vi bygga en organisation och göra projekt tillsammans med lokala partnerorganisationer för hållbar utveckling. Kaospilot är en kreativ affärs- och designskola som utbildar kreativa entreprenöriella ledare under ett 3-årigt program. Under den fjärde terminen åker alla elever på Outpost (Utpost) och för tredje året i rad är den i Kapstaden. Syftet är för att lära oss av och i en annan kulturen och att testa våra färdigheter i ett väldigt annorlunda sammanhang. Detta sammanhang kräver också flera olika initiativ och organisationer för mer öppenhet och transparens i Sydafrika. De tre stycken jag upptäckt med starkare koppling till Open Knowledge är främst Code4SA, med officiell koppling, som fokuserar mycket på mjukvaruprojekt med öppen källkod och storytelling som öppna data möjliggör. Open Access South Africa är en yngre organisation startat i November 2014 av universitetsstudenter. I staden finns också Creative Commons South Africa som självklart jobbar med att främja de licenser som möjliggör öppen kunskap. Något jag hoppas på är att föra samman olika organisationer i en process inte händer hoppas jag kunna utforska och lära på nära sätt hur det går att jobba med öppna data i ett radikalt annorlunda sammanhang än Sverige.
JAS Gripen,


Det finns ett antal intressanta kopplingar mellan Sverige och Sydafrika som på ett eller annat sätt är kopplat till Open Knowledges verksamhet. Inom #OpenGovernment & #OpenSpending annat finns den så omtalade JAS Gripen-affären som ända sedan affärens skede 1999 tagit olika svängar, bland annat 2009, 2013 & 2014. Det vore självklart extremt spännande att göra ett litet projekt angående denna fråga som har en stor koppling till #OpenEconomics-området. En lite ljusare relation är Sydafrikas stora export av Rooibos-te till Sverige!
livingwagestory, code4sa,


Men det finns mycket på öppen data-hållet att lära av Sydafrika. Redan under mitt första möte med Adi Eyal från Code 4 SA nyligen fick jag höra om intressanta projekt som det senaste: Living Wage – en kalkylator för minimilön åt städare & hemhjälp. Situationen i Sydafrika är väldigt annorlunda än i Sverige. Hemhjälp i Sydafrika utförs allt som oftast av ensamstående kvinnor som lever i kåkstäder flera mil ifrån arbetsplatsen. I Sverige sker däremot hemhjälp & husarbete ofta via företag, speciellt efter införandet RUT & ROT. Helhetstänket kring hur lönesättningen kan utformas är dock väldigt intressant med tanke på den lagliga minimilön som ofta inte räcker till mångas försörjning. På Code 4 SA:s hemsida finns en text som beskriver både situationen och tjänsten i sin helhet. Där finns bland annat historier från tre kvinnor, Primrose, Justine och Nosiphiwo som ger verklighetsförankring till situationen. Tjänsten i sig är alldeles underbar ur designtänk-perspektiv då den tar användaren genom empati (hushållerskors historier), idégenerering (antaganden) & prototypande (uträkning och förslag för lön). Den låter en ange nuvarande lön som betalas ut till den hemarbetare en anlitat och sedan utmana ens antaganden kring hur mycket som den anlitade egentligen behöver för ett drägligt liv. Även här går det att se hur öppen data med kreativitet & engagemang hur det kan bekämpa fattigdom med hjälp av enkla verktyg! Sammanfattningsvis kommer det finnas en mängd outforskade områden och perspektiv kring öppen data som jag kommer att gräva efter under min tid i Sydafrika!