The Need for Inclusive Community- and Data-centered Land Registration Within Standards and Legal Thresholds

In countries across Africa, many people do not have access to formal land registration. Individual and shared property rights have not been properly documented or acknowledged.

Lack of documentary evidence of customary property rights leaves individuals, households, and communities at a disadvantage. Lack of customary land rights has undermined the ability of individuals, households, and communities to protect their traditional access to land for agriculture, environmental conservation and mineral rights. Government and private companies have been able to evict communities or make claims and prospect in areas where rights have only been expressed by oral tradition[1]. Even within communities, undocumented transfers of land have caused confusion. Where a title deed may exist, the deed has not been updated by any subdivisions or bequests and may refer to a deceased party as owner. Land may be grabbed or obtained without challenge, traditional rights of access, usage, and sale values are undermined. Moreover, landowners have no proof of ownership which could allow them to borrow credit.

Getting legal evidence of rights to property has been a lengthy and expensive process which requires precise measurements of boundaries and rights of access or easements of land that can usually only be done by trained surveyors. Also, the types of customary rights which have been declared by communities may not fit the formal legal definition of land title rights.

The current act (2016) gives communities both the right and the outline of a mechanism by which customary land can be legally recognized for the first time in Kenya. As yet, the detail of the registration process is unclear and requisite forms have not been disseminated. This means that registration is currently conducted to the standards required by formal titling. The whole process is limiting and communities are confused as to how to go about the registration process.

Key bottlenecks are assumed to be:

  1. Lack of affordable tools to empower people to obtain rights to their land.
  2. Local communities have no access to information.
  3. Local communities are not able to value their land.
  4. The registration process is unclear or unknown to the communities.
  5. The relationships between Kenyan national, community and individuals in terms of property rights is difficult for communities to comprehend.
  6. Antiquated procedures sustained through inertia in the titling process and an inability to explore, let alone adopt new technologies to replace old methods.
  7. Technical tools used to capture vital info on mapping are often too expensive, difficult to operate, rely solely on connectivity, and require extensive training/maintenance and complex processing solutions. In some cases, the skills needed to record information accurately often built up over many years of experience including formal qualifications.

So while there might be a perception by the national government that customary titling can move forward, communities struggle to work out a cost-effective path to documented rights. With titling, people can buy and sell land more easily, protect and manage the land more effectively, and conserve the resources on and under that land.

The current limited network of both government and private surveyors would be overwhelmed if all communities rushed to document their land at this time. Professional surveyors fees needed at demarcation and titling stages of the process would be prohibitive for most communities, let alone individual owners within those communities.

Our recent research applied new technologies to the data capture element of registration in order to test whether affordable tools for documentation of land exist, whether these tools can reach the accuracy standards required by the state, and whether communities can fill in the gap and replicate the work of a professional surveyor.

To do this, we looked into the land demarcation process, determined whether new technologies were of quality and met national standards, and gauged the most cost-effective tools which are widely accessible to local communities.

More coming soon.

Authors: Primoz Kovacic, Alan Mills, Michelle Gathigi

[1] Land Rights Now, 2016.

Putting Community and Rights on the Map in Southern Kenya

Throughout 2017, Spatial Collective applied new technologies to the data capture element of land registration in order to test whether affordable tools for documentation of land exist, whether these tools can reach the accuracy standards required by the state, and whether communities can replicate the work of a professional surveyor. To do this, our research looked into the land demarcation process, determined whether new technologies were of quality and met national standards, and gauged the most cost-effective tools which are widely accessible to local communities.

The fieldwork and production of the report were supported by Omidyar Network.

We will make our research openly available shortly, but in the meantime, we will publish a series of blog posts touching on the main findings of the research, starting with the Executive Summary below.

Executive Summary

The Community Lands Act of Kenya – passed in September 2016 – provides for the recognition, protection, and registration of community land rights. One of the requirements to registering community land is for communities to agree on and identify the community resources and boundaries to determine which entity deserves recognition for ownership. For this reason, there is an urgent need to build the most affordable and sustainable systems for mapping community lands.

