Driven in large part by the enormous expansion of computing and data storage capabilities as well as improved sensor technologies, the world is in the midst of stunning technological changes. These transformations are enabling increased use of automation, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and decentralised networked computers to share and secure data (blockchain). Today, remarkable computing power and ability to generate data are also more dispersed and in the hands of vastly more people through the use of mobile phones and other devices with sensors (defined as machines that respond to a stimulus such as motion or particles in the air and transmit an impulse that can be used to measure or control). When used by large numbers of people, devices such as mobile phones generate “big data”, quantities of data so massive that specialised techniques and software that can parse trillions of records are needed for analysis (Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier 2014).

Africa is part of this transformation. Mobile phone use is rapidly expanding despite persisting digital divides, especially around gender and class (GSMA 2019). Big data linked to growing mobile phone use and other sources—such as increasingly open government data, crowd-sourced data from digital platforms and satellite imagery (Onyango and Ondiek 2022; Mutuku 2020)—is also increasing and is an important resource. Rapid growth in big data and related technologies, the development of local innovation and technology hubs as well as the influx and influence of global technology companies are transforming many aspects of politics, society and the economy (UN-Habitat 2021).

Novel ways to leverage technologies to gather and store data have the potential to dramatically improve and update how governments collect critical information and create opportunities to democratise data (Lane 2020; Townsend 2013) as well as foster more innovation and accountability (Goldstein and Dyson 2013; Nyabola 2018). For example, every resident with a phone can contribute to the private creation of publicly valuable data and access a vastly larger volume of information quicker than ever before. However, these technological developments, while enabling new approaches to public policy, planning, programmes and service delivery, also create new sets of problems for governance, policy and law; the challenge is to ensure that society leverages the benefits of these technological developments and the new insights they enable while mitigating very real dangers.

These dangers include the misuse of this data by governments and private companies including by violating the privacy of individuals through surveillance. Behavioural manipulation by governments and/or the private sector or the two working together through access to personal data in order to sell products or “surveillance capitalism” is a profound problem (Zuboff 2019). The use of big data and this kind of targeted manipulation, including through misinformation in politics, is also a serious threat. This was evident, for example, in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which involved political actors using data from individuals on Facebook for targeted political messaging and manipulation in the 2016 US Elections (Moore 2018, Wylie 2019), with the first experimentation in this vein conducted on in Africa (Nyabola 2018; Wylie 2019).

In response to scandals and misuse of big data, legal and policy frameworks that help accelerate ethical and responsible creation, use and sharing of data are growing, including critical data protection and privacy laws like the 2018 EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, governments across the globe clearly need to catch up to the very rapid pace of technological change in developing public policy and law. This includes promoting digital rights and data and technological literacy so that individuals can understand how they create data and make informed decisions about how that data gets used. Overall, how governments regulate, use, manage, govern and exercise stewardship over data and technology companies will make a profound difference in terms of what kinds of impacts will occur in society and who will benefit or lose from these technological advancements.

This chapter explores questions of data and digital technology governance and policy in Africa using the urban transport sector as a case study. The growing use of digital technologies, especially global positioning system (GPS)-enabled mobile phones and other sensors, generates rich data that could enable improved planning, program designs, service delivery and employment, creating local technology ecosystems in the transport sector. Some of the growing data in transport are generated by the “digital exhaust”, signals from urban residents’ phones or from the use of apps that collect travel data, sometimes, unethically, unbeknownst to users (Valentino-Defries et al. 2010); such data is often collected by private actors when people use their location-based apps to hail a ride or look for directions. This data provides value to companies—and is often sold to other companies—but it is not always shared in ways that protect privacy and promote the public interest (see Chap. 16 on ethical dilemmas and public innovation in this volume). Overall, it is critical to understand how data and data access play into power in society ( 2022).

