Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. The solution you need probably already exists!

Here we present four tips for mayors and African councils and local authorities that want to start working with the start-ups in their region.

We all already know that digital technology is essential when it comes to the sustainable development of cities. It is essential within councils for the coordination of local teams, to maintain the link with local citizens and to start working with partners at more of a distance during the pandemic.

Digital technology is also an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to developing or improving a city’s services and governance, whether these are its tax collection system, its mobility plan or the management of population data. Many African cities already have smart strategies or partnerships with digital companies and start-ups. If this isn’t the case for you, then here are some tips. They draw on experience gained from 11 African cities that are all members of ASToN[1], the network of African cities for sustainable and inclusive digital transition.

Create action groups to work together with local stakeholders

This is the conclusion reached by several of the ASToN cities, including Nouakchott, Matola and Bamako. One of the first things that happened when the network began was that the cities created local action groups bringing together all the project stakeholders in their region. This allowed them to form official links with the private sector, as well as to gain a better understanding of the activities that these stakeholders are already developing. For example, this is how the local team in Bamako learned about the functions of an application that allows local authorities to communicate in real time with citizens, and vice versa.

In the case of Nouakchott, which particularly focuses on mailing issues within the framework of our network, the region is well aware that solutions to its problems may have already been developed by start-ups and private companies who have already sold their solutions to different institutions. Therefore, the question that remains for these cities is how to work with stakeholders in a sustainable and collective way without entering into the ‘buy or build’ dilemma.

Create an official point of contact for start-ups within your local authority

Often, links with business owners and private stakeholders are established through personal contacts. This gives digital stakeholders access to information (e.g. relating to the needs or priorities of your institution) but this information is often incomplete and inconsistent. By sharing information with digital stakeholders in Lagos during our ‘city visit’, we learnt to what extent having a direct contact within the local administration becomes crucial for start-ups. This provides equal access to the information and makes it possible to develop tech solutions for the government that are tuned in to the issues faced locally. Providing this information does not commit you to anything, but it does offer a more stable solution for those who want to work towards developing your city.

Image par Joseph Mucira

Don’t forget the red tape…

Start-ups are often rather frugal enterprises without huge reserves of capital. This allows them to adapt easily and change their approach or the project they are focusing on. This flexibility is essential for them to work and to succeed. In the case of one of the ASToN cities, a collaboration that was supposed to last for six months actually continued for two years, and this brought the start-up involved to the brink of bankruptcy as all of their resources were tied up in the project.

So, before starting this kind of project, it’s important to ensure that the administrative processes are clear and that the people on whom the project’s smooth running relies are kept in the loop and ready to act. On the other hand, it’s also a good idea to establish a roadmap with your private partners that includes waiting times and unforeseen events.

…but make sure you focus on the people!

But all this is only possible if you have a team who can manage the digital project within your local authority and have people who understand the requirements when it comes to the infrastructures and tools used in your institution. What could you do yourself in terms of development and maintenance? Digital technology is a highly specialised area that is mainly the preserve of the private sector. You should therefore invest in your technical team’s skills so that they can be on the same level as your private partners and build solid digital solutions together that are adapted to the needs of your city.

[1] aston-network.org/

ASToN network brings 11 African cities together to develop digital practices in order to create sustainable & inclusive cities.

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