We’re back!

Happy New Year and welcome back! The Municipal Money team is well-rested, re-energized and ready to make transparent municipal budget data.

We know that government budgets are a blueprint for municipal officials spending public resources to satisfy public needs. A significant number of decisions that affect our daily lives are made at municipal-level. A focus on municipal financial data provides an opportunity to influence decisions that affect most people.

This Newsletter provides a short recap of the improvements made to Municipal Money, insights from the Project Team and our activities (webinars) in 2020.

Last year Municipal Money continued to make transparent municipal budgets and other financial data. This transparency enables people to access relevant information and understand how their money understanding is spent. The access to understandable data informs and empowers citizens to judge whether their elected officials are effectively spending public resources. Read below about how we achieved this in 2020.

Municipal Money Homepage

Why we had usability review and why it was important for Municipal Money?

In 2020, we contracted a specialist in the field to conduct a usability review of Municipal Money. Inclusive of this process, was for the project team to identify potential user personas and conducting user research. The usability review outcome helped us create a more effective, efficient, and satisfactory experience on Municipal Money for you.

Municipal Money’s usability review told us how effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily our users can see, or examine by other means, the portal. That includes everything a Municipal Money user would typically experience when visiting the website, including navigation bars, menus, content, images, videos, hyperlinks, buttons, forms, etc. Monitoring how useful, efficient, and satisfactory these attributes and others are granted us significant insight into their Municipal Money's usability.

City of Cape Town page before (top) and after (bottom) the usability review and implementation of changes.

City of Cape Town page before usability review and changes

How is MM more effective, efficient, and satisfactory?

In 2020, the Municipal Money team continued to work to present critical municipal financial information to inform our users about their local authority's economic performance. This has meant that there have been some improvements to Municipal Money, occurring through staggered releases throughout the year. So what have we changed and why?

Overall improvement to the navigation

The improvement to navigation is based on the usability review. One of the critical outcomes was to clean up some areas on the municipality homepage, which was confusing the users. The navigation bar now has only three key focus areas, Home - Help centre - search function (bottom).

Comparison feature

Since Municipal Money is a web-based tool designed to inform citizens about their local authority's financial performance, it intends to allow comparisons between municipalities.

In 1954 Psychologist Leon Festinger developed Social comparison theory, which is the idea that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others. Comparisons can be beneficial if we compare ourselves to others as a way of measuring our personal development. Similarly, the ability to compare municipalities can help measure municipal development and give us insight into how similar municipalities are managing their responsibilities.

Municipal Money now allows you to compare how 2 - 4 municipalities stack up against each other. In addition, In 2020, we released a feature that generated a suggestion about which municipalities you should compare based on how similar they are. When referring to similar municipalities, we are then referring to municipalities in the same subcategory as per the table below.

Condition grant feature and the role they play within service delivery.

According to the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) 2018-2019 Report, the story most often told by in local government finances, 'is of municipalities crippled by debt and being unable to pay for water and electricity; inaccurate and lacklustre revenue collection; expenditure that is unauthorized, irregular, fruitless and wasteful; and a high dependence on grants and assistance from national government'.

Therefore, Conditional Grants, are a mechanism of transferring funding to provinces and municipalities to achieve particular national government policy objectives increasingly vital in South Africa, where the Constitution provides equal access to essential public services, including health, education, water and welfare.

The Conditional Grant feature will enable users to search what grants are currently available or awarded to their municipalities. The image below shows the National Conditional Grants for the City of Johannesburg from the 2019-2020 budget.

Budget vs actual feature

At Municipal Money, we know that the local government system is contingent on active citizens and organized civil society vigilantly exercising oversight and holding their municipalities accountable. Municipal Money aims to promote transparency and citizen engagement through the visualization and 'demystification' of municipal spending.

Providing information about the amount of Money budgeted and the amount spent has provided oversight and insight into municipal finances.

Project team insights from 2020.

We sat down with the project team to talk about what they enjoyed most about working on Municipal Money and what challenges they encountered. Their insights provide a look behind the curtain of developing a web-based tool for citizen use made with government data, support and funding.