How to access, build and govern useful data and share it while expanding awareness within government and civil society on the potential opportunities and pitfalls of new data and data-generating technologies is thus an important question. We will discuss this question in this chapter using the transport sector as a way to make the issues around digital technologies and data more concrete. After a brief discussion of the major questions around data and introducing some principles and frameworks to help develop policy, we review the broader transport sector in African cities in this context. Next, we draw on the case study of DigitalTransport4Africa (DT4A), an open data collaborative. DigitalTransport4Africa promotes and supports government and local “ecosystem” capacities to create high-quality, standardised data and leverage it along with digital technologies for improving urban transport service. It does this by applying the Digital Principles for Development, including supporting the wide circulation of open, standardised data via a “digital commons”. It also shares open-source tools for collecting and analysing data while supporting community and local ecosystem efforts to build local capacities to understand, create, use and leverage digital data. By telling the story of DigitalTransport4Africa, we will be able to share more general insights into how African governments can develop strategies and governance frameworks that leverage technological change for the public good while protecting digital rights. Hence, we conclude by discussing lessons and some thoughts on the way forward.

The Rise of New Data and Digital Technologies: Digital Principles for Development and Rights

In the early 2000s, key multilaterals, including the UN and World Bank, governments and civil society, recognised that many enabling conditions and practices need to be in place for societies to benefit from the rise of data and digital technologies. In response, they developed the Digital Principles for Development to support equitable access to technologies and data and leverage digital technologies for development goals while protecting critical rights ( 2022).

Nine Digital Principles (or best practices) for Development emerged out of this effort (Fig. 4.1). These principles target designers of new digital tools for development to ensure that these varied tools have positive impacts. These include designing with the user in mind, understanding the existing ecosystem, designing for scale, building for sustainability and focusing on data. Open standards, open data and open-source innovation while addressing privacy and security are key.

Fig. 4.1
figure 1

Digital Principles for Development. (Source: Abigail Shirley via Wikimedia Commons)

Open data is “data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone—subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute ( 2022). The Open Data Handbook summarises the key attributes of open data as:

  • Availability and Access: the data must be available as a whole and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet. The data must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form.

  • Re-use and Redistribution: the data must be provided under terms that permit re-use and redistribution, including the intermixing with other datasets.

  • Universal Participation: everyone must be able to use, re-use and redistribute—there should be no discrimination against fields of endeavour or against persons or groups. For example, “non-commercial” restrictions that would prevent “commercial” use, or restrictions of use for certain purposes (e.g., only in education), are not allowed ( 2022).

Open data can be a critical public resource, enabling multiple new uses, insights and benefits. Communities also emerge around open data encouraging participation in improving and updating data, helping lower costs of correcting, cleaning and updating. One well-known example is the Open Street Map community, with volunteers who help create up-to-date free digital maps for the globe, including features such as roads, trails, railway and bus stations, buildings and businesses (Ramm et al. 2011). This has been invaluable for humanitarian action and disadvantaged communities in “informal” settlements that often lack open and useable maps (Hagen 2011). Given the value of open data to society, in 2015, civil society and governments across the globe came together to create the International Open Data Charter, “a globally-agreed set of aspirational norms for how to publish data” ( accessed Jul 30 2022). These involve six principles:

  1. 1.

    Open by Default

  2. 2.

    Timely and Comprehensive

  3. 3.

    Accessible and Usable

  4. 4.

    Comparable and Interoperable

  5. 5.

    For Improved Governance and Citizen Engagement

  6. 6.

    For Inclusive Development and Innovation

However, it is critical to know as a public policy and regulatory matter what data to make open; in some cases, communities do not wish for sensitive data to be made available to the public, which can include powerful actors who may abuse that data (Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data 2022). The most often cited example of why open data can backfire in some cases is the project to digitise and share land data in Bhoomi, Bangalore. Opening land data led to great hardship for the poor as the data encouraged land acquisition by powerful interests with negative spin-offs for the community (Benjamin et al. 2007). Similarly, a conservation project that mapped out indigenous forest land in Kenya inadvertently led to land grabbing of those same forest areas targeted for protection (Klopp and Sang 2011). The power dynamics and ethics of opening data are critical to think through carefully in each case, along with the data agency of the communities involved; that is, do they have a say in the design, production and use of the data? ( 2022).

