Data, Analytics and Spatial Planning in Johannesburg: A way forward

6 min readJun 10, 2021


With thanks to Miriam Maina and Peter Magni

This is the final blog in our series on data, spatial planning, and public and private sector investment in the City of Johannesburg.

Towards a Third Wave of Open Data

In tracking the evolution of the ‘open data’ movement, sector experts at the Open Data Policy Lab propose that we are entering a ‘third wave’ of open data, which can be distinguished from the two previous waves by scale, scope, stakeholders involved, and potential applications.

In the first wave, data was shared on request, based on a ‘right to know’ basis. This demand was mainly driven by journalists, lawyers and activists, and has resulted in Freedom of Information legislation and policies to unlock data.

The second wave grew out of this movement and with developments in Web 2.0, with the embracing of open-data policies at the National and International levels. The data audience expanded to civic technologists, government agencies, corporations and tech startups. However, the Data shared was predominantly open government data aggregated at the National level. A distinguishing factor in this phase was that data was disbursed by default, without a clear understanding of how it would be applied.

The third wave of open data anticipates a more purposeful and purpose-driven approach to open data:

“it seeks not simply to open data for the sake of opening, but to focus on impactful re-use, especially through inter-sectoral collaborations and partnerships. The Third Wave pays at least as much attention to the demand as to the supply side of the data equation; and the way its use impacts the public-at-large. It is concerned not simply with data itself but with the broader technical, social, political, and economic context within which data is produced and consumed.” ¹

These developments in open data call for shifts in governance and technical capacity of actors in both the public and private sectors, increased collaboration, and strengthened accountability mechanisms to support a rights-based data reuse environment.

  • They push for a partnership and collaboration based model, which requires solid governance frameworks and regulatory clarity, as well as the establishment of common data sharing agreements and licensing regimes.
  • This phase also calls for a greater number of stakeholders, and the rise of data intermediaries, and greater accessibility and findability of high value datasets.
  • They advocate for bolstered public competence and the strengthening of accountability mechanisms, to support rights-based data re-use.
  • To create the technical infrastructure for re-use at the local level, there is a need to invest in Subnational Capacity, Guidance, Legal Frameworks and the development of best practice.
  • They call for actors in both public and private sector agencies and organisations to overcome the tendency towards data protectionism, and the establishment of an infrastructure system that protects privacy while boosting innovation.
  • There is also a need to document and experiment with different operational models that are “fit for purpose”, and to articulate value and build an evidence base of the impact of data re-use for public interest purposes.

Global and Local Policy Shifts

At the global level, we’re observing the development of strategies and policies to enable actors to tap into the opportunities presented by data, cloud computing and digital economies. This includes the promotion of data as a strategic asset, whereby various countries are enacting data protection laws and policies to support a rights-based data ecosystem.

In the case of South Africa, data is present and plentiful but its access and usability have been hampered. This said, recent policies and legislation in the country have begun to cater for the realities posed by data and the digital economy, and to structure the environment for data-driven decision making.

In a previous blog, we highlighted the ongoing efforts to implement open data approaches at National and local governments. In addition, the South African government has formulated the National Data and Cloud Policy, which proposes the development of a common ecosystem through which data and digital technologies will be coordinated within the country. The policy seeks to:

  • Remove regulatory barriers to promote connectivity and access to data and cloud services, and enable competition;
  • Provide for institutional mechanisms for the governance of data and cloud services;
  • Support the development of small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMEs); and
  • Provide for research, innovation, and human capital development.

Alongside these policy shifts, there are also notable developments with the continued dissemination of sub-metropolitan data, and the rise of urban-innovation hubs that bring together actors from the metropolitan administrations, research and academia, and the tech and innovation sector.

Research Opportunities

Through this project, we have identified research and innovation opportunities centred around the use and application of data and analytics in the coordination of urban planning and investment projects in pursuit of various sustainable development agendas. These are as follows:

  • Data-driven urban analytics and platforms: As presented in our first blog, emerging digital tools like OneCity occupy a niche space in the urban development sphere. This is because their potential to combine multiple data sources and analytics into a single platform enables greater synchronsation between spatial planning aspirations with property developers’ investment goals. Such a platform could deepen collaborative planning, expedite development processes, and over time, increase the likelihood of achieving spatial transformation and sustainable development goals. There are opportunities for research in tracking the efficacy of deploying this and other platforms with a revenue-earning component within a South African context over time.
  • Planning, investment, and property market intelligence platforms and methodologies: In addition, it may be useful to compare the OneCity methodology to existing methodologies and spatial analytics platforms prevalent in South Africa, both within the public and private sector.
  • Though the plantech and proptech sector in South Africa is still in its emergent stage, it would be critical to assess the property market intelligence available to the private sector in Johannesburg, and the methodologies used to capture and analyse data. Additional inquiry could explore how current private sector data providers and analytics service providers currently meet the demand of property developers, and existing gaps in this field.
  • From the public sector, there are opportunities to explore the intersection of data, integrated planning and proptech for coordinated investment and sustainable development in South Africa. This would include documentation and exploration of the efficacy of platforms and technologies such as the investment prioritisation model used in the Johannesburg Strategic Infrastructure Platform (JSIP), methodologies used in the City Nodal Review Policy, or the methodologies proposed in the Cities Infrastructure Delivery and Management Systems.
  • Modelling urban infrastructure accessibility: The benefits of improved infrastructure accessibility in relation to public transit and non-motorised transport (NMT) need to be modelled and illustrated for Johannesburg. Adopting data and evidence-led analysis of the impact of public transport and mobility investments on accessibility, and on the achievement of the city’s spatial transformation goals would strengthen the case for the adoption of open data standards, and for a data-driven approach to measuring and evidencing urban change.
  • Monitoring data-driven urban transformation and coordinated investment: Another key area for continued exploration is the ‘regime’ in relation to land use management and public infrastructure investment — in the case of Johannesburg, the Metropolitan Municipality. Here, there is a continued need to investigate how analytical tools like OneCity can enable planning authorities to: realise objectives defined in the spatial development framework; and to improve the turn-around time for development applications for both public and private sector development applications. Researchers could also track how effectively the transition to a more sustainable infrastructure provision is being coordinated, with an emphasis on public transit and non-motorised transport.

This blog series has mapped out the research and innovation opportunities surrounding the use and application of data and analytics in the coordination of urban planning and investment projects in pursuit of various sustainable development agendas. OneCity advocates for continued adoption of open data standards, and the transition to the third wave of open data, towards collaboration, partnership, and innovation — as these would enable a transition to enable more efficient spatial transformation and equitable urban development.

Johannesburg, South Arica. By Thomas Bennie.
Johannesburg, by Thomas Bennie


[1.] Open Data Policy Lab. (2020). The Emergence of a Third Wave of Open Data: How to accelerate the re-use of data for public interest purposes while ensuring data rights and community flourishing. New York: GovLab. Retrieved from

[2.] Kay, L. (2019, June 20). Why data protectionism will make us all poorer. Retrieved from Apolitical:




For transparent and data-driven urban transformation