Call for collaborators: African Cities MOOC


In 2020, Metabolism of Cities trialled a new concept of teaching free, open courses on data collection and data processing, linked to our online Data Hub and directly contributing to the available data in our urban data dashboards. An English and a Spanish trial course were developed. These first courses were encouraging and have yielded great results. Metabolism of Cities developed 10 online modules, with each module consisting of 3-5 instruction videos followed by an exercise.

The English course was a closed-group activity, but the Spanish course was opened to the public and despite limited marketing this course was oversubscribed within a week. Registration was closed at 100 participants; 45 students participated in the actual course. Through the work of these students, the Data Hub library rapidly grew and now features 3,560 documents (datasets, shapefiles, images, reports, policy documents, etc) for 65 different cities across 6 continents, with a strong focus on Latin American cities.


After this successful trial, we now seek to roll out a more polished, well-marketed and large-scale version of this course, in collaboration with partner organisations. This course will be a rehash of the existing Data Collection course. We will use our lessons learned and partner support to improve existing materials and tweak the structure where needed. Consisting of 10 modules, this course will run as a 10-week course with a single session per week, starting early June 2021.

The course will be taught in English (additional languages may be made possible by our partners) and it will be focused around African cities. Participants from other continents are also welcome, but the core objective is to strengthen our African footprint and to add many new African cities to our platform.

In the spirit of inclusivity and accessibility for anyone interested, all of the courses offered are free of charge.

All of the actual lessons are available online as recorded videos as well as exercises the participants have to complete after each module. In our efforts to promote the research within the field of urban metabolism through an open collaboration we considered it important that all of our course material is available under a Creative Commons License (CC 4.0. BY). This way we ensure that the data collected by our community is not only centralised within our platform but that it can be downloaded, re-used and expanded upon by all. Metabolism of Cities wants to remove barriers that exist around finding and working with urban metabolism data.

With the entire course as well as the exercises available online, participants will not be required to attend the online classes. All actual course content can be covered independently. However, from experience it has become clear that holding class sessions is great for community building, for clarification and direct student support, and to ensure a greater participation and retention rate amongst students. In the current format, class sessions last one hour, and they feature the instructor discussing submitted homework (highlighting both common mistakes and exemplary submissions), followed by a Q&A block with the students to discuss specific issues.

If the new cohort becomes too large, we may need to look at alternative structures. Splitting up the group - potentially organised by country - and having multiple instructors available may be a solution.

Upon completion of the course, participants will have gained valuable skills around the basic concepts of urban metabolism and data collection. This course will follow a “learn while doing” concept in which students receive instructions on the type of data and information that is required to slowly unpack the urban metabolism in a city. Each student will collect data on a city of their choice throughout their course and will learn how to use the Metabolism of Cities Data Hub to upload their data. This will ensure that participants develop skills required to search for and work with data in diverse formats and from a variety of sources. Their work will directly support an open, global project and benefit the data dashboard of their own city.

Target audience

The course is open to anyone with an interest in urban sustainability. This could be a specific interest in urban metabolism, but also a broader sustainability interest. It is a good first step for anyone interested in jumping into the field without knowing where to start and being able to get an introduction to the subject with space for any questions they might have. However, the course also encourages and invites many individuals who have already worked in the field of urban metabolism to share if they choose, their own data collection previously done outside of the course. Past participants have included individuals with all sorts of backgrounds ranging from degrees in science, architecture, politics and both university students and teachers who were interested in the course.

Upon completion of the course, students are provided a digital certificate of completion. They will furthermore receive online points and badges, based on their contributions, and are featured in the Community Portal of Metabolism of Cities. Lastly, they can directly see the impact of their work as their data dashboard transforms from an empty skeleton to a well-progressed state. These various rewards benefit a wide audience of different students - from those simply wanting to contribute, to people who want to learn new skills, and those seeking to strengthen their CV.

How to get involved?

We are actively seeking partner organisations to make this course happen! There are a number of ways to get involved.


A Partner organisation commits to provide in-house support to assist with the development of the course. The exact contribution can be discussed and may consist of providing support around the course development itself including content production, video editing and recording support, class supervision, or assistance with the communication and dissemination efforts around the course


Metabolism of Cities is able to run projects on a bootstrapped budget. Currently, minimum baseline funds have been secured to ensure logistical support during the course. Most of the course production work is secured through volunteer efforts by Metabolism of Cities members. However, sponsors provide funds that allow us to further improve the development, management and dissemination of this course. Funding would go towards improved video editing and recording, design, administrative support, and development improved data uploading tools.


Supporting organisations help promote the course with their existing networks. They commit to sharing course information on social media and help the recruitment of a dedicated student body, especially from within African cities.


Please e-mail education@metabolismofcities if you are interested in joining this project.

Additional documents

Image credit: "Johannesburg" by austinevan is licensed under CC BY 2.0