Government reformers often encourage official open data initiatives and policies to support public participation, innovation and value creation from their data and to build accountability, transparency and trust. Cities across the globe are increasingly opening up municipal data through open data portals, creating open data policies and digital innovation and protection positions (Goldstein and Dyson 2013; UN-Habitat 2021). Such open data initiatives and related portals are growing at the national level in Africa but require more support (Bello et al. 2015), including at the sub-national level (see Chap. 14). Many local and global civil society actors are supporting efforts to increase the amount of African open data. For example, the World Wide Web Foundation supports The Africa Open Data Network & Lab and runs the Open Data barometer, which tracks how well regions and countries are doing on opening data and leveraging its benefits according to the International Open Data Charter. The latest (2016) report for the Sub-Saharan African region found that “(1) Governments are too dependent on third-parties for creating and sustaining open data initiatives, (2) Only two countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya and South Africa, rank in the top 50 and (3) Only two out of 375 datasets in the regional analysis are truly open” ( 2022).

There are many barriers to implementing the International Open Data Charter principles. In many cases, data is perceived as a scarce commodity that can bring in revenue to government bodies and often is a source of bribes as well for officials who informally sell it (Williams et al. 2014). As Kitchin notes, “[S]ince much data held within public and non-governmental bodies concerns the operations of those bodies, they provide a means to measure the success of their various programs and activities. Opening these data to public scrutiny thus makes the workings and decision-making of an organisation transparent and can be used to assess accountability and value for money” (Kitchin 2014). Sometimes, however, government and some non-governmental bodies resist this accountability, fear revealing the poor quality of their data or simply do not have data, resources or technical skills to create and share the data (Borokini and Saturday 2021).

There are also some emerging critiques of these open data efforts. Specifically, if only powerful commercial actors can use the open data provided through these initiatives, then such initiatives might simply empower commercial, often foreign, actors and fail in the objectives of generating benefits for society, including making it more democratic and open (Kitchin 2014; Gurstein 2011). This is especially true if those commercial actors are also not expected to make some of their non-sensitive, highly useful data available to the public or, in some cases, as in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, inform individuals when they use their data for purposes for which they did not provide consent. Thus, it is critical to put in place measures to support an environment that enables digital literacy, skill and rights to create a fair playing field around open data and enable broad “effective use” of it in society (Gurstein 2011).

In response to these deep inequalities and power dynamics, data justice and digital rights advocacy is growing. Interestingly, cities are often in the foreground of these movements to encourage and enforce digital principles and rights. In 2018, the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights—a network of cities supported by the UN Office for Human Rights, UN-Habitat, Eurocities and United Cities and Local Government—committed to upholding digital rights, defined as those human and legal rights that allow individuals to access, use, create and publish digital media and use computers, other electronic devices and telecommunications networks ( 2018). The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights is committed to the following five important and evolving principles that promote equitable, fair and democratic development of critical digital technologies and services (for a visual representation, see Fig. 4.2).

  1. 1.

    Universal and equal access to the internet and digital literacy

Fig. 4.2
figure 2

Main pillars of the Declaration of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights

Everyone should have access to affordable and accessible internet and digital services on equal terms, as well as the digital skills to make use of this access and overcome the digital divide.

  1. 2.

    Privacy, data protection and security

Everyone should have privacy and control over their personal information through data protection in both physical and virtual places to ensure digital confidentiality, security, dignity and anonymity, and sovereignty over their data, including the right to know what happens to their data, who uses it and for what purposes.

  1. 3.

    Transparency, accountability and non-discrimination of data, content and algorithms

Everyone should have access to understandable and accurate information about the technological, algorithmic and artificial intelligence systems that impact their lives and the ability to question and change unfair, biased or discriminatory systems.

  1. 4.

    Participatory democracy, diversity and inclusion

Everyone should have full representation on the internet and the ability to collectively engage with the city through open, participatory and transparent digital processes. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in shaping local digital infrastructures and services and, more generally, city policy-making for the common good.

  1. 5.

    Open and ethical digital service standards

Everyone should be able to use the technologies of their choice and expect the same level of interoperability, inclusion and opportunity in their digital services. Cities should define their own technological infrastructures, services and agenda through open and ethical digital service standards and data to ensure that they live up to this promise.

