Three days Jamming, a lifetime of hope
One of the responsibilities that the National Planning Commission has is to try to engage with South Africans about the South Africa we want to see in 2030 and how we plan to get there.
This is no easy task for a commission consisting of 25 part-time commissioners and myself as the full-time chairperson.
Our work towards the completion of the Diagnostic Overview, released on June 9 this year, saw our commissioners engaged in intensive internal discussions in thematic working groups and in dialogue with leaders and experts in a wide range of sectors as we attempted to understand our current challenges.
The Diagnostic Overview also included elements of the proposed vision statement drawn from our constitution. We have published the Diagnostic Overview as well as five supporting chapters on the NPC website and established social media platforms to increase participation and involvement in the work of the NPC.
The Diagnostic Overview is available in all official languages and Braille. Since June 9 2011, teams of NPC Commissioners have visited each province in the country engaging not only with elected leaders in the province and in local authorities, but with business and labour leaders, traditional leaders and members of civil society.
The NPC has been particularly focused on the need to involve young South Africans in this national dialogue. Besides briefing the leadership of organised youth formations, we wanted also to reach out to young people whose voices are often not heard.
A decision was taken to organise an NPC Jam, a live online dialogue hosted by NPC commissioners, in which participants who had registered, participated and shared their ideas directly with the NPC over a 72 hour period.
The Jam started on September 28 2011 and ended on October 1 2011. The NPC Jam was supported by IBM which has developed the software and tools of analysis over the last 10 years by hosting Jams in different environments including corporate, multi-lateral, local government and NGO environment.
This was the first time that a Jam had been held at a country-wide level. We decided to structure the dialogue broadly according to themes based on the nine challenges identified in the Diagnostic Overview.
We added a theme focusing on the vision for South Africa in 2030. The response to the NPC Jam was very inspiring.
There were 9 932 users that registered to participate and 10 445 total log-ins. A total of 8 974 posts were made during the Jam.
One amazing statistic was that participants from each and every district municipality in South Africa took part and that youth dominated the content, accounting for 38% of the total posts made.
It was encouraging that groups of participants organised through Thusong centres in rural areas and by Love Life through their Y-centres were able to join the dialogue.
Our focus on registering students from our universities assisted in ensuring that the voice of the youth was heard. A number of universities actually provided dedicated computer labs to facilitate participation.
A special tribute needs to be paid to institutions like the Khayelitsha Development Forum who mobilised their members to participate and the St Patricks School in Kimberley who took their initiative and organised young people to get involved.
It is perhaps no surprise that when one analyses the number of posts by discussion forum that Education and Training (1 616), the Economy (1 469) and Jobs (1 105) received the majority of posts.
What I was most encouraged by was the quality of the contributions made and the seriousness with which the dialogue was taken.
I am convinced that this would not have taken place if the NPC had simply created a blog and called for comments and participation.
The process of recruiting participants and getting them to register actually ensured that those joining the Jam were serious about engaging the NPC commissioners.
I was heartened by the positive and focused comments about a wide range of contentious issues and the constructive engagement and at times, criticism from participants. Commissioners participated across themes and a post by Cyril Ramaphosa on entrepreneurship and SMME development elicited an incredible 379 replies including some very practical suggestions.
Professor Viviene Taylor’s opening remarks on Education and Training drew 292 responses resulting in a very rich dialogue on this theme.
It may very well be that at first some participants did not actually believe that they were engaging in a live online discussion with the commissioners
While hosting, I was particularly taken by a comment posted in the Vision 2030 forum which read: “As long as people are just all about grabbing what they are truly not entitled to, breaking laws and not thinking long term, it will be a problem and it will be a sign that we still work against ourselves in the way we think.”
I then requested participants to comment on this posting as part of a dialogue about how we can effect behavioural change in our society.
There were over 125 posts in response to this call and I was able to get a real sense about what participants felt about this issue.
From wellness to the issue of improving technical education, I found participants willing to share ideas and opinions which have clearly enriched the work of the NPC.
It is this type of dialogue that our country needs. A dialogue that is based on evidence and reason. A dialogue which genuinely seeks practical solutions to the challenges that we face.
My experience of the NPC Jam is one which illustrates the potential for our government and society to use the power of information technology to not only provide and share information, but also to establish accountability to the people we serve.
We have a massive challenge to ensure that the majority of our people in rural and urban communities enjoy access to the internet.
In this way our citizens will be empowered to insist on quality services and most importantly access information to empower themselves and their communities. The NPC Jam has given us a glimpse of what is possible.
It is important that we build on this momentum and establish a society in which the form and content of our dialogues, whether in Parliament, in the print and electronic media or in our communities, is characterised by respect, tolerance, a regard for evidence and facts, and the desire to find a shared consensus on how we need to resolve our key challenges of inequality and poverty.
» Manuel is minister in the presidency responsible for the National Planning Commission.