I first heard about Map Kibera quite awhile ago. Looking through old blog posts, I’m thinking it’s been about 2 years. Somehow, probably through blogs and Twitter, we connected and made plans to work together on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project that I was coordinating and where we (Plan) had been wanting to use digital mapping but didn’t have a clear understanding of how to do it technically.
Around the same time, Plan’s program team in Kenya was connecting with Map Kibera through the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), where Robert Chambers (the guru/godfather/grandfather of participatory rural development approaches) and co. were also thinking about how digital mapping fits into participatory development. Sammy Musyoki, Plan Kenya’s program support manager who is also affiliated with IDS, was already engaged in some work around the use of mobiles in community led total sanitation (CLTS) work. In November 2010, Map Kibera became part of a research project, where Sammy and Evangelia Berdou (also from IDS) began looking at “the challenges faced when applying the methodologies of participatory technologies to participatory development and aid.”
Importantly, the research is not ‘extractive,’ research, eg, the researchers are not coming into Kibera to pull information out and leave, publishing their work for academic circles and never bringing the insights back to the community for discussion and interpretation.
As Map Kibera Trust co-founder Mikel Maron wrote, “With IDS, all of the interviews and meetings were facilitated by Sammy, leading up to a gathering of everyone to reflect on the results. This was incredibly valuable for everyone to share their perspectives and understand others. We thought of it as Group Therapy.” (Note: the posts written during the research are collected here - more good reading.)
He continues, “Additionally, we organized an amazing inquiry led learning session with Aptivate, which contributes to creating a guide-book for future trainings.” (Note: I was following the Twitter stream during the sessions that Aptivate conducted, and I highly suggest checking this organization out.)
While the research was taking off, Plan Kenya and Map Kibera also started working together on both the YETAM project as well as on a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) program in Mathare.
The learning from the IDS research, together with Plan and Aptivate’s input around facilitating participatory development approaches meant that the Mathare project started off differently than the Kibera project did. The approach was a bit slower, and started by really engaging the community. As Jamie Lundine (current director of Map Kibera Trust) writes in her post Whose Map, “Map Kibera did not begin as a participatory development project. The initial project was an attempt to introduce open source technology – namely, OpenStreetMap – into a community that had previously not had a publicly accessible map (for all intents and purposes it was “unmapped”). Initial mapping of Kibera was done quickly (in 3 weeks) and local leaders, including administration were consulted but not necessarily engaged in the process.” The quick growth of the project was partly fueled by interest and support from the international community due to the innovative nature of the project, rather than by demand from the community for a rapid implementation.
She continues in the post to describe the participatory process that was used in Mathare – eg., lots of meetings, discussions and participation and offline activity before any mapping even started. The approach in Mathare was to really engage the community and local organizations and structures from the outset, and to “lead from behind”. One of the neat results from this approach is the fantastic Mathare Valley Blog, set up and maintained by the youth, and a great place to go to hear about what’s happening in Mathere directly from residents.
From Jamie’s post New Media in Mathare:
“To provide the participants with some ideas about other options in terms of new media, some basic training on the use of the Ushahidi Voice of Mathare platform was provided to some of the Map Mathare project participants. The Voice of Kibera team conducted a number of hands-on trainings with 8-10 Mathare participants. The participants were interested in the platform and learning from the experience of the Voice of Kibera members, but did not take-up the software as we saw in Kibera. We therefore agreed to provide technical support for the blogging platform as a central online information focal point for the Map Mathare initiative. We were careful not to impose the original ideas of New Media in Mathare and have adhered to the original methodology agreed upon by the team with support from Plan Kenya and CCS. This was a community driven approach from which the technical and coordination team “leads from behind”. We are and continue to be flexible when it comes to programming in Mathare.”
Map Kibera has worked with a broader group of Plan Kenya staff also to build capacity around participatory mapping so that various on-line and off-line mapping tools could be considered in Plan Kenya’s future efforts, for example, these suggestions by the Plan Kenya staff: mapping and identifying the hot spots of child abuse, use of SMS for communication with hearing and speech impaired within the community, using reports and sharing the same information to various media channels, program monitoring, a governance tool for enhancing social accountability as well as tracking projects, involving children in participatory community mapping, using blogging as a tool for youth to document governance issues, and to document and share participatory activities that Plan already undertakes, such as transect walks and participatory situational analyses.
Today, almost 2 years after our “first contact”, Jamie wrote a motivating post that highlights how things can work when development, technology, academia, communities and local partners work together openly.
“Mapping the sanitation in situation in Mathare has been a process of continual learning. When we began the Map Mathare pilot project in December 2010, we employed a dynamic methodology to engage young people and the community issues in the approximately 20 villages in Mathare. My colleague Primoz and I worked closely with the Plan Kenya team to design a training programme and over the past 8 months, have learned a great deal about working with youth and communities to “make the invisible visible” that is – to document tacit knowledge and turn the experience of communities and young people into information that translates across social and geographic boundaries.”
Through these collaborations, everyone benefits and learns. Plan is learning how to support communities to use new technologies in community development work. Plan staff is also developing capacity to innovate in Plan’s work by becoming more familiar with different technology tools and ways of working. Through blogging and sharing and face-to-face meetings, this learning is making its way through the organization, touching on a variety of levels, sparking slow and steady changes in how a huge organization operates. The Map Kibera team is learning more about participatory methodologies in development, which carries into their work and how they talk about their work also. IDS is learning how the two mix, and offering an academic overview within theoretical frameworks and advancing the field of knowledge around participation technology and participatory development. The community benefits by being fully engaged in a process that has positive and lasting impact.
“The team of mappers, videographers and bloggers– now about 15 in number – who have stuck with us since December of last year, can really tell you what empowerment means to them. Not only have they put themselves and their community on the map – a process that evokes a great sense of pride and responsibility. Some of the young people did not know how to read a map before….
Putting yourself on the map is the first step toward demanding recognition and everything that comes along with it – including basic human rights (the right to a clean living environment, the right to health) and by extension – the right to access services provided to the rest of Nairobi. Through our programme, young people are given the chance to represent their community through the medium of a map. Standard GIS symbols break down the barriers that separate youth and elders – rich and poor – and allow these young people to express themselves on a level playing field. Looking at the maps, who would know they were generated by youth from the informal settlements?”
This is a good example of various disciplines and sectors working together with youth and community members to take an initiative forward in a very positive way.
It’s proof that coordination, cooperation and bridging across all these areas is not only possible, it is vital if efforts are to be of any real and sustained impact.