Currently, African cities are not represented within this coalition, and overall, growing concern exists that many African governments, at both national and local levels, are missing the governance frameworks to leverage the technology and data revolution to protect people and create public benefit. This is particularly challenging in the context of strong technology companies, some with resources greater than many countries (Pulkkinen 2019); indeed, “digital colonialism” is a real threat. Coleman defines digital colonialism as a “modern day ‘Scramble for Africa’”, where large-scale tech companies extract, analyse and own user data for profit and market influence (2019, p. 417; Pilling 2019). Governments are increasingly adopting some data protection legislation, although often with loopholes (Coleman 2019), and civil society groups like the Africa Digital Rights Hub are working to support broader digital rights frameworks ( 2022), but much remains to be done in the legal, policy and advocacy realms. Clearly, it is critical to build pressures and capacities to push for frameworks and strategies in government and society to promote governing data for the common good and to protect the digital rights of individuals and communities. This will become clear when we look at the urban transport sector.

The Technological and Data Revolution in the Transport Sector in the African Context

Addressing urban transport problems is a growing concern for African governments as the continent rapidly urbanises and faces an unprecedented expansion in need for varied mobility services. Current trends are somewhat disheartening as congestion and gridlock grow in many cities, along with severe public health and quality of life problems. Public health impacts of current urban transport systems include very high levels of crashes that kill and maim large numbers of people (Kazeem 2019, WHO Africa accessed Jul 31 2022) and air pollution that can reach dangerous levels leading to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, among others (Fisher et al. 2021).

Investment in public transport infrastructure and operations is key, given the vast majority of urban residents rely on walking, cycling and shared mobility provided by the private sector in the form of minibuses or motorcycle taxis. More recently, given that Africa’s transport sector is a source of rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions and urban air pollution, a shift has been occurring in investment in mass transit, driven in part by the availability of climate finance. Yet many governments continue to invest heavily in car-oriented, dangerous and high emissions infrastructure such as highways and ignore the need to improve infrastructure and operations in the modes most people use, sometimes called “popular transport” (Klopp 2012, 2021). Poor and dangerous conditions for walking or taking popular transport create market opportunities for new car-based shared mobility companies that use ride-hailing technologies that gather trip data. Evidence from different parts of the world suggests that such services may be keeping more cars on the roads, driving up emissions and exacerbating existing problems of inequalities and auto-centric development (Hidalgo 2018; Boateng et al. 2022).

Transport investment decisions by African governments key to addressing these problems are often based on limited data collected by consultants using traditional household surveys, and these are rarely shared; this has tended to contribute to poor public participation in decisions and suboptimal designs that feed into public health and congestion problems in African cities. At the same time, data from sensors is growing; cameras can detect vehicles and their speed; traffic count devices are replacing manual counting; and “low-cost air quality sensors” are helping detect emissions. Smartphones now include cameras, accelerometers that measure changes in motion and a global positioning system (GPS) that gives the phone location. This means that people with a smartphone produce valuable private data about their trips that, when aggregated, are very useful for policy, planning and operations of transport systems. Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber or Taxify are also generating data from their ride-hailing platforms on passenger trips while raising privacy protection issues. Little of this data appears in the public realm in anonymized form and also does not seem to generally feed into public discussions, planning and investment in the urban transport sector.

All these new technology-enabled transport data sources give much more detailed and granular information over time than traditional household surveys. Hence, they are a valuable resource for different policy actors in the sector, including especially governments. However, in line with the trends we discussed earlier, little open data exists on urban transport, and open transport data portals are missing. Indeed, it appears that the main actors in the sector, from those who finance transport infrastructure to the varied government actors involved, do not appear to follow or even be aware of the Open Data Charter and Digital Principles for Development. In addition, technology companies are also promoting the use of sensors and “big data” to manage traffic better and are selling their systems, software and dashboards to governments; many of these governments have the little internal capacity to use and evaluate the data and technologies. This deepens African government’s dependencies on third party, often external actors, for data, technologies and analysis, as was raised in the Open Data Barometer report for the continent. As a result, investments in urban transport with long-lasting impacts are being made without a shared, data-driven understanding of the problems or even how technologies and data can play into transport improvements.

