OpenUp’s flagship Citizen Engagement Programme offers a dynamic and ever-changing space where projects in the organisation allow for regular stakeholder input. This is largely because it is centred around engaging the citizens and not the tech. Following a user-centred approach means that as a civic tech organisation, we iterate on projects based on the data that we constantly collect (as a result of stakeholder engagement platforms we created) to ensure that the programme delivers the desired impact.
Even though we possess the expertise to develop various forms of technology, joining forces with the people, composed mainly of the youth in the Codebridge Youth hubs still proved to be insufficient. As an organisation, we know that much of the ground work is done by other community based organisations, non profit organisations. For this reason we reached out to some and invited them to form part of a working group.
The working group members are from community based organisations, local government, codebridge youth hubs and civil society organisations. We contacted our implementing partners, all of the organisations that deal with youth development and civic engagement, government officials that we have collaborated with and the youth who have been beneficiaries of the`codebridge Youth programme.
We decided to have a monthly working group session, and the focus would be:
- Assisting with the review of existing content and the contribution content for some of OpenUp’s projects that have a focus on creating active citizens.
- Members discussing and making recommendations for areas to improve citizen engagement with the various projects and programmes being implemented within the network.
- Co-creating an annual plan for the Citizen Engagement Programme that integrates all projects from members to be an annual calendar for the working group. (linked to their organisations they represent)
The working group inception session
As the Community development lead in the organisation, I wanted to ensure youth representation at the inception workshop of this working group. We have Codebride Youth hubs in quite a few municipalities in the Western Cape, so an invitation went out to all of them to become members. Similarly we sent invitations to the municipalities we work closely with, as well as community based organisations. In retrospect, I should have included a message tag with the invitation, “reach out to me if you need data'' to youth and community based organisations, because from my experience working in these rural communities, this is their biggest challenge. The youth used this platform to voice their concerns, even though we did not provide them with data vouchers, they attended on the second invitation to the working group.
A few sessions down the line - more diversity, more members
At our second working group meeting, the first where the youth in the Codebridge Youth hubs were present, the attention shifted from general updates on what the other organisations had been up to to what are the immediate steps that can be taken to remove blockages that stood in the way of their empowerment. The biggest and most conspicuous one was the lack of political will to implement or even co-implement civic training in their municipalities. That is what the likes of Codebridge Youth does right? Well, sort of. Our biggest strength is in developing the methodology for civic training, developing the tools to facilitate civic engagement in the form of technology and developing the training material, even if it is done mostly at introductory level on our end.
The main reason why we execute the programme with implementing partners like the municipalities, is logistics, having to make sure each town or ward is represented in a Codebridge Youth event is something that we would not have been able to do on our own. The implementing partners are usually locally based and have a preexisting relationship with the youth in the area.
The stakeholders that make up the working group also presented the work that they were busy with including:
- Municipal notice, a platform with updates on municipal finances, plans, tenders across a number of metros created by the Human Sciences `Research Council (HSRC).
- COMPACT by the Public Affairs Research Institute, SALGA and Integrity Action (IA) aimed at enhancing local government planning and accountability through public participation.
- The VacWork programme, implemented by Geekulcha, an annual vacation skills development programme that brings together about 50 high school pupils to learn about IT, with a specific focus on mobile app development, Web development, and entrepreneurship skills.
A combination of the work that we have been doing in the Bergrivier area and the working group meetings have already spawned a product. The Bergrivier IDP dashboard that presents municipal budget data in an easy to read and searchable format.
The way forward
For 2023, the meeting dates will be moved from an ad-hoc basis, to quarterly. These dates will also be added to the Codebridge Youth annual calendar. The various stakeholders as working group members, will be given the opportunity to host the working group meetings on a rotational basis and drive the agenda when it is their turn. We are also working on a plan to purposefully get the youth who are the beneficiaries of our Codebridge Youth project, more involved.