The National Planning Commission’s collaborative 72-hour online brainstorming event, the NPC Jam, was officially opened yesterday.
The forum was opened at noon on Wednesday and will run until noon on Saturday. The forum is hosted by the NPC and is backed by the software technology of IBM.
“This is not the blogosphere, this is a managed discussion,” explained minister of planning, and chairperson of the NPC Trevor Manuel. “These are all registered participants, with verified identities.”
As of this morning, the NPC Jam has recorded over 4 500 logins, and over 3 400 posts.
Participants can post their comments and ideas on a number of issues (there are 10 different categories or themes) which include the economy, crime and corruption, citizenry, education, jobs and Vision 2030. New threads can also be generated from comments made by participants.
“Hot topics” currently include a discussion on transcending inequalities, education ideas, and entrepreneurship and SME development. The #NPCJam tag has also been trending on Twitter.
According to the NPC, suggestions and contributions posted by participants during the Jam will be analysed and used to inform the vision for 2030 and the national plan to get there. Contributions may also be used to inform aspects of the NPC research agenda.
Mind the gap
“We are mindful of the limitations,” says Manuel of the relatively low Internet penetration in SA and the digital divide. “We have chosen to target the youth with this initiative, and we have attempted to ensure as wide a participation as possible.”
Manuel says the NPC has visited campuses across the country, and has worked with the Thusong centres, Lovelife and the National Youth Development Agency, in order to register participants and encourage engagement.
According to Manuel, South Africans can use multiple platforms to voice their ideas – these include Facebook, Twitter, fax and a voice-drop facility.
“Anyone, who wants to, is encouraged to participate,” notes Manuel. “While the time constraints place limitations on input, the product of the discussions will be used far more broadly.”
Manuel says in the first few hours of the NPC Jam, there was a level of incredulity among the participants.
“I think many people thought it would just be a gimmick, and were genuinely surprised to see that the commissioners themselves are actually also online and engaging in the discussions. But as the discussions unfold, I think people can sense that their input is being taken seriously.”
When asked if trying to monitor all the many posts and discussions was too much work, Manuel joked: “The difficulty with this is that it is actually very addictive, terribly addictive.”
According to Manuel, by next week most of the ideas and suggestions generated in the NPC Jam will have been distilled. An in-depth report will then be created by 11 November.
Joys of social media
Deputy chairperson of the NPC Cyril Ramaphosa said: “We are so lucky to be doing this planning in the era of social networking.
“I remember the millions of hand-written pieces of paper that we had to go through when taking suggestions during the drafting of the constitution. With the ease of already established themes and the categorising of suggestions, and the strength of IBM technology, it will be so much easier to collate and build a profile of suggestions to take forward.”
Manuel says the input from the public will be presented to government, and the commission is “bold enough” to raise the more difficult issues. “There is great value in taking these issues forward and providing a benchmark against which to measure government performance.”
The NPC Jam is still open to new registrations, and anyone can sign up to join in the conversation by visiting the NPC Jam Web site.