At the same time, with help from some multilateral institutions and foundations, many civil society actors—sometimes called transport techies—are increasingly leveraging smartphones and low-cost sensors to gather transport data, analyse and visualise it as well as provide services such as wayfinding to improve planning and provide better public information and services as well as following best principles on open data and digital development (Williams et al. 2015; Klopp and Cavoli 2019, Klopp et al. 2019).

One of the pioneering projects along this vein is the DigitalMatatus project in Nairobi, which used GPS-enabled cell phones to trace out matatu (minibus) routes and stops. By riding the matatus with cell phones to collect digital and spatial public transport data, DigitalMatatus created a holistic, basic map of the matatu system in the city (Fig. 4.3), providing visibility and passenger information where none existed before except in sparse analogue or oral forms (Williams et al. 2015). Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and spearheaded by a data collaborative involving three universities (Columbia, MIT and University of Nairobi) and a design firm (Groupshot), the project aimed to make the data open in standardised form using the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), a static relational data format of agencies, routes, trips, stops, and fares and calendars. Further, the data creation process involved university students, matatu operators, drivers and extensive communications to build a community that understands and can use the data. The DigitalMatatus project was a proof–of-concept project that spurred digital mapping projects across the continent, most based on open data and participatory principles as well (Klopp and Cavoli 2019).

Fig. 4.3
figure 3

DigitalMatatus map of matatus in Nairobi. (Source:

Note that none of this form of basic transport data contains any personal data of individuals and does not include real-time data on where vehicles actually are at any point.

As the data was in a standardised format, it could be imported into Google Maps and other digital platforms to help with wayfinding and could be used for accessibility studies and network analysis (Avner and Lall 2016; Campbell et al. 2019; Falchetta et al. 2021; Fried et al. 2020; World Bank 2016) Overall, improved open standardised data on Africa’s transport systems allows exploration of how well these systems work and hence also where they could be improved (Klopp 2021). Data collected by Accra Mobility, for example, enabled insights into how to improve the operations of trotros in Ghana without reducing revenues (Saddier and Johnson 2018). Low-cost air quality monitors are also increasingly useful for measuring transport emissions (Audu 2018) which can help hold transport sector actors accountable for their claims around emissions impacts of infrastructure projects as well as support electrification planning and other efforts to reduce air pollution.

Another form of useful big data on transport is anonymised mobile phone data from users in African cities. In Abidjan, for example, IBM researchers accessing data from the telecommunications company Orange discovered the most frequented bus routes and then came up with sixty-five network improvements that would save passengers an estimated 10% of their time (Talbot 2013). In this case, the data was generated without deliberate citizen action but through the anonymised digital exhaust from cell phones (signals phones send out) which can be aggregated and analysed, revealing patterns in the ebbs and flows of city life (Ratti et al. 2006). Another interesting example involves analysing road traffic crash location data from Twitter accounts to explore where road improvements need to be made (Nairobi Accident Map/Resor 2022; Mulisheva et al. 2021). Note that privacy protections are very critical in this kind of data analysis.

Much of this kind of data from telecommunications or digital platform companies is not a primary source of profits for the companies involved, yet it is profoundly valuable for transport planning. Despite this fact, many of these companies are reluctant to provide this data for the public interest because they wish to commoditise it. While public-private partnerships around data sharing do occur, they are complex (GSMA 2021) and typically do not meet open data and digital principles or development standards.

To address the public data gap, more and more data collaboratives are emerging around creating critical open urban transport sector data. At the same time, technology companies like WhereIsMyTransport, GoAscendal, IMB, Google or Uber are also generating data and often selling it to governments and other companies. Some aim to follow open data and Digital Principles for Development, whereas others benefit from open data while providing services and commodifying data for their own profits. Governments and policymakers more generally need to navigate this increasingly complex data and technology environment; the challenge is to manage the data and technological changes and harness them to meet society’s goals around transport. This includes the Sustainable Development Goal 11, target 2, which all African governments have signed on to that “all citizens will have access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems by 2030 by expanding public transport with special attention given to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons”. Next, we describe one growing digital data for transport collaborative that aims to support this effort.

