Map Kibera

The project below was interviewed during the first phase of our research, in early 2010. We have since determined that it fits more within the categories of general citizen engagement and/or activism in areas outside of transparency and accountability, rather than within the specific criteria we have defined for the purposes of our research.

Quick Look

Map Kibera is a collaborative attempt to create a public digital map of Kibera, one of Africa's largest slums.

Beginning Date: 
October 22, 2009
Annual Budget 2009: 
Project Scale: 
Types of Tools: 


Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, has its roots in the first World War. As Kenyan soldiers returned from fighting on behalf of the British, the colonial government gave them land outside of the city center. After Kenya's independence in 1963, new land policies made Kibera into an illegal settlement. Despite this, the area has continued to grow. It now houses as many as 1.2 million people and is widely considered to be one of Africa's largest slums.

The community has received considerable attention from UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and even movie stars: the 2005 film The Constant Gardner was filmed on location in Kibera. Despite this attention, however, information about the area remains relatively difficult for local residents to access. Data collected by aid organizations is rarely shared with the community, and until recently, Kibera was largely a "blank spot on the Kenyan map."

In the spring of 2009, while attending a Barcamp in Nairobi, digital mapping expert Mikel Maron decided to train a group of volunteers in Kibera to map their own community. The goal of the resulting project, Map Kibera, is to "provide open-source data that will help illustrate the living conditions in Kibera." All of the data collected is free and publicly accessible as part of the OpenStreetMap, a map of the world that anyone can edit.

In addition to putting Kibera on the map, Maron and co-founder Erica Hagen want to surround this data with local stories. Map Kibera helps members of the community use video, blogs and other social media to "tell their stories and advocate for their positions in a strong way." Many of these stories are recorded at Voice of Kibera, a site based on crowdsourcing tool Ushahidi that allows local residents to share their thoughts on everything from the Kenyan system of government to the history of Kibera.


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Date of Audio: 
February 17, 2010


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

Mikel: Our biggest challenges didn't come from the technology or the training, but the unintended effects and the plain facts of life in Kibera. It's very much a day to day place, people are concerned with getting dinner tonight, and when you're working on a project which requires a long term individual commitment without immediate rewards, well that's understandably counter to the usual way of thinking. Even after making this commitment, the mappers can face difficulties in the community. Working with outsiders gives the appearance that you suddenly have it made, and the pressure from friends and otherwise comes to share the "wealth." It's a tall poppy syndrome. But I'd say equally, participants in Map Kibera are bravely rising to the challenge, and earning respect within the community.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

Mikel: There's an attempt at heavily servicing Kibera and lots of interest, but yet the people who are there don't necessarily have the capacity themselves to be equal players. It started off like "let's make a map," but at this point we're like, "let's help build a community." We quickly saw that mapping is an important component in generating data, but then we saw a need to add a richer story context to that data.

Erica: There's a lot of collection. It's not only the government. There's a lot of surveying, there is a lot of data. It's being collected by academics, big institutes and surveys, and actually, compared to a lot of marginalized communities I would say this one has a very high level of attention and research, but it's not accessible by those that live there.

Mikel: We met a guy who participated in a mapping project previous to Map Kibera. He spent a lot of time collecting data on a particular theme and never actually saw any of the results himself. They were just kind of locked away some place else.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

Mikel: The overall problem is data exists, but communities aren't contributing to it and don't have ownership over it. Kibera is one extreme of that because there was basically nothing available publicly. It's a blank spot on the map in terms of the media coverage as well. The media coverage is, "it's on fire" or "there's a train derailment," but it's a much more rich and interesting place than that.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

Mikel: To produce an open source map of Kibera, Kibera being perhaps some say the largest slum in me, that sounded like a terrific challenge.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

Erica: I'm not sure the government would even be able to collect this kind of information at the level of detail that someone who actually lives there could collect it. That's part of the point: we think the people who live there know better what's going on and what's important, and they should be able to tell their own stories.

