Off-grid sanitation technology to increase use of innovation for better services in South Africa
Innovative off-grid sanitation technology is among the innovations that could be used at municipal level to give residents across South Africa's equitable access to basic services.
The state of readiness of municipalities to adopt technology for improved service delivery was the topic of discussion at a two-day learning forum in Cape Town. The discussion forum, hosted by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), aimed to introduce municipal officials to new technologies that could assist in modernising governance, managing escalating debt, and discovering new methods of revenue generation.
The DSI funded the development of the Municipal Innovation Maturity Index (MIMI), a new decision-support tool to measure how prepared local authorities are to deploy technology and innovation for better service delivery.
The tool was developed by a partnership consisting of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, supported by the South Africa Local Government Association (SALGA).
MIMI zooms into the learning capabilities of public sector officials and institutions to adopt efficient and innovative approaches to deliver basic public services to marginalised communities by employing innovative water, sanitation and energy technologies.
Addressing the forum, which was attended by local government officials from various provinces, the Department's Director: Sustainable Human Settlements, Tshepang Mosiea, said it was no longer necessary to discuss whether municipalities should use innovation to improve their operations.
However, little is known about the capacity of municipal officials to implement and manage innovations that could assist them in areas such as modernising governance, managing escalating debt, and discovering new methods of revenue generation.
"Innovation and technology have a role in supporting a responsive and efficient local government, and MIMI is helping us discover how this role can be optimised, which will help us meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of the National Development Plan," said Mosiea.
He mentioned some of the Department's projects that have demonstrated the effectiveness of innovation in service delivery. Among them is Caltech, an innovative sanitation technology, which was piloted in Banana City, an informal settlement in KwaZulu-Natal's eThekwini Municipality.
This off-grid sanitation technology is an onsite water treatment and recycling unit that can be powered through solar energy or a traditional electricity grid. It includes in situ disinfection, the generation of hydrogen as a waste treatment by-product, and microfiltration of water before reuse.
Mosiea said that MIMI would need support from various stakeholders, such as the SALGA and the Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs Department.
"MIMI showcases new thinking, evidence, concepts and tools that have been developed to give deeper insight into localised innovation landscapes and processes in a municipal business environment," he said.
Dr Irma Booyens, a senior research specialist at the HSRC, said that the Municipal Innovation Maturity Index, developed between 2016 and 2018, had proved to be a powerful tool in understanding the innovation capabilities of local councils. Data has already been collected from the Amathole, Capricorn, Chris Hani, Gert Sibande, Illembe and Umzinyathi District Municipalities.
"However, we need more observations, so we are embarking on phase two of the project. The basic requirements of successful factor extraction were not met in the pilot phase because the sample was too small," said Dr Booyens.
According to Dr Booyens, phase 2, which begins in early 2020, will include 60 per cent of metropolitan, district and local municipalities, and lead to the development of MIMI as a digital tool.
Senior Manager for Intergovernmental Relations and Municipal Support in the Eastern Cape's Chris Hani District Municipality, Lindiwe Gunuza, welcomed MIMI, saying that it was long overdue, and emphasising that municipalities needed to be creative and innovative with the limited resources at their disposal.
"The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, but do we have the resources and skills to meet the requirements of this technological revolution?" Gunuza asked.
Bheki Khenisa, Municipal Manager at Steve Tshwete Local Municipality in Mpumalanga, said plans to implement real-time billing system to monitor how much electricity residents were consuming at a particular time were under way.
"We are the point of implementing a smart city model, because we initially had to deal with costs issues, which included justifying expenses to our office bearers," said Mr Khenisa.
MIMI is a project under the Innovation Partnerships for Rural Development (IPRD) initiative. The IPDR was introduced to pilot and integrate innovative technologies to improve service delivery and quality of life in rural communities.
It has already been implemented in some of the rural district municipalities identified as priority districts by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. An important part of the initiative is to build science and technology management and leadership capability in the municipalities through a set of technology-based pilot and demonstration initiatives that respond to social and economic infrastructure needs.
The needs identified include water (focusing on access to water and water quality), sanitation, housing and human settlements, electricity and energy, and information and communication technologies.