The Case of DigitalTransport4Africa (DT4A)

DigitalTransport4Africa (DT4A) is a collaborative digital commons and global network that scales up and supports urban mobility projects through open data, open-source software and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing (see Fig. 4.4).Footnote 1 Founded in 2017 by partners from the World Resources Institute (WRI), the French Development Agency (AFD), the DigitalMatatus project, Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), DT4A sought to build on new possibilities opened up by new data and digital technologies to address urban mobility and access challenges in Africa. In many ways, it is a global policy response to the challenges of improving urban transport in Africa described earlier.

Fig. 4.4
figure 4

DigitalTransport4Africa (DT4A)s main project partners

The project represents a large and diverse network of city governments, residents, universities, civic technology companies and collectives as well as international development partners committed to sustainable urban mobility for all, open data and the Digital Principles for Development. Members of DT4A pledge to advance safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable urban transport systems.Footnote 2 This collaborative action leverages the powers of digital data to build sustainable urban mobility systems and help cities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as described in Goal 11.2.

The vision of the project is underpinned by five policy goals adapted to the unique transportation landscape of urban Africa and a broad commitment to quality open data:

  1. 1.

    Universal Access—connect all communities, with an emphasis on vulnerable groups, including women and children, people with disabilities and those living in extreme poverty, to the necessary opportunities and resources for urban life.

  2. 2.

    Efficiency—improve the reliability, affordability and quality of public transport services, including all formal and popular transit providers.

  3. 3.

    Safety—greatly reduce traffic-related fatalities, injuries and crashes.

  4. 4.

    Green—minimise the negative environmental impact of mobility, which includes Greenhouse Gas emissions and air pollution.

  5. 5.

    Adhere to principles of Open Data and transit data standards—follow the guidelines set by the Open Data Handbook (2018).

“Good” open data can be easily shared and is available in a standard, structured format that guarantees consistency over time and trustworthiness. Open transit data in a standard format enables data integration and interoperability and uses a wide array of open-source tools, saving time and money for agencies and allowing for more transit comparability across cities.


To implement the project activities and create a movement for open data on public transport across the African region, DT4A has formulated three project pillars, as depicted in Fig. 4.5. The approach is designed to build capacities to work with and leverage standardised data by providing expertise, tools and platforms for smooth communication among the stakeholders. The project gathers and presents cases of how data can help improve the planning and implementation of sustainable mobility, particularly in the popular transit sector.

Fig. 4.5
figure 5

Three core pillars of DigitalTransport4Africa (DT4A)


Most decision-makers and citizens in Africa have limited knowledge of how to use digital and mobile tools and methodologies for the transport sector and mostly lack the resources needed for this purpose. The “Learn” pillar of DT4A is strongly based on exchanging knowledge and ideas on how to leverage the power of open transit data to influence policy and find novel solutions for problems in the public transport sector. The pillar aims at building the capacity of decision-makers and researchers to use digital data, tools and methodologies as a catalyst for data-driven decisions. This will ultimately contribute to the socio-economic development of the continent.

The project organises and participates in local and global transport expert meetings and facilitates workshops, training and roundtables. DT4A publishes guest author blog posts and user-submitted research papers on the DT4A blogrollFootnote 3 and a GitLab-hosted knowledge centre.Footnote 4 The DT4A website and blog serve as communications nexus for the big ideas and event announcements within the digital transport network. The knowledge centre is home to research products and tools, such as guides, research papers, technical mapping apps and other knowledge products, enabling cities to improve their mapping and transit planning (see, Fig. 4.6).

Fig. 4.6
figure 6

Platforms to support the “Learn” pillar: (a) DT4A blog and (b) DT4A knowledge centre


To improve urban public transport planning and operations, cities need at least basic data on urban transport. In most African cities, public authorities lack basic information on the actual state of mass transport services in their cities. More importantly, in some of the cities that have mapped their public transport, the data are not frequently updated, properly managed and shared across different sectors, a clear weakness in not institutionalising the main “civic hacktivist” projects and building government capacities and ecosystems.

