Bev Russell, Social Surveys CEO, presented a paper at the 9th Rural Development Policy Conference (24-25 May 2018, Durban, South Africa) entitled “Rethinking rural development planning: Mainstreaming economic development in rural communities through user-friendly information systems.” Bev’s talk focused on Data availability and transparency for accountability and co-governance; Informed developmental needs prioritisation; Community-led information generation; and Collaboration for effective, specific rural development. The paper addressed three key issues in the South African planning environment, particularly for economically secluded areas:

  1. How can planning be done in way that generalises plans to ward and municipal level, but still maintains and addresses the specificity of each community’s distinct needs and priorities?
  2. How can communities be constructively engaged and involved in decision making processes?
  3. There are a myriad of open source data sets, which begs the question: why is this information not being used for evidence-based decision making? How can the use of data be stimulated and promoted?
  4. This paper discusses the Community Tapestry, a system that makes socio-economic and developmental information readily available to municipal decision makers as well as community members, allowing for engagement and negotiation on the same foundation. Inclusion, participation, transparency and accountability are key principles for ensuring effective and meaningful economic development and governance. The bridge between these four principles is access to information; where citizens and decision-makers have access to the same information and engage constructively on how best to drive change. This promotes democracy through citizen-driven demand for the openness of procedures and accountability. However, many rural municipalities struggle to access and manage information for use in planning, and to facilitate the engagement with communities about empirical data. Similarly, rural communities have little access to existing information about themselves or the capacity of generate reliable information.