Elsabé Rossouw

Elsabé Rossouw works for the National Treasury as Director of Local Government Data Management in the Local Government Budget Analysis Chief Directorate. The Directorate is located in the Intergovernmental Relations Division.

Elsabé, what is your role on the project? I was allocated the task of "making it happen" after the National Budget speech in February 2016, where the Minister of Finance committed to launching a data portal. The portal's goal would be to provide stakeholders with municipal financial information and stimulate citizen involvement in local governance.

With guidance and technical knowledge from OpenUp, the journey started. We explored ways to present financial data to citizens to understand what happens to their hard-earned money.

What have been the highlights for you about Municipal Money? For me, it is fascinating to see the stories that users of the Municipal Money portal continue to find in the data. However, some portal users want to contact their municipality to make an inquiry or to complain about their accounts!

Also, working together with serious techies and creative geniuses to produce educational videos. Finding innovative ways in which the present data has also been a real bonus.

I am very proud of the hard work that my team has put into managing, storing and the publication of the local government data that we collect from the municipalities. The Municipal Money portal has been an additional and very creative way to showcase our efforts.

My heart beats strongly for education, and while I was teaching, I was always on the lookout for ways to explain the work to my students. Finding ways to guide citizens to ask the right questions when engaging with the data and then assisting them to answer is a real bonus of this project.

The lockdown period aided us in putting together a series of webinars which were well attended. The numbers in attendance were in part since the webinars were presented by extremely experienced managers from the Local, Provincial and National government spheres. The topics covered were presented in a non-technical manner. Still, the messages were apparent, even though the local government environment is complex.

What are you looking forward to in the next phase of MM? What do you hope for this project? I am very excited about the launch of the new revamped Municipal Money. I hope that the added features and educational videos will guide citizens to explore more local government stories. My hope for Municipal Money is that the portal will remain a world leader in openness and transparency. The portal will also continue to lead citizens to ask the right questions and find the correct answers.

JD Bothma

JD Bothma works for OpenUp as a senior developer.

JD, what is your role on the project? I helped build the original Municipal Money. I have been helping to make the site even easier to use. Also, to make it guide people even better to ask the right questions and learn things they can use to better their municipality.

What have been the highlights for you about Municipal Money? The highlight for me is when I heard a user say "I didn't know it worked that way! It's evident how municipalities are supposed to work. We forget that we can expect service delivery!"

What are you looking forward to in the next phase of MM? What do you hope for this project? I look forward to seeing more people take what they find and learn on Municipal Money and use it. Use it to help and demand that their ward councillors use their power to improve their municipality.

I look forward to the local government elections, where the leadership of the past can be scrutinized

Our activities

the Webinar Series

Due to the global COVID 19 pandemic, we implemented a series of Municipal Money webinars, based on social distancing circumstances. The webinars were an effective way to continue stimulating discussion awareness around Municipal Money and Municipal finance.

All four webinars proved very successful in terms of the number of attendees and the level of engagement. Through the webinars, we reached over 500 people who were engaged by 16 speakers. The presentations and video recordings were forwarded to all attendees and continue to be available on our Facebook page in the "Local Government Webinar Series with Municipal Money".

The webinars represented a new mechanism of connecting and creating spaces for citizens, government officials and civil society to share knowledge, experiences and engage with each other.

What is Next for MM in 2021?

There is the commitment from the National Treasury to continue to update the data on Municipal Money. OpenUp will continue to maintain Municipal Money while undergoing a skills transfer between OpenUp and National Treasury in ensuring there is a sustainable way of managing and maintaining the portal.

We would encourage continued feedback from MuniMoney users; this information is crucial in planning future development on the portal.

Together in 2020, we have taken complex amounts of financial and non-financial data, extracted pertinent information, summarised and presented it in a user-friendly manner to empower financial and non-financial users.

Thank you for your continued support and engagement with Municipal Money. In 2021, as we go through this next phase in which the National Treasury will take on the portal, we look forward to your continued engagement and feedback

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