Project Governance & Management

Innovation and evidence to support effective service delivery and high impact public investment in cities, towns and rural settlements


The stepSA project has over the last 3-4 years seen a tremendous shift in moving from an original science and capability based investment (IPDM) to a multi-agent collaborative initiative, where ongoing research and development is increasingly supplemented through initiatives by national departments, municipalities and government agencies who see the value of application and adaptation within their particular domains or areas of jurisdiction.


The DST has played a fundamental role in the start and establishment phases of stepSA, and especially in providing funding of the initial R&D investment required to establish this capability and science-practice-government collaboration within the country.

The first phase of the Integrated Development Planning and Modelling (IPDM) project and the launch of the Toolkit for Integrated Planning (TIP) portal, focused on developing three evidence-based technology platforms to support planning at various scales and a range of planning horizons namely:

  • Regional Spatial Profiler - which contained a collection of maps and tables that users could view and download freely from a web-based portal aimed at strengthening regional-scale spatial planning by providing accessible and comparable spatial information (of current and past trends) to planning practitioners in government;
  • Urban Spatial Simulator - The focus of this project component was to develop and implement an open-source urban simulation platform for the modelling of a series of possible spatial urban growth patterns over a 30-year period within the context of a range of economic, demographic and spatial planning policy scenarios. The implications of these would be assessed for long-term planning, policy-making and infrastructure investment decisions in the major metropolitan regions of South Africa; and
  • The Housing and Travel Demand Profiles - This component of the project was aimed at producing delivery demand tools to support the preparation of the housing and transport chapters of municipal Integrated Development Plans (IDPs). It was to use household survey-based estimates of local housing and transport demand, and analyses patterns of national population flows within and between regions within the major migration corridors of South Africa. These tools were aimed at allowing municipal planners to: (i) identify their different types of settlements with their needs profiles, and (ii) to access appropriate estimates of housing and infrastructure demand, so as to support housing and transport chapters in municipal IDPs.

The evidence generated by the three platforms were to be distributed via a web-based portal to ensure that users could easily find and download relevant information to better inform their planning processes.

In addition, the project involved end-users in the processes of developing, testing and applying the various components of the IPDM platform by establishing ‘living laboratory processes’ (comprising a series of interactive work sessions with end-users in real-life contexts).

By early 2009, the value of exploring these three key research and development areas was evident and emphasis was placed on:

  • expanding the coverage of the existing regional scale profiler to the entire country, deepen the simulation capabilities to the metropolitan areas of eThekwini, Gauteng and Nelson Mandela Bay;
  • extending housing and transport demand surveys to develop housing and transport demand typologies for low-income settlements, which would inform the development of housing and transport demand wall-charts;
  • ensuring the uptake, use and application of the information and modelling platform through a range of dissemination, technology-transfer and capacity-building initiatives; and
  • exploring a range of institutional agreements aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of the platform.

Despite several efforts by the DST and the project team it was evident that it would be extremely difficult to reach agreement on finding one appropriate institutional home or custodian for the initiative in a very fluid institutional environment. Continuous changes to the institutional arrangements, functions, mandates and the administrative and jurisdictional boundaries of national departments, provinces, municipalities, districts and departments and the associated turn-over of officials and project champions, made it impossible, and possibly inappropriate, to try and finalise an agreement on a single institutional home for the National stepSA Initiative. On the other hand the value of the outputs generated was well recognised and proofed invaluable in use by a range of key national departments, agencies and multi-stakeholder policy and planning initiatives.

By 2011, moving away from finding a national line department to act as single clear future champion and custodian for the IPDM platform, the DST thus requested a revision of the Concept Note to motivate for the migration of the IPDM project to the National stepSA Initiative, underpinned by a co-owner, co-funded institutional model. The Concept Note motivated for a migration path from the IPDM project to that of the National stepSA Initiative in two stages:

  • Incubation Stage: Transitional 18-month incubation programme, which focuses on the development of an innovative user-driven institutional model and five-year programme of work for the National Initiative (proof of concept); and
  • National stepSA Initiative: The implementation of a 5-year user-driven programme of work in the context of the full implementation of a co-owner institutional model.