We believe that through affordable and ubiquitous technologies, coupled with awareness raising and training, local communities can understand their land rights and contribute to proper land mapping in rural and remote areas of Kenya. While Kenya has existing legislature and controlling bodies to enact land laws, many local communities remain unaware of their rights and the processes to claim and register land. This leaves a large part of the country unmapped and communities ripe for dispute and confrontation.

A wide selection of geospatial technologies exist to accurately survey the land, however, many of these are expensive, require very specialized skills to operate or facilitate and, in some cases, muster a hostile reaction from the communities due to its unfamiliarity of use. In our research, we looked at off-the-shelf, easy to use, hand-held mobile and GPS units and their potential in communities’ participation in land demarcation. We chose these tools because their learning curve is less steep compared to some other technologies for land mapping. These tools are ubiquitous and habitually used in many aspects of life in Kenya, such as communication, entertainment, access to information, Internet, and mobile banking. We were interested to see whether these tools can be used in property rights mapping to reach the accuracy and attribution threshold required by the state for land demarcation.

To do this, Spatial Collective implemented a three-step approach. First, we examined the process of land demarcation for new grants and for the subdivision of land. We were specifically interested in the accuracy and attribution of spatial data required by professional surveyors and government offices for demarcation of land. Second, we tested a series of affordable mobile and GPS tools in varying environments to see whether they can achieve these thresholds. And third, by replicating the work of a professional surveyor, we assessed whether communities can lead the process of demarcation of their own lands.

We found that environmental factors greatly affect the nature of measurements of different terrains. Most of the latest mobile phones can only reach the accuracy standards required for mapping general boundaries, which is three meters or lower. This is the standard required for mapping parcels and community land in rural areas in Kenya. These tools cannot be used for the capture of fixed boundaries which require two to three-centimeter accuracies.

Furthermore, we found that a pairing of mobile and GPS dependencies may provide the most optimal and cost-effective measurements in the face of environmental and terrain challenges and limited network connectivity.

Working with communities and a professional surveyor, we find that communities can lead the process of land demarcation and can replicate the work of a professional surveyor both in terms of accuracies and attribution required in rural areas. Smartphones can store the necessary attribute data from the field in a digital format, fulfilling the requirements to document people, land and associated rights.  Training is relatively simple and most processes repeatable to a satisfactory standard, and the possibility of having units available at sub-county level that can be rented out to communities makes it cost effective and affordable.

Most rural parcels are currently registered only through pen and paper and sometimes by a measuring tape. The information is then stored in paper format at the County offices, making it susceptible to manipulation, corruption, and loss. The ubiquitous mobile phones and GPS units provide an excellent alternative to the system that is currently used.

We believe our research can empower local people to rightfully claim land and thus eradicate future land disputes and conflicts amongst them. We also believe there are opportunities for policymakers, lawmakers, technical experts, and administrators to use these insights to influence and shape their land rights agendas, as well as support efforts to better include local people and accurately map boundaries in Kenya.

More coming soon.

Database of schools in Mathare

Spatial Collective has been gathering information on schools in Mathare Constituency since January 2018. At the time of writing, we have collected information on hundreds of indicators for about one hundred schools in all six wards of Mathare, including Mathare North area.

The information collected included the following categories:

  • Information on the interviewer
  • School description
  • Registration process
  • Student population
  • Funding and fees
  • Financial management
  • Information on facilities
  • Information on teachers
  • Information on curriculum
  • Management and governance
  • Community engagement
  • Quality assurance

This information will help our client, the East African Center for Human Rights, increase their understanding of the larger social, political and economic contexts within which these schools function.

Locations of schools

Survey of 6000+ plots in Viwandani (Photo Blog)

In the past six weeks, Spatial Collective’s team visited approximately 6000 plots in Viwandani Area in Nairobi and completed thousands of interviews touching on access to sanitation facilities.

To complete a project this size in such a short time, project planning and good teamwork are essential. Images below represent one of our fieldwork planning meetings held at Viwandani.


