In 2014, a small group of city officials who regularly attend Economies of Regions Learning Network learning events advocated for a learning event that focused specifically on metropolitan economic data. There was a strong contention amongst these officials that in order to make sound decisions about economic development at the local level that accurate economic data about key metropolitan and sub-metropolitan market, sectoral and employment trends is critical. However, there was also a concern that local level data (i.e. at municipal level or lower) is difficult to obtain. An initial two workshops were held on 24 August and 13 November 2014. Participants at the workshops raised the need for a structured inter-governmental collaboration regarding metropolitan and regional economic data and analysis. This collaboration was entitled the "Digging Deeper" collaboration. Stated simply, the main priorities of the collaborators are to improve sub-metropolitan data about firms and jobs. In November 2014, members of the Digging Deeper collaboration presented at the City Budget Forum at National Treasury in order to seek support to formalise an inter-governmental process. The City Budget Forum was supportive and recommended seeking support from the Minister of Finance.
In February 2015, the Minister of Finance signed a memorandum providing support for the establishment of an inter-governmental process to generate meaningful sub-metropolitan information about employment and economic activity for purposes of metropolitan and regional economic analysis. The memorandum recommended that a Technical Working Group (TWG) on Metropolitan Economic Data comprising of representatives of metropolitan municipalities, National Treasury, Stats SA, SARS, Department of Labour, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, South African Cities Network, South African Local government Association, COGTA and others be established.
The TWG was established and adopted a project management approach. Projects that (a) improve the availability and quality of data and (b) improve analysis and application of data, were identified and scoped. These projects are resourced by the officials who make up the TWG in order to realise the benefits of the intergovernmental approach that has always been the ethos of this collaborative effort. Another ethos of the Data TWG is that data exchange between national and local government is considered a two way process. The Economies of Regions Learning Network has provided a co-ordination and secretariat role and where needed technical advisory support to the projects. The Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Gauteng City Region Observatory (GCRO) and UCT's Data First attend as research partners and Code for South Africa and Code for Durban as open data / technology partners. The Data Technical Working Group meets on a quarterly basis and where the meeting is held is rotated between the metros.
Some of the notable achievements of the Data Technical Working Group include the Statistician General inviting the Data Technical Working Group to present a consolidated city data request to Stats SA, the development of a youth employment/unemployment data portal, TWG members acting as a reference group for the Urbanisation Review underway in South Africa and support to the development of a National Treasury municipal finance data portal. Through the Data Technical Working Group network, Stats SA has offered free SuperCross and QGIS training in most of South Africa's metropolitan municipalities in order to enable city officials to draw off census data and graphically depict it. The Data Technical Working Group has also provided ArcGIS training to members. The networking function of the group has proved invaluable with members being able to alert each other to initiatives underway across the metros with a view to learning from these efforts and replicating them. There has also been enormous value in understanding existing avenues for sourcing data in order to avoid duplication of efforts and to find ways to work synergistically.