The “Create” pillar aims to provide technical and financial support to help cities map, manage, analyse and plan their transit networks. DT4A encourages the development of tools for data collection and analysis. The project also supports cities to Go Beyond Mapping” by putting the output data from data collection into practical uses. This will add value to the raw data by solving a real-world problem or answering research questions. The data can be utilised for accessibility analysis, trip planning application development, analyse of passenger and vehicle flow across corridors and many more (see Fig. 4.7).

Fig. 4.7
figure 7

(a) Addis Ababa city accessibility mapping ( based on data from Addis Ababa transit mapping project in 2018 ( and (b) Kampala city public transit accessibility mapping web app (

DT4A launched the “DT4A Innovation Challenge programme in December 2021Footnote 5—a competitive-based technical and financial support programme for startups, academic institutions and private organisations with projects that contribute to the movement for open data and innovation across the region. Four applicants were selected by DT4A and a jury of experts based on both technical and socio-political design and will each receive an award of US $30,000 and DT4A support to implement their initiatives. These initiatives are helping to shift transportation towards more sustainable, equitable results through open data, particularly in the popular transport sector. Winners of the Innovation Challenge come from across the continent—the projects are based in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, South Africa and Sudan.

Ewarren Mobility, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Ewarren is a mobile startup app that offers a cashless payment system to passengers of “woro-woro” municipal taxis and traditional ferries in the municipality of Cocody, Abidjan. Ewarren plans to expand the app’s capabilities to allow passengers to reserve seats, access their traveller information and generate dynamic datasets around informal public transport in the standard GTFS format. The data will then be made available to others to use and test. Such a database could even be coupled with Abidjan’s formal public transport network to enable users to use both formal and informal services seamlessly. Ewarren also plans to expand digital payments to minibus services.

AddisMap, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

YeneGuzo, by AddisMap, is a mobile application made from the open-source Trufi application and OpenStreetMap data with the Ethiopian Ministry of Transport and Logistics. YeneGuzo helps both transport service providers and riders understand different transport options available at a given place and time. The application works in the Amharic language and uses a minimal interface to be as accessible to as many riders as possible. Furthermore, it is freely distributed and open source, so it can be improved by anyone. AddisMap plans to improve awareness of YeneGuzo and its trip planning applications by including multiple modes, conducting a massive data collection and editing campaign, developing public relations and training materials, and launching a communications campaign. With more than 210 designated routes across 2 major public bus services, 2 light rail routes and more than 500 additional informal minibus taxi routes across Addis Ababa, each operating with its own schedules, routes and stations, there are significant efficiencies to be gained.

GoMetro, Stellenbosch, South Africa

GoMetro plans to collect and map the operational data of Stellenbosch’s minibus taxis with the purpose of developing a business feasibility model to transition the entire 80-vehicle fleet to electric. The minibus taxi accounts for 84% of public transport services and 74% of passenger journeys in South Africa, but little effort has been made to reduce the fleet’s carbon footprint. Beyond fewer carbon emissions, electrifying South Africa’s minibus taxis can bring benefits such as cleaner air, longer service life and improved service quality. But feasibility studies for the electric transition are difficult, if not impossible, without operational and mapping data on how minibus taxis are used day to day. GoMetro will collect a full-fleet operational dataset of the entire informal transit fleet in the town of Stellenbosch to investigate the operational opportunity of electromobility conversion from diesel to electric minibuses.

KhartouMap, Khartoum, Sudan

The KhartouMap initiative plans to map the semi-formal bus system of Greater Khartoum, home to nearly 8 million people, for the first time. No official map is currently available to the public. Working with the local government and transport authorities, they aim to generate both physical maps and GTFS-compliant data feeds that can then be integrated into other mapping services. In addition, KhartouMap intends to conduct the country’s largest household mobility survey to collect detailed information about origins and destinations, personal travel behaviour and transit accessibility. They also plan to build innovation capacity through “hackathon” workshops at local universities and entrepreneurial communities.

