Over the past 10 years, the civic tech industry has worked increasingly with governments and civil societies to help deliver better information and services to citizens across the globe.
The industry’s growing influence was showcased when civic hackers from six continents met in New York in late July for the first public Code for All Summit.
Technologists demonstrated how they are creating innovative solutions to community problems – from fighting hunger in the Caribbean to responding to nuclear disaster in Japan. While most “Code for” movements work directly with governments, Code for Africa highlighted how the industry model can be used to help media organizations engage citizens and deliver news that people can use to improve their lives.
Founded by ICFJ Knight Fellow Justin Arenstein, Code for Africa is a pan-African federation of independent country-based affiliates in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. Its technologists build low-cost tools that can be shared among countries and adapted to meet local needs. The tools give citizens access to data that is typically hard to find, like local government spending on schools and clinics.
For example, GotToVote was developed in Kenya to help citizens register to vote and find nearby polling centers. It has since been used in Ghana, Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
The Dodgy Doctors project was developed to enable citizens to check on a doctor’s credentials. Code for Kenya partnered with The Star newspaper to build a data-driven app that gives Kenyans the ability to locate the nearest medical specialists, determine if they are in good standing, and find out if their treatments and prescriptions will be covered by health insurance.
The information is automatically updated, using data from the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDB). To make doubly sure that all records are up to date, The Star created a feedback mechanism that allows doctors to correct or update their own records, with the new data being fed back to KMPDB.
Code for South Africa worked with News24, a major South African media group, to create Living Wage, an interactive tool that lets South Africans find out if they are paying their domestic workers a suitable wage. The resulting stories and public reaction have shed light on the salaries of domestic workers who make up 6 percent of the country’s working population.
The summit and the range of reusable open-source civic tech projects demonstrate how the “Code for” movement has become a global phenomenon with impacts that reach down to the local level, fostering government transparency, improving the quality of news and helping citizens to live better lives.
Image taken by Alyssa Mesich