Posted 13 November, 2015 by Lesedi Bewlay

Localizing Transparency: Tracking Compliance with Freedom of Information Laws in South African Municipalities

Screenshot of the top 5 municipality scores in the Compliance Tracker

Screenshot of the top 5 municipality scores in the Compliance Tracker

We recently joined forces with Ndifuna Ukwazi and Code for South Africa to build the Compliance Tracker – a website that shares the status of South African municipalities’ compliance with access to information laws and allows citizens to participate in the monitoring process. This has been a valuable experience and the project has already started to have an impact on encouraging municipalities to publish more public information on their websites!

You might not think about them much, but local governments play a big role in our day-to-day lives. When we have problems with our basic services like water, sanitation and waste removal – we contact our local governments to find out more information and request that they fix the situation. But what can we do if our local governments don’t provide this basic information, like service delivery agreements and contact information?

The South African government felt that the responsibility of local municipalities to provide this basic information to its citizens was so important that it was included in several laws. According to these laws, each municipality is required to publish the following information on their website:

  1. Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) Manual
  2. Information Officer contact details
  3. All Service Delivery Agreements should be online

Moving from legal responsibility to compliance

But a law doesn’t necessarily mean compliance – there needs to be accountability for municipalities that are not fulfilling  their responsibilities. Making local municipalities accountable to their citizens is the work of: Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU). NU wanted to strengthen accountability efforts by monitoring and publishing each municipality’s fulfillment of its obligations to make certain information public. The NU team gathered information on all 278 municipality websites across South Africa and found that there was a lot of room for improvement (26 didn’t even have working websites). Here are a few more interesting statistics from their report:

Selection of the NU report

You can read their full [and beautiful] report on what they found on their website, and their blog post announcing the launch of this project.

NU wanted a website that would provide scores and rankings given to municipalities based on whether they were providing public information required by law. The goal of NU´s project was to encourage all municipalities to become 100% compliant with the law on access to information. NU took this idea a step further to allow citizens to contribute their knowledge to update the information on the platform regarding the status of each municipality’s compliance.

With so many great ideas, the next step was to build the platform. Enter: the engine room’s Matchbox team

Building the Compliance Tracker, with a little help from [Matchbox] friends

We started out by helping NU to systematize the website tracking and monitoring process by building a data model based on the data they collected. A data model organizes data elements and standardizes how the data elements relate to one another. The data model for the Compliance Tracker connected the municipality information to their compliance data to provide a structured format for the developers to work with. To show you what it looks like, we’re sharing a copy of the final product.

This process helped to sort and segment the data into easy-to-manage pieces. The resulting spreadsheet of data was broken down by province and unique identifiers were given to each municipality.

Next, we focused on building the Compliance Tracker website. We brought the Code for South Africa team on-board to provide technical expertise  in building the website for NU. These two groups had already worked together before, so this project provided a great opportunity for them to strengthen their working relationship with a locally-based tech partner.

Instead of starting from scratch, we decided to build upon an existing platform developed by the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Census (ODC). The ODC is a web-based open-source tool that allows users to conduct surveys and compare the progress made by different cities and regions in releasing open data.  The ODC platform was customized to fit NU’s context. The following indicators were added to the site, which created the basis for each municipality’s score (i.e. if a municipality meets all four indicators, they score 100%):

  • Website
  • Information Officer available
  • Provision of access to information
  • Service delivery agreements

Moving from compliance to accountability

Now that the website is launched, South Africans will be able to monitor their local governments’ compliance and municipalities will be able to directly compare and rank themselves against their counterparts. This Compliance Tracker puts a spotlight on each municipality and allows the public to be able to follow up with their municipalities if they are performing poorly on these indicators. It is also a great way to show what information is generally missing from municipalities.

Municipalities will be able to login to the website and make changes and/or updates to their information via a form on the site. We hope this feature will encourage municipalities to proactively update their own information instead of relying on the NU team to do periodic data sweeps.

We anticipate that NU’s ongoing monitoring in addition to the ability for each municipality to compare their compliance ranking to their peers will result in an increase in compliance with the access to information requirements. In fact we already see positive signs of this: after the website was launched and shared with the 278 municipalities, many responded that they will prioritise getting their correct information online.

Going forward, there is potential for the Compliance Tracker to integrate with other platforms such as Wazimap which hosts and provides analysis of demographic and financial municipality data. There is also interest in finding ways to do deeper analysis of  tender documents and service delivery agreements, such as finding trends in the allocation of awards that could highlight certain corruption risks.


We’re so glad to have had this opportunity to work with two great South African organizations: NU and Code4SA. We plan on sharing this customized version used for the Compliance Tracker back into the public repository for others to learn from and borrow.  As NU moves from documenting and publishing  compliance to advocating for stronger compliance in municipalities across the country, we’d love to hear of other examples in other contexts that have strong lessons to share. And if you have ideas or questions, please feel free to get in touch!


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