Forget the elections. South Africans may be a little closer to direct democracy and people power thanks to a new app coming through from Microsoft and the Johannesburg Roads Authority (JRA).

Find & Fix is a mobile app due to be launched next week, which allows anyone with a smartphone to quickly tag and report civic problems like potholes, faulty traffic signals, storm water drains and missing manhole covers direct to JRA. It’s part of Microsoft’s CityNext initiative, and will be available on Android, BlackBerry and iOS as well as Windows Phone when it’s released (Microsoft’s involvement includes the servers the app runs on and the data analytics, so it can afford to be generous with end user endpoints).

Why is this important? Potholes have been at the heart of slow social revolution ever since the Romans realised the importance of smooth roads. It takes time and effort to carry on caring about things like banking sector reform or corruption in the arms trade, but holes in the road, out of order traffic lights and missing manhole covers are every day reminders of local government’s failings, and thus a powerful tool for holding them to account.

Over in the US, the Open311 system for reporting potholes, broken swings and so on was originally an activist developed name and shame project designed to force local councils to fix things by publicly holding them to account. Anyone can report a problem using SMS, and until it gets fixed it’s there, on display, for all to see. It’s helped to make people feel directly involved with local government and take more interest in the area they live in.

The Open311 dashboard. Anyone can log in.
The Open311 dashboard. Via Code for America.

There’s nothing like the threat of humiliation to make politicians do things. Open311 was such a success that it’s now been adopted as a formal platform in dozens of US cities and has created a industry standards for issue reporting.

It’s also, by making that data open, allowed private companies to innovate around it. For example, offering gardening services in areas regularly recorded as unkempt.

We’ll be finding out more about Find & Fix when it launches officially next week – and we’ll be particularly interested in whether or not JRA plans to make the reported data public, or whether the map of issues will remain in their office.  But in the meantime, colour me excited.

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar,, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.