Creating landlord and plot profiles of Viwandani Area

Spatial Collective is currently conducting a door-to-door survey for the purpose of collecting data on sanitation facilities and creating landlord and plot profiles in one of Nairobi’s informal settlements. We are providing the manpower to conduct the survey and have also trained additional people from the settlement to help with the work.

To fulfill the requirements of the proposed engagement, we deployed the following approach:

  • Carry out a building extraction of the Viwandani area. Using aerial imagery, Spatial Collective digitized every structure in the area of interest. Digitization provided a building footprint which was later used for door-to-door data collection.
Building extraction
  • Coding of structures. All of the digitized structures were automatically numbered for easier identification. These house codes help with the logistics of implementing the household survey and will later enable us to link the survey questions to the map.
Building Reference Numbers
  • Development of a questionnaire for data collection. We helped the client with the development of a questionnaire for data collection. Techno Spark K7 mobile phone, OpenDataKit and ONA platforms are being used for data collection.

  • Ongoing field work consists of the following:
    — ground verification of shapes of digitized structures,
    — documenting the number of housing units within each structure,
    — grouping structures together that make up plots and
    — collecting details on plots, including sanitation facilities and landlords and caretakers information.
Diana during fieldwork
  • Development of plot profiles and landlord profiles. In the end, all the data from the field will be digitized and merged with the building extraction, creating a geospatial layer consisting of plot profiles of Viwandani Area.
  • Finally, a series of visualizations will be made based on the analysis required.
Survey progress map

Project Planning (Video)

Project planning is essential for successful implementation of activities. Get it right and the project runs like a well-oiled machine. Mess it up, and the outputs of the project could be jeopardized.

We recently held a project planning meeting in Mathare and thought to make a video. The aim of this particular project was to collect data on all the schools in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest informal settlement, and create a rich database for a human rights organization.

Digitizing Zanzibar Archipelago (Progress Report)

Spatial Collective spent months on Zanzibar building capacity of the Commission for Lands (COLA) and State University of Zanzibar (SUZA) students and staff on digitizing the Digitizing the Outputs of the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative. The goal was to build enough capacity so that local entities can independently digitize all the structures on Unguja (and eventually Pemba) Island. Training was held at the Commission for Lands on Zanzibar.

Summary of deliverables so far:

  • Two and a half months of intensive capacity building for COLA and SUZA  staff
  • Another two months of independent digitizing was carried out by the COLA and SUZA students and staff under Spatial Collective’s supervision
  • Eleven COLA staff and ten SUZA staff and students trained in digitization and data management
  • All the structures within 150+ (out of 239) grids (3 km x 3 km) digitized
  • All the structures within Stone Town digitized
  • Altogether, more than 100,000 buildings digitized
  • The following attributes were assigned to each building:
    1. Building Condition (Complete, Incomplete, Foundation)
    2. Problematic Capture for buildings which attribution or digitization was problematic
    3. Change-set (date)
    4. Building Area (square meters)
    5. Building Reference Numbers assigned to the buildings in the Pilot Area based on the classification put forth by the Client
  • Shapefile and Spatialite dB layers created for the datasets
  • The following manuals were developed:
    1. Setting up Spatialite Database
    2. Accessing Data through the Spatialite Database or Locally from the Computer
    3. Setting up for Digitization
    4. Basic Tools for Digitizing and Topology Checker
    5. Digitization – Practical Steps and Rules
    6. Digitization Error Examples
    7. Edge Matching
    8. Generating Building Reference Numbers


Countering Violent Extremism: A Perceptions Mapping Study

Building Resilience in Civil Society (BRICS) runs a Regional Countering Violent Extremism Research Unit (RRU) in East Africa. BRICS was commissioned to conduct in-depth research designed to determine the local context of violent extremism. The research is based in North Eastern Kenya, Coastal Kenya and Tanzania, and Central and Eastern Uganda. The purpose of area-based research is to identify locations for long-term participatory community research and engagement that will result in location-specific and community-led Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programming.