How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

Mikel: We want to have direct events in the traditional, public participatory style, where you hold community meetings. You have the map as a centerpiece but you discuss a particular issue, say health services, and use the map as a starting point for a discussion on what's missing and what's needed in the community.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

Erica: The (local governmental) chief that we speak with a lot, he was excited that he receives a lot of visitors from outside countries, from anywhere external to Kibera. He sees it as great that people can find their way in and know where they're going. On the very local level, they've been excited about being able to be located and about being accessible to various visitors.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

Erica: Mikel and I are more than full time, I would say.

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 

Erica: We started out with 13 mappers — that's one young person (usually they're in their twenties) from each village of Kibera, so that was the core group we trained on mapping techniques. They're still active, and we're still working with them. Then we also included a small video team who reports with Flip cameras in Kibera.

Mikel: The first phase simply consisted of an intense few weeks where the mappers would spend time in the field collecting data. Now we're in phase two, and the mapping group is meeting twice a week to discuss different opportunities that have come up and building itself organizationally.

Erica: For the media group, we're looking at doing a training to get more people using the Flip cameras, so that will be an intensive few days, and working one or two days a week with them.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

Mikel: We were here for two months getting the project started, and that involved doing the training, organizing the group, doing a lot of outreach, writing, speaking all over town, and also the technical work just to get the infrastructure in place and all of the equipment.

Next month there's a mapping activity that the group has been asked to do, and that's going to be a very intensive week. It really depends what's coming through.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

Erica: We have collected the information, and through outreach and partnership with other organizations and developers we can build the community around it. In a way it's been more of a process of working with those who are already working toward some specific goal in the community to support their work.

How do you attract new participants?: 

Mikel: A question that's been on our minds from the very beginning is, aside from people wanting to provide better services, how does this impact people directly? So we are going to print maps. Paper's cool, so we are going to print posters, several hundred at least, and distribute those to every school, every church, every clinic, every sort of public institution in Kibera so that people can see for themselves what's collected and start to have a particular interest on there which would suggest where this is going.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

Erica: In the local community we were on the community radio station a couple of times. Our group was interviewed while were gone about the project, and apparently it was quite a long segment on one of the biggest TV stations in Nairobi.

Mikel: If the local media are empowered to tell their stories and we try to facilitate people listening on the other end, then that's really going to get the word out very effectively outside and inside the community.

Erica: Internationally it's been mostly through our blog, our web site, Twitter...the word has spread that way. We're going to be in two different documentaries, which I think is an example of how we've gotten some international attention.

Mikel: What that says to me is that there is a lot of interest in such places as Kibera. Informal settlements generally hold fascination for people since they're an unknown. People don't quite understand how life works in such places, so I think people are fascinated to see that but are also quite surprised that something like mapping and shooting videos could actually work in such a place.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

Mikel Technical skills are key in mapping and GIS. To support the mappers but also to support the kind of products that are coming off of the map and the other groups within Kibera that want to make use of map data, you're going to want to have someone who's technically able who can provide assistance.

The other thing we're focusing on is the curriculum toward reproducibility. We're looking to do that in a very open, collaborative way. People who have experience designing courseware or even in community development projects and have a history taking such a community-level project and reproducing it would be extremely valuable to bring into the mix.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

Mikel: We're running a very shoestring operation to start. We're receiving small grants to keep funneling into project costs. That to me is key, to keep it as low cost as possible so it is maximally reproducible.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

Erica: Our video team was based at our partner, Carolina for Kibera. We also had staff from Carolina for Kibera that were supporting us. We had another partner named KCODA (Kibera Community Development Agenda). We also have a partner called SODNET which is providing office space and computer access for editing and uploading the map information. It's kind of growing and growing.

Mikel: We feel it's important to connect people in Kibera who are doing this sort of work with the wider community in Nairobi and globally, so I would say there's quite a large distributed team as well among the Ushahidi group, among OpenStreetMap, among several UN agencies. Lots of people are interested in contributing and I think that makes it all the more powerful. The things that they're learning and using in Kibera allow them to connect with this already vibrant community that exists online.

Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

Mikel: We have had good relationships with the government. Our most direct contact with them has been through the local government, and they are very supportive of the idea. They're aware of the pattern of data extraction in Kibera and they see that this is somewhat in a different vein. We haven't had as much contact on the national level, but they are aware of what's going on, and are interested in what's going on and do see it as a positive thing.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

Mikel: The licensing of data is a big issue, more generally. OpenStreetMap is particularly paranoid about this sort of thing, and we make sure that everything we do is clear to be used by the commons. The license that we do use is a Share-Alike license, and not every entity that is interested in the information that is being provided is willing to share in the same way in the commons, so that has prevented some potential partnerships and work in Kibera.

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

Erica: That's what we're working on now, is where else can we work in this way? We want to try working in a rural area or at least in clusters of towns or villages in Kenya. We are looking to replicate or expand from here and try this elsewhere. It can definitely work elsewhere, but it probably can't be done on a huge scale. We're also working toward producing some materials and curriculum so we can work with others who are interested in this sort of thing.

Mikel: There's a lot of interest in expanding. There are other similar projects in mapping in slums and mapping in other marginalized areas, like in Haiti. The thing that we're grappling with is with something which is so intensive in the community, how do you replicate that? The circumstances are always going to be unique, and what are the kinds of ways in which you can actually pull out the knowledge of this project and do it in another place? We think that's certainly possible, but it's always going to need to be something which is very intensive, it's not going to be something you can roll out across an entire country. You really need to be there, close to a community which is of a manageable size. Kibera is probably at the upper limit of that. We think that the approach to spreading this is going to have to be pretty careful and deliberate and intensive.

What other projects in your region should we know about?: 

Erica: With one of our main partners, a lot of their work is in democracy and government, budgeting specifically. There are a lot of projects that are supposed to happen but it's unclear whether the money is being spent as it is on paper. They are going to make use of the map to actually locate those projects and investigate in a little more detail. Find out if they even exist or not, incorporate photographs, that sort of thing.

If someone gave you $10,000 how would you use the money?: 

Erica: Computer equipment, not just a cybercafé but something that would actually be free for those who are doing community projects. Also, at this point, our capacity is sort of limited. If we had another person then we could be working simultaneously in other areas and expanding.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

Mikel: Now that we've been back (since the new year), we've been focused on looking at the strategy and putting all the pieces together, while things are continuing to move, for the next six months. Phase two will have us here until August, and we hope by then that the groups that we're working with will be established enough in their capacity and their mission.

Erica: We're also spending a lot of time now discussing how we can work with different new partners. If an organization wants to use the map or collect more map data in Kibera, then they can work directly with the team that we've already trained. We're not quite there yet, we're still acting as intermediaries, but we're trying to move towards their own sustainability as an entity.

Mikel: Our goal is to not be involved, or to be involved more tangentially: to have the project become self-sustainable.

Erica: Ultimately our vision for Kibera in terms of the information is a vibrant group of people that hold information about their own community and serve as the go-to resource for anyone external that's interested in Kibera. I would love to see that in a couple of years.


The visibility through this

The visibility through this project will hold the government accountable in fulfilling its development agenda which address the entire society's need. Importantly this will help to reduce the social risk from forced eviction. When there are much interest to develop this community and people will be empowered through the project, there is no justification for the government to pursue its city development through forced eviction, as the case of Cambodia.

This project should be worth sharing to those who advocate for housing rights and urban development.

Community Participation.

I had heard of what the guys at Map Kibera have been doing and it is good to finally seen a proper documentation of their work.
The good thing from what I see and read ;-) is the fact that they are involving the community in mapping the the various items, this in my view will give the project a sense of ownership, rather than having a totally external project which is often viewed as 'touristy', kudos on that.
I tend to think that involving the authorities ie City Council or Local Govt ministry would be very helpful to the project as a lot of data is usually sitting in these offices, another thing is collaboration with the local Community Based organizations CBOs and NGOs which have a local understanding of how stuff works in Kibera, (I am sure this has been done)
One thing I can say is totally revolutionary about the project is the fact that hirtheto a project on this scale and with this detail hasn't been in existence, I mean it simply did not exist, so to say that they are doing a great job would be putting it mildly.
One thing to put in mind though is that i think the project needs more local awareness, that is let anyone and everyone know of what the project is and intends to do, from there everything will just flow into place.