During this time, it became evident that:

  • Continuing service delivery challenges have placed the emphasis within government squarely on implementation. Whilst the need for long term planning and investment guidance increased few, if any, municipalities or government departments and development agencies are able to invest in developing and maintaining ICT-based information and modelling platforms.
  • Given the increased complexity and fluidity of city, town and settlement growth and the wide range of government institutions across sectors and spheres dependent on evidence in this field to support targeted, high impact and integrated investment the evidence generated through the stepSA initiative is not only increasingly utilised, but also increasingly co-funded (mostly within project specifc contexts) by a wide range of role players;
  • An increased emphasis is placed on the need and use of spatial data i.e. by StatsSA and by DRDLR through the Spatial Planning and Land Use Act, 2013; and an increased focus is being placed on co-ordinating of spatial data through the Spatial Data Infrastructure and Spatial Data Repository initiatives of DRDLR;
  • At the same time, given fast changing dynamics and settlement growth, remaining data challenges, and an increased awareness for the need to target government investment in a resource scarce environment the major need for advanced spatial analyses, cutting edge research, high end technology development and innovation in profiling fast changing landscapes, spatial dynamics, city and settlement specific trends and spatial outcomes, as well as modelling and simulation capabilities is also increasing at a rapid rate; and
  • That collaboration between different role players in jointly prioritising and funding research outputs supported through innovative technologies and capability development has major advantage in producing cutting edge and question specific spatial evidence and supporting government as a whole to collaborate in actively engaging the future of SA cities and towns.


During the 2014/2015 time frame it became evident that (i) the outputs of stepSA have largely been focused on informing public investment decisions to address growth, transformation and sustainability of SA’s cities, towns and growing rural settlements; and (ii) a shift is required from the DST (which was the current custodian) and CSIR and HSRC (current implementation agencies), towards a more active high end collaborative research initiative, where:

  • the CSIR and HSRC now act as the ‘institutional home’ of the stepSA collaborative initiative;
  • area and question specific research, profiling and simulation outputs and capabilities are funded by a range of role players through project and institution specific arrangements, but with an agreement of sharing outputs with other government users and thus increasing the knowledge base of changes and trends within cities, towns and settlements for government as a whole. This is done by:
    • profiling and simulating growth and spatial development trends of cities, towns and regions;
    • analysing and simulating spatial outcomes of planned public investment; and
    • disseminating and raising awareness on key findings, trends and potential implications
  • together with DST the research councils and other academic and research institutions support science, and high end technology innovation required for the building of shared national capabilities to profile and simulate spatial implications of growth and investment in SA’s cities and towns under guidance of key national and provincial and regional role players; and
  • whilst the DST stepSA collaboration is aimed at supporting ongoing science, technology and innovation, collaboration of other role players are aimed at tracking progress with spatial transformation (South African Cities Network), knowledge sharing (South African Planning Institute), or the establishment of the urban simulation modelling framework to support the city in addressing key planning and demand orientated needs (City of Tshwane).


The purpose of stepSA is thus increasingly identified as to support:

  • Spatial transformation in cities and towns through high impact and high return investment decisions (especially regarding housing and transport);
  • Integrated multi-stakeholder planning, budgeting, implementation and M&E (governance);
  • Short-medium term service delivery impact and long term sustainability (future orientation) within cities, urban areas, towns and settlements.

Active collaboration between science, government and practice is required to enable innovative ways of addressing real needs. Within stepSA, such collaboration has been taking place through formal (i.e. reference group and advisory roles) and informal collaboration (knowledge sharing, discussions, participation in forums and working groups). It is also supported through a series of specific projects with a range of role players and in specific cities, areas or sectors.

A range of the stepSA outputs and components are reaching a level of maturity and are actively utilised by a range of role players and tailor made or enhanced within specific projects. Uptake of technologies and spatial indicative data sets and indicators, as well as of key findings amongst role players on a continuous base, will have to be supported. The role of the science councils and DST however will remain in ensuring the ongoing improvement and development of spatial and temporal evidence in stepSA through cutting edge innovation and development i.t.o spatial analyses, qualitative research, profiling, planning and simulation tools; and in sharing these capabilities, information and findings through stepSA to the benefit of the wide range of local, national and academic role players.

Back to top