The Map Kibera project works with young people from one of Africa’s biggest slums. They use GIS, SMS, video and the web to gather data and make it available to the community, where it can be applied to influence policies related to the area.
As all these organisations and researchers generate more and more documents and project reports about Kibera, very little of the information gathered is ever made available to the 250,000 people who live there. Access to the data would give the people of Kibera the chance to present their own view of the living conditions in the community. They would be able to influence public policy to achieve improvements to the facilities that they believe are important.
In 2009, Erica Hagen, a specialist in the use of new media for development, and Mikel Maron, a digital mapping expert, started Map Kibera to help residents use mapping technology to gather information about their community. For the initial phase of the project, they recruited 13 local young people, aged between 19 to 34, including five women and eight men, from each village in Kibera.
The participants received two days training on how to use handheld GPS receivers to gather location data, and an introduction to using the specialised software in a computer lab. The team was supported by five GIS professionals from Nairobi who had volunteered their time. The participants then spent three weeks walking along the roads, pathways and rail tracks with their GPS receivers recoding the location data. They collected more specific information on water and sewage locations, education, religious and business locations, as well as anything else the participants deemed useful.
CollaborationRather than create a stand-alone map, the location data gathered by the project was added to the open source project OpenStreetMap, which is a crowdsourced map made by volunteers around the world. Map Kibera contributed to filling their part of OpenStreetMap, which would also make the information available to more people, and help to raise the profile of the project.
The team also wanted to add a multimedia aspect to the maps, by including video footage of points of interest from around Kibera, and uploading them to YouTube. Three members of Carolina for Kibera (CFK), affiliated with the University of North Carolina, assisted with the filming and helped to document the map making process using small camcorders.
The young people involved in the project developed a sense of achievement as they learned the new skills, and gained confidence in using new technologies. They also began to see the value of the information they were collecting and to understand the impact it could have on their community. However, it was not so easy to convince other residents.
There was a lot of cynicism in the local community caused by the NGOs who had previously come to Kibera but never shared their information. People were, therefore, reluctant to be filmed and photographed. Although the GPS data gathering was less intrusive, the technology presented other difficulties.
The lack of reliable power and inadequate internet access in Kibera were major challenges, especially when it came to uploading large video files to the web, which can take a long time. The slow internet connection also made it difficult to update security software on the computers, leaving them vulnerable to damaging viruses.
These were challenges that could be overcome in time, but for the project to be a real success, it would have to show that it could provide useful information to the community. The mapping project was, therefore, expanded to incorporate public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS) to gather information on specific issues affecting the residents of Kibera.
The group focused on collecting detailed data on four sectors: health, security, education, and water and sanitation. In February 2010, Map Kibera developed a partnership with UNICEF and added a fifth topic: mapping girls’ security. The aim here was to get the girls’ views on possible threats to their security, along with location information, for use in compiling data on their vulnerability to HIV/Aids.
Nine mappers collected data on the five topics using paper forms, gathering, for example, details of the costs and services offered at clinics and chemists in the area. To further encourage community involvement and get feedback on the information gathered, the team produced printed versions of maps for each area and placed transparencies on top so that residents could make changes and additions as necessary. Map Kibera also involved other interested organisations working in the health and security sectors in the area, including African Medical and Research Foundation and a women's group called Kibera Power Women.
Positive pictureAs well as making the maps and multimedia available online, Map Kibera looked for other ways for the community to use the information gathered. For instance, the video material filmed as part of the mapping exercises could also be used to present news stories of the area. This idea expanded and the team worked with two youth from Kibera, who already had film-making experience.
They trained 18 young people to use small ‘ultra-portable’ Flip video cameras and the software to help them share their efforts on the web. This led to Kibera News Network (KNN), a citizen journalism initiative to present features and news stories affecting Kibera, showing positive aspects of the area and providing accurate coverage of negative events.
Mainstream media often focused on the misery and negativity in Kibera. The only events certain to attract mainstream media attention were clashes with the police or when the trains that run along the area’s peripheries were disrupted. Map Kibera attempts to change the perception of Kibera by allowing people to create and share their own stories.
The KNN teams edit the videos themselves and post them on YouTube – giving them a direct and immediate link to a global audience. The videos are also available on the Voice of Kibera, a community news website that also hosts the digital map. Residents can even post their own geo-located stories to the map using SMS.
In 2010, the team founded the GroundTruth Initiative to support Map Kibera and other future projects. In the same year, UN Habitat awarded Map Kibera with a youth fund grant to expand its work to other parts of Nairobi, leading to co-operation with the community in another slum, Mukuru. A group in Mathare Valley, the second-largest slum in Nairobi, was also interested in creating a similar project, and, through funding from Plan International, a team is now collaborating on a participatory development programme there.
The Map Kibera Trust, which has a core membership of 30 young people, is working with similar communities in other parts of Kenya, and in Tanzania. A core aim of the Trust is to not only make people aware of openly available technology and information, but also to train local people to use them to benefit the community. The information now available to the residents of Kibera has caused a shift in power, providing them with reliable data to present their own case, and enabling to directly influence the policies that affect their lives.
By Erica Hagen and Mikel Maron
Article re-published with permission from ICT Update
Erica Hagen is a freelance writer, photographer, videographer and specialist on new media for development.
Mikel Maron is co-director of GroundTruth Initiative, and board member of OpenStreetMap Foundation