Photography by:
  • Gareth Pon

Vision, mandate and core roles


The Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) was established in 2008 as a partnership between the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits) and the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG), with local government in Gauteng also represented on the GCRO Board. GCRO receives a core grant from the GPG, and the two universities provide significant in-kind support. While the GCRO is based at the two universities, it is also charged with extending links to all the higher education institutions, as well as knowledge councils, private sector think-tanks, research NGOs and information-exchange and learning-networks operating in the city-region.

Behind the motivation for setting up the GCRO is a vision for a fast growing and dynamic urban region, that through better planning and management, and in particular improved co-operative government relations between the spheres and sections of government responsible for its parts, will become more functionally integrated, spatially coherent, economically competitive, creative, innovative, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.

Better planning, management and co-operative government relies on improved data, information, analysis and reflective evaluation essential to the setting of clear strategic agendas shared across government, and between government and its civil society and business partners. The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is charged with building this strategic intelligence. Its mandate is to:

  • Generate the data sets by means of which the region of cities and towns making up Gauteng can better understand itself and compare itself to equivalent city-regions in other parts of the world;
  • Look behind the data to identify the key opportunities and challenges highlighted by these comparisons;
  • Assist government and its partners to interpret the trends and forces shaping the city-region, either externally or from within; and
  • Through solid analysis and evaluation help decision-makers discern and weigh up key future policy choices raised by prevailing or future opportunities and challenges.

This mandate requires the GCRO to provide direct policy support to government in leading the development of the city-region, but also to be able to step back and reflect, through rigorous peer-reviewed academic scholarship, on city-region developments. Through its independent position in the academy, and therefore its critical distance, the GCRO is able to bring unique insights to the thinking, planning and implementation work being done to drive the development of the Gauteng City-Region.

The broad mandate of the GCRO has been programmed into a number of specific roles. These are:

  • On-request policy support work. The GCRO provides direct assistance to government through short to medium-term work, commissioned or requested analytical reports and hosted events, focused on immediate and pressing policy concerns.
  • Government – academia portal. The GCRO develops structures, processes and interventions to connect government to academic expertise, or to help academic specialists reach decision makers if their work has policy implications. This role includes helping government, in partnership with business and civil society stakeholders, to determine the society-wide research and knowledge production needs of the city-region.
  • Data, data infrastructure, data visualisation, indicators & benchmarks. The GCRO is responsible for the collection and storage of strategically useful data, surveys, development of new data sources, GIS mapping and analysis work, and assembly of information into innovative data products.
  • Medium to longer-term applied research. Either on request from government, or through self-initiated projects, the GCRO will establish itself as a leading research centre by producing more in-depth, analytically complex research of relevance to strategic decision-making on how best to build the city-region.
  • Academic contributions. Applied research is important, but over the longer term the most significant advances in understanding the city-region will come from research driven by curiosity, not the need for immediate policy answers. In addition to its government support functions, the GCRO will be a locus of intellectual enquiry and exchange through the production of academic publications, the hosting of seminars and colloquia, targeted teaching, presentations at academic conferences and events, and the provision of space for government specialists or visiting local or international researchers to reflect on developments in the city-region.
  • Partnership and network building. The GCRO works on the core principle that open-ended sharing of data and information between partners is critical for improved knowledge production by all. It therefore works to build partnerships and knowledge-sharing networks within the universities, across parts of government, and between government, academia and a wide array of research bodies operating in the region and beyond. Collaborations are also built with similar urban observatories in other parts of South Africa and the world.


GCRO is a partnership and so working collaboratively is wired into our design. Strategic networking is key to GCRO’s work, both to ensure that government and stakeholders are aware of our work and to explore opportunities for future partnerships. Given our portal function, where we help government identify suitable academic partners and collaborators, networking is a key activity. At one level this involves on-going networking and communication with local and provincial spheres, as well as within the two partner universities. Where appropriate, GCRO also formalises linkages with key stakeholders through partnership agreements, or by formally participating in the advisory committees / boards of partner organisations.


Gauteng Provincial Government – Gauteng online
University of the Witwatersrand
University of Johannesburg
South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning
South African Local Government Association (SALGA)
African Centre for Cities
South African Cities Network
OECD – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Limpopo Policy Research Repository
UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP)


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