These initiatives will get a chance to advance their projects with DT4A networking opportunities, and at the same time the entire network will learn and gain insights from these innovative projects. The DT4A Innovation Challenge is a pilot award that strives to be the first response to urban mobility data challenges, inspiring stakeholders in urban change by spotlighting successful initiatives and telling the stories of sustainable urban mobility projects that are leveraging digital data to make an impact on the African continent. To advance innovative practices, governments, development banks and other multilateral organisations must integrate mapping-related activities into broader infrastructure projects and provide funding in terms of awards and grants to civil society or startup ecosystems, enabling them to initiate projects and demonstrate impact—leading to more funding, and ultimately use of standard open data to cultivate data-driven transportation policies and planning.


The “Share” pillar focuses on connecting users and data to a wide network of transport experts and advocates worldwide through the DT4A platform and data repository.Footnote 6 The data repository is home to GTFS datasets from fourteen African cities (as of March 2022), which are contributed by the project partners and data collection projects undertaken by the DT4A project (see Fig. 4.8). However, the datasets need frequent updating to portray changes on the ground. The aim is also to help foster a culture of sharing and open data among governments, the private sector and those who often fund and provide technical assistance to African countries like AFD and the World Bank to cultivate more open and data-driven transportation policy and planning.

Fig. 4.8
figure 8

Project locations of the 14 GTFS datasets available in the DT4A data repository (

DigitalTransport4Africa’s Governance Structure

The World Resource Institute, a well-respected data-driven global NGO, is the anchor institution for these efforts and the Africa WRI office, based in Addis, is leading this work and spearheading the effort with the collaborative as a whole to develop a model of governance to manage this work. The current model of the DT4A project’s governance structure is composed of three core entities to achieve smooth communication and working relations among the different stakeholders (Fig. 4.9). The structure is aimed at enabling all sector stakeholders to learn about transit mapping, the importance of the Digital Principles for Development, curate transit data and tools and share knowledge to leverage data for critical transport improvements.

Fig. 4.9
figure 9

DT4A’s governance structure

The structure is framed in a semi-formal and horizontal manner where stakeholders can have a parallel role in decision-making. The semi-formal nature of the structure is based on the systematic influence of unwritten rules, shared expectations or norms (Stone 2013). This in itself is an ongoing experiment; the key policy aim is to develop flexible and effective cooperative structures and sustained collaborative networks to support a move towards building and sharing data, digital technologies and knowledge or a “digital commons”. This is to counteract the tendency towards the commodification of data that excludes many from its benefits and to act against digital colonialism and data dependency of African governments. By building internal capacities of African governments and fostering local ecosystems, including local civil society and technology companies, the goal is to avoid reliance on third parties, including large external technology companies and consultants, while creating local employment and harnessing the talents of African technology and data specialists.


Technological transformation and the “data revolution” it is engendering, are impacting society in profound ways. This creates new opportunities and challenges in every policy sector and requires multi-level and sectoral responses around how data and digital technologies will be governed and used while protecting critical digital rights. Frameworks from the International Open Data Charter, Digital Principles for Development and Cities Coalition for Digital Rights can help, but these must be given life and force through advocacy, government and institutional reform. Open data laws, initiatives and portals, and learning and capacity building within society to enable agencies in data collection and within the state to build laws and policies to protect rights and promote data literacy are critical. As Taylor notes, we have the necessary knowledge to ensure “a socially just approach to the use of digital data; the key is translating that into policy, law and practice at a level that is usable” (2017, p. 11). We have presented one such effort to apply knowledge around ethical digital data development in the urban transport sector and make this data and “digital commons” approach usable and translatable into policy and practice in Africa—the DigitalTransport4Africa collaborative. This work is still in its early stages, but it points to the need and opportunities in all sectors and levels—to build communities around strong, just data principles. These communities can actively create ethical pathways in a “datafying” world to create, use, share and leverage digital data to generate broad and tangible public benefits. This, however, will only be lasting if this translates into deeper changes in law, policy and practice.