Saldanha Bay wireless last mile access
One of the key challenges hampering broadband services in South Africa (and Africa) is the lack of an effective last mile connectivity solution (i.e. how to connect the h...

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Transforming education in the Western Cape
African Ideas has been very active in creating and driving the e-education strategy and approach taken by the Western Cape Government (WCG).
African Ideas drove the...

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Developing the Western Cape broadband strategy
Broadband is seen as a strategic enabler for all sectors of the economy. It enables the transmission of data across the globe, improved communication and the ability to t...

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Lejwe Technology innovation ecosystem
This project was conducted on behalf of the Lejweleputswa Development Agency (LDA) in the Lejweleputswa District of the Free State province of South Africa. The contract ...

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Digital Readiness and Usage
There is growing evidence that the diffusion of ICT is an accelerator of economic growth in a country (studies by the OECD, World Bank, Economic Commission for Africa, et...

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Unleashing the Potential of Open Data
Open Data is a new buzz word; the world is coming up with policies, frameworks, and strategies around successful implementation of Open Data. There have been many reasons...

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Smart Cities & Intelligent Infrastructure
In the future everything in a city, from the electricity grid, to the sewer pipes to roads, buildings and cars will be connected to the network. Buildings will turn off t...

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Empowered Citizens with powerful data platforms
Another chapter in the smart city story is being written by citizens, who are using apps, DIY sensors, smartphones and the web to solve the city problems that matter to t...

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Digital Technology Access & Usage in South Africa
The current position of inequity and exclusion in South Africa is magnified by the impact of digital exclusion which is now being recognised across the developed world as...

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Growing digital content creation in Africa
There are indications that the digital content industry offers significant economic and cultural benefits to the African economy. While Africa is currently a small player...

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Saldanha Bay wireless last mile access
Transforming education in the Western Cape
Developing the Western Cape broadband strategy
Lejwe Technology innovation ecosystem
Digital Readiness and Usage
Unleashing the Potential of Open Data
Smart Cities & Intelligent Infrastructure
Empowered Citizens with powerful data platforms
Digital Technology Access & Usage in South Africa...
Growing digital content creation in Africa

Big data or Big brother (power & control)

Big data is very important, and is going to be very valuable. Big data is often referred to as the “new oil” or the “Oil of the internet age”. And this is potentially a very valuable analogy. And yet it is precisely this “new oil” analogy and slides such as this one that concern civic activists.

We understand that in the fast moving consumer goods environment that the monetisation of this data is of paramount importance. However, it is not that clear in a civic context.

In a lot of the technology company literature on smart cities, City inhabitants are “mainly addressed as consumers rather than as citizens”. Yes, the city is collecting all this data and they are building services on top of that and some of those services may be handy – but what if you want to do something else, something that’s not provided by the government themselves? If a group of citizens, for example, want to use that data to organise an action group against environmental pollution in their city the answer you get is not quite clear. In Cape Town there was a recent example of a woman who asked for data from a CCTV camera about an accident and was refused. At the moment it seems that the data platform is a closed platform and will be used for government or businesses to build services on top of them.”

Anthony Townsend, director of the Institute of the Future and author of Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia has said that "Some people want to fine tune a city like you do a race car but they are leaving citizens out of the process”.

This is an age in which very big things can come from massively co-ordinated human activity that doesn’t necessarily get planned from the top down. We need to stop thinking about building smart cities like a mainframe – which is this industry vision – and think about it more like we built the web, as loosely intercoupling networks.

What’s clear from the institutional point of view is that the Government now has competition in terms of organising and deciding – citizens can now do an awful lot themselves using new tools which they just couldn’t do before effectively. These are powerful platforms – citizens have toppled governments with these tools (like we have seen in Egypt and the occupy movements). They have real power.
And that is the issue - these are two different approaches to building smart cities and they’re playing out in this much bigger struggle over control between people and government/ corporates.

The reality is that a bit of both is needed. Some of the big infrastructural or planning decisions still need to be done in the traditional institutional approach, while a lot of other things can be done in a more bottom up or outside in view. We need to have a strategy that has both active government, as well as active citizens. However, this needs quite a radical rethink of the way we operate.  Who has access to what, when and how? Who owns the data, how is it managed? How can we share some another’s information? How can privacy and security be maintained? Etc.

These are the strategic issues that cities need to be thinking about. And they should be thinking about this together with their citizens.

We are a strategy and innovation company focused on Africa. Our services focus on strategic planning, research and disruptive innovation especially related to the impact of digitisation across society.