Improved data literacy levels can improve service delivery

When the dust settles after the 1 November Local Government Elections, councillors need to quickly adapt, and understand and respond to all community needs, says Social Surveys Africa Director, Dr Tara Polzer Ngwato.

Speaking to SAnews, Polzer Ngwato said after the polls, councillors need to make a crucial shift.

“They need to shift from seeking a vote along party lines, to understanding the needs of all residents, irrespective of political party affiliation.

“Since we have a very unequal and diverse society, and in many cases, party lines to some extent correlate with class divisions, in some areas race divisions, you often have councillors who do not have very good connections to certain parts of the population in their areas, and maybe didn’t vote for them.”

Even understanding the variations and diversity of people who did vote for them can be a challenge, Polzer Ngwato said.

She said there were numerous information sources that councillors could use to understand the needs of constituencies. These ranged from census data to administrative information sourced from local government structures. Online tools, such as Wazimap, could be leveraged to their advantage.

“In order to use those data sources, the first step has to be councillors being aware that they should be representing the entire community and that there are differences in needs and interests within their populations.

“They should know how to access that information, apart from going house-to-house and only listening to people who come to meetings, which is a very small proportion of the population or those who shout the loudest,” Polzer Ngwato said.

While councillor requirements currently do not include the possession of any level of education, she said it was important for councillors to have some level of data literacy.

Discussions are underway nationally around the criteria and minimum requirements for councillors.

“Induction processes don’t usually include training on data literacy and ways of using information about their constituencies to take better decisions.”

There’s a real gap in this regard, she said, in terms of the information councillors-elect arrive in the office with, and the data they are provided with once they assume office.

Polzer Ngwato said the training should be extended to councillor support and administrative staff.

“We have ward administrators, for example, who can take on a range of these roles and who have been in office for longer periods of time, and who can develop more professional relationships with data sources and provide those to councillors.”

She said there were also ways in which municipalities, at higher administrative levels, could support councillors by providing them with ward-level information and regularly supporting and engaging the data.

“There are many ways of [using] data maps… and other ways in which councillors can better understand their communities,” she said.

The data, Polzer Ngwato said, could be used for better consultation and decision-making in council, and ward community meetings and ward development forums.

Source: South African Government News Agency