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Open data is South Africa’s Alternative Towards Creating Safer Communities

To fully realise the economic potential that Cape Town has to offer, there is a clear need for stakeholders to collaborate in addressing safety issues throughout the region.

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Open Data in Cape Town

Ranked as the third greatest city in the world, the City of Cape Town is alive with opportunities for business and leisure travellers alike.

However, the City’s overall ranking was negatively influenced by its poor safety record, with Cape Town named the city with the highest homicide rate out of the top 50 cities ranked.

To fully realise the economic potential that Cape Town has to offer, there is a clear need for stakeholders to collaborate in addressing safety issues throughout the region.

Therefore, the City of Cape Town is the perfect breeding ground for open data sharing, which holds the potential to minimise the rise in crime and reduce risks related to community safety.

The Constitution gives our public safety providers the responsibility to prevent, combat and investigate crime.

However, based on rising crime statistics, it is evident that these public sector providers are unable to prevent and combat crime in their own capacity.

This presents the opportunity to create growth coalitions that harness private sector ingenuity to maximise public sector resources at a grassroots level.

While the private sector is also a key role player in fighting crime, there is a clear need for open data sharing in the City of Cape Town.

The purpose being to promote transparency, empower citizens, and support our public safety providers by harnessing new technologies to strengthen governance.

With data playing an integral part in how cities look after their citizens, local government thus has the power to revolutionise and disrupt the way societies are governed. When data is made widely accessible and easy to use, the benefits for communities can be significant.

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The accessibility of safety data to increase the ease of doing business is critical to achieve the City of Cape Town’s Inclusive Economic Growth Strategy.

As explained by Alderman James Vos, the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Growth in a recent statement, it is necessary to consider measures for cutting the cost of compliance, reducing the cost of doing business, and introducing programmes to support sustainable business growth.

This could be achieved by collecting key data to make informative decisions related to public safety. Cities can use data and analytics to identify hotspots with elevated risk profiles and target interventions more precisely.

Collecting data and analytics, such as seasonal data and the movement of people, could be utilised to identify the risk areas to focus on in terms of public safety.

This data would then assist public safety providers to identify patterns to be utilised in making informed decisions to prevent safety risks.

Key data could be collected in the form of gathering fire statistics from smoke detectors, increases in crime statistics from neighbourhood cameras, and even tracking weather patterns for flood evacuation in certain regions in South Africa.

In Cape Town’s context, the creation of growth coalition for an open data initiative between public and private stakeholders should be developed to enhance public safety and security.

This would be achieved through a growth coalition between government, private sector partners, industry leaders and civil society to identify, gather and make accessible information that supports open communities and an empowered citizenry.

The open data system provides significant opportunities for reform of services, citizen engagement and innovation which in turn can each contribute to economic growth. However, it also requires that particular care is taken to identify and protect information that could impact the safety and security of individuals; sensitive assets and systems; and the benefits which the sensitive asset or system exists to deliver.

The Cape is home to several technological solutions, and through this inclusive participation, we can encourage greater public-private partnerships between local authorities and private businesses.

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In 2020, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a US-based non-profit invested $1 million in seven data projects across the country.

These seven initiatives leverage the potential of open data to create more informed and engaged communities. An example of this is a Philadelphia-based start-up Azavea developed a platform called “OpenDataPhilly” providing over 300 data sets, applications and application programming interfaces to the region.

This project aims at informing neighbours regarding activities happening in the city through both municipal and non-municipal data.

The opportunities presented by global leaders on open data are echoed across South Africa. An open data initiative provides a common, reliable evidence base to inform city decision-making and improve data-sharing with all levels of government and non-government organisations.

Furthermore, open data strengthens public understanding and trust of city operations concerning their communities, raising the bar on government accountability for community safety and security.

To this end, the City of Cape Town, in partnership with Silicon Cape and Loudhailer, is exploring the discussion on greater stakeholder collaboration for open data sharing. This is achieved through the SafetyTech initiative, which aims to foster closer ties and collaboration between stakeholders operating in safety-related technology sectors.

SafetyTech encompasses “all technologies that contribute towards the creation of an environment where adverse incidents are minimized and where citizens can lead lives free from fear of personal harm or asset loss.

For stakeholders looking to collaborate with the SafetyTech initiative, click here.

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