Spatial Collective was approached to help develop a product which will enable BRICS to present the findings in a simplified but well-understood way, identify areas for potential further investment through small-scale grants, and support policy development.

To fulfill the requirements, Spatial Collective deployed the following approach:

  • Conduct research into interviews and other datasets to inform the design of the subsequent steps and end products.
  • Coding of interviews to identify specific topics.
  • Aggregate the data with the focus on several factors, namely:
    • who are the stakeholders;
    • what are their networks;
    • which are the pathways to violent extremism;
    • how do they relate to income-generating opportunities?
  • Spatial Collective, in collaboration with Oil Creatives, then developed a coherent and engaging story on the relationship between access to opportunities and violent extremism, as well as on the identity of relevant stakeholders, their activities, and networks.
  • Finally, relationship networks and pathways to violent extremism were visualized through the geographic presentation, maps, and infographics.

The purpose of these steps was to create a more simplified but well-understood product that enables BRICS to:

  • Articulate main research points in a simple and visual way.
  • Present the findings to the communities and other stakeholders through well-understood visualizations, as well as gather the feedback through an interactive, engaging and informative approach.
  • Provide BRICS and their partners with a better understanding of the complex interconnectedness of issues, stakeholders, and pathways concerning violent extremism.
  • Strengthen components to counter violent extremism.
  • Identify areas for potential further investment through small-scale grants.
  • Support policy development.


Digitizing North East Unguja Island and Stone Town on Zanzibar

Between August 8th and September 5th, Spatial Collective held a series of workshops at the Commission for Lands (COLA) on Zanzibar. The aims of the workshops were to train and supervise the digitization of the UAV imagery in order to create a series of detailed spatial data layers while at the same time build capacity of the Commission for Lands (COLA) and the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA) staff in QGIS.

Specifically, the objectives of the workshops were:

  1. Leverage the emerging data communities in Zanzibar and transfer knowledge and skills to local government officials and university staff, specifically the skills of project management and execution of digitization of drone imagery.
  2. Produce a building footprint dataset of the pilot areas that demonstrate high quality agreed upon by the stakeholders and that follows the coding convention put forth by the Client.

To achieve objective 1, the following workshops were held with 12 participants (10 from COLA and 2 from SUZA):

Week 1 (August 14 – August 18):

  • Introduction into project background, expectations, technology used, expected outputs and timelines
  • Workshop on QGIS basics
  • Workshop on data taxonomy
  • Workshop on digitizing rules
  • Workshop on quality control
  • Setting up the digitizing environment in QGIS
  • Start of digitizing both Stone Town and North East areas
  • Start of manual error detection
  • Fixing of errors

Week 2 (August 21 – August 25):

  • All the buildings in the pilot areas digitized
  • Write a script for automatic allocation of Building Reference Numbers
  • Workshop on error types and error detection
  • Workshop on checking layer for error detection
  • Workshop on creating a database through QGIS
  • Expansion of digitizing outside the pilot areas

Week 3 (August 28 – September 1):

  • Cleaned the pilot area dataset based on feedback from stakeholders
  • Workshop on setting up the Spatialite database
  • Workshop on managing the database (downloading, uploading, saving)
  • Lecture on characteristics of spatial data
  • Workshop on data cleaning
  • Workshop on Edge Matching
  • Preparation of tailored manuals and guidelines

Week 4 (September 4 – September 6):

  • Final handover of data and manuals
Some of the participants of the workshops

To achieve objective 2, the following datasets were produced:

  • All the structures within the 19 grids of the North Eastern pilot area were digitized
  • All the structures within Stone Town were digitized
  • Altogether 18,911 buildings were digitized (16,338 in NE Unguja and 2,573 in Stone Town)
  • The following attributes were assigned to each building:
    • Building condition (Complete, Incomplete, Foundation)
    • Problematic Capture for buildings which attribution or digitization was problematic
    • Change-set (date)
    • Building Area (square meters)
    • Unique Building Reference Numbers assigned to each building
Pilot areas digitized
Stone Town with unique Building Reference Numbers assigned