Map Kibera is a collaborative attempt to create a public digital map of Kibera, one of Africa's largest slums.
Posted by Rebekah Heacock on Feb 18, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mikel: To produce an open source map of Kibera, Kibera being perhaps some say the largest slum in Africa...to me, that sounded like a terrific challenge.
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.
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.
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.
Erica: Mikel and I are more than full time, I would say.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.