“My campaign has been working on the National Key Points Act for over a year, and some of the people in my team have been working on it for more than a decade. In this session, people who’d never even heard of the National Key Points broke new ground within 20 minutes.”  —  Max Hunter, Right to Know Campaign, South Africa.

Using a 30-year-old national security law, the government of South Africa has designated a large number sites around the country (400+) as National Key Points where protests or public gatherings are not allowed. Not only are these locations unknown, but so are their criteria for designation and none of this information can be acquired by a freedom of information request. In short, the government will not provide a comprehensive list of these locations (where they are) and explanation for how they are determined (what they are). Some campaigners feel that the designation of these sites is arbitrary, announced when an inconvenient protest or gathering presents itself and that they are used to restrict Freedom of Expression.

An intrepid young adventurer by the name of Murray Hunter, working for the Right2Know campaign, an access-to-information group in South Africa, has been campaigning to liberate information on the location of these sites for over a year. However, with Freedom of Information requests being denied, the only way to find the points was by hard graft, some quite imaginative tricks and some intense data mining. From the national budget, they had established that there were around 400 of these sites, but the group had hit a dead-end at around a quarter, they could not find any more sites.

Murray brought his problem to a School of Data workshop being run atop a mountain in Italy, with an unreliable internet connection but with some of the smartest minds in the transparency and accountability field.

We gave the teams both a challenge and a framework to tackle the problem: if a similar issue was happening in their country, where would they look for data to solve it? The groups launched into the challenge, thinking laterally, and produced a list of new leads for Murray to take home to South Africa, restructured his data collection process and along the way giving Murray a raft of new skills about how to use maps to make deductions about data.

Murray’s investigation continues — and we’ll check back with him soon to see whether any of the leads bore any fruit.