Government in your pocket

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The Ekurhuleni Municipality hosted the EMMHack on the 30th of September at the Alberton Civic Centre. Khwezi, his brother Viwe, Andrew (a friend from Rustenburg we met at Geekulcha Hackathon earlier in the year), and myself were part of 36 teams that took part in the event. We called ourselves Incognito.

Upon arrival on Friday we all huddled together in groups of people we knew (which defeats the entire purpose), I was happy to note that Mandisi and Timothy from We Think Code were also at the event, which made things a little less awkward. Techies have a way of shutting people out, and that makes networking hard at these events.

The 48 hour hack kicked off on the Friday evening with a fancy dinner, pumping us up for a long weekend. The theme of the hack, “A digitally connected city,” meant that the city of Ekurhuleni was looking to improve the integration of technology into their structures and they were giving away R150 000 to see this happen.

The municipality provided challenges for us to work on, the most popular being (1) a way to make what government does visible to the public, (2) a way to make government information accessible to the people and across departments, and (3) the automation of the government housing allocation system. Our team sat for almost two hours deciding on what to work on and we eventually decided to build an app that would allow you to resolve one issue that needed you to interact with different government departments, all in one go.

Here’s a scenario: If I get mugged (which is very common), and during this incident I get stabbed, and my handbag (which has my ID in it) gets stolen, then I would have to report this case to the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department, with the reference number from there apply for a new ID from the department of Home Affairs, where they would give me their own reference number and head to the clinic for stitches and receive another reference number when I open a file with them.

Our idea was to create a system that let’s you log a case on your phone, get one reference number, and have to validate the case only once at one department. This would mean that instead of travelling to the clinic, then to the police station, then too home affairs and potentially wasting two days, you would just need to open a case online, get a reference number, head to the clinic, where they would confirm your case, and once you get your stitches the system would log a case with the EMPD, and then remotely with Home Affairs. And all you would then need to do is go to home affairs at a later stage and collect your ID.

The application would use the Department of Home Affair’s database as the main source of information. The department is your first point of interaction with government (that’s if you are not born in a public hospital) and your last point once you have died. When you get the app, you’d need to register using your ID number, and just as you would with a banking app, go into a government branch to verify the account. The app would then give you the option to fill in other information about yourself, such as where you currently live, where you work, what your tax number is, whether you are on the grant system… This information will improve on and cross-check what government knows about you across the various departments.

The app would also allow you to map progress on your query until it is closed and at the end of each stage prompt you to rate the value of service provided to you. Because the case is allocated to a government employee at each stage, this would provide government with real-time performance reviews on their employees, thus improving monitoring and evaluation.

When the case is closed and you are informed, the app would require you to share your experience with the public using social media. Here you could express your satisfaction or discontent with government, which would deal with the first challenge of the hackathon, giving real time feedback to the people on what government is doing.

We worked tirelessly through the 48 hours, counting down each hour and ticking stuff off our to-do list. Our team consisted of three designers and a front-end guy, and that worked against us. Should we have invited more developers to our team we would have built a better prototype. We also spent a lot of time during the 6 minute presentation speaking about the problem and not the solution.

Overall, we got to answer the question, how much better can government be when they make their data available to the public? This is the question Ekurhuleni is trying to answer with their digital cities initiative.

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