Strategies for community outreach

I agree that the key to success for this project will be first forming meaningful relationships with local leaders, authorities, and civic groups; and then coming up with a set of workflows for how those groups contribute information to Voice of Kibera and to define who is responsible for representing that information in policy making discussions. I think it would be very useful for the people at Map Kibera to describe in detail how this could work with a single policy-related issue; for example, waste removal. They might also want to get in touch with Harry Dugmore of Iindaba Ziyafika in Grahamstown, South Africa. The citizen journalists of that project have done quite a bit of reporting about waste management in their community, which according to Dugmore, "got the municipality jumping." He writes that they were encouraged to follow up on their reporting, but I'm not sure if that happened or if any changes were made to waste management in the community. It would be interesting to take a closer look at.

Really excited to see what Map Kibera can accomplish in the next year and beyond.

exactly why we are here again

There are very good networks established in Kibera on all the themes we're focusing on in phase 2 (water, health, education, safety), and the goal is to bring these technologies of mapping, community media, and reporting directly to them. One of our main partners in Kibera is KCODA, publisher of the Kibera Journal, but more generally they seek to help the Kibera community in all its complexity to communicate effectively their perspectives and needs. So essentially Map Kibera is introducing technology to make this more effective.

Over the next few months, we'll be training video reports, community monitors, and more skills for the mapping group. This will all come together in a month long series of community meetings, in which will introduce the entire program, distribute paper maps, promote the SMS short code and the community monitors. Following that in June or so, we plan to hold accountability forums with government, UN, and other decision makers, and with the community, to present the results so far, and establish an ongoing relationship ... with the hope that it leads to real change in Kibera!

Monitoring basic services

I very much agree with David's comment. This project shows really well how local ownership by citizens could be used to hold local leaders accountable (monitoring infrastructure or waste removal). This kind of citizen monitoring can reduce corruption and improve that the money actually arrives where it should.

One thing that I would find interesting is to have a deeper look at basic services such as health or education delivered to the community. I am not an expert in education (much less in Kenya), but for example it would be great to add a layer to map and compare the amount of schools in Kibera compared to other neighborhoods. Or try to match up the budget dedicated to the schools and what actually arrives. This could be simply a picture of the school building/learning materials available contrasted with what should be there in terms of money/materials/teachers at this school. One could also graphically show the
amount of children per classroom. Potential partners could be parents or teachers associations.

Similar with the hospitals in the neighbourhood.

Finally, the great thing about maps is that they really spark the imagination of what one could do...

Issue area mapping and multimedia

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. In fact - this is exactly what we are working on now. In just 6 weeks since the interview, a lot can change and adjust and grow in this kind of environment!

We are planning for a new series of mappings and information/feedback gathering in health and schools as well as other themes. In two weeks we'll cover Kibera again looking for additional health data and confirming the data collected already. This will include a few simple questions such as services provided at each clinic, which will be added to the base map database. Already we have imaginative volunteers who can then layer with other data as you suggest. Meanwhile, we can illustrate these places with short video clips or photos taken by the mappers (just initiating a video news team now as well). Then, community meetings with printed maps will allow people to comment and correct or draw on maps for more depth, and I am sure they will come up with ideas we hadn't thought of yet to use the info in order to improve services.

Our goal is to help provide these elements which other creative folks can mix and mash, in particular to support advocacy needs in the community. Budget layering will definitely be interesting.

The Ultimate Goal

What I find intriguing is the attention been drawn to the community which is worthwhile. However…there is no clear indication about how activities (provide open-source data that will help illustrate the living conditions in Kibera.") under the project are driving changes. The objectives appear to be a means to a greater goal which is not well exposed.

From the background information about the project it stated that the Kibera community is an illegal settlement, and I would expect the project to throw some light on the aspirations of the people whether they want settlement legitimized or if they have any concerns at all about their status.

I have observed that since the project is relatively young most of their achievements seem to be expected in the future as presented by the respondents. What I find innovative about the project is the community involvement in building a reliable data that will form good basis for decision making at both the governmental and non-government levels. I think it will be worthwhile working with Town and Country Planning officials in Kenya.

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