Doing the other 90% in Kibera

A lot of ink has been spilled writing about how technology is only 10% and all the other stuff you have to do to make the project successful is 90%. These two posts talk in detail about the issue: Allocation of time: Deploying Ushahidi and Why technology is 10%. Nowadays we all agree that this is true so I’m not going to add my two cents to this discussion. What I want to write about is how Map Kibera Trust (the Trust from now on) plans to start doing the 90% in Kibera.

Let me first paint a picture of the situation at the Trust at the moment. The Trust has around 20 on and off members, who were trained in basic GPS and OSM techniques, video editing and Ushahidi platform. Because of this there’s loads of information that exists mostly in cyberspace. We believed – and it was an honest belief – that if we opened up information, people would make good use of it. But apart from a small number of individuals, mostly foreign, that have used the data for their academic research, the data stayed untouched.

The problem was that we did things the wrong way. We collected information first and then started asking people if they need it. Our approach was supply driven instead of demand driven which was nicely pointed out to us by an independent IDS research: Mediating Voices. Because of this we have now backtracked to make a new action plan for community engagement.

The question we asked ourselves is: “Now what?”

The answer is not simple and to at least start working on it Kepha and I sat down over coffee, wrote DATA on the middle of a piece of paper and asked ourselves: “What’s next?” In a short brainstorming session we came up with a general plan of community engagement in Kibera. What we realized was that the Trust is going to need help. And the help needs to come from within Kibera, from the people living and working in the community.

We decided we will start by networking and organizing community meetings at which we will present the information collected so far. At these meetings we will organize so called “peoples committees”, each representing different issues.

I will explain the work of these committees with an example concerning education:

"Education Committee"

As I said, Kepha and I started with the word “data” at the beginning of our brainstorming exercise, which is obviously not the best way to start. But making the best of the current situation, we decided that through community meetings, networking, and presentation of our maps and database of educational facilities, we will organize an “education committee”. The committee will have two branches or types of members – Trust members and Stakeholders.

The Trust members will be the link between the stakeholders and the community. Their role will be to collect and supply the information, analyze and advocate for better and new ways of information usage. We see the Trust more as a supplier of information than an implementor or the end user of this information.

Collected information will end up in the hands of the second branch consisting of community members, NGOs, local administration, private sector, legal institutions etc. Their role will be to act upon this information by writing action plans, proposition statements, determining what kind of projects should be undertaken next, involvement of government representatives and lobbying for better service provisions in Kibera or other activities.

This will be a mutual partnership between the Trust and different types of communities in Kibera. The Trust’s role will be a steady supplier of information and the communities the implementer of activities. Of course this is just a general idea but we hope it will get something rolling.

So will the people want to be a part of something like that?

I believe the answer is Yes! I’ve seen people excited when they saw the data, the maps, and the videos. Organizations need information – facts – in order to do their work or to address certain issues. I’ve seen people talking at community meetings, contemplating how to use the data to plan activities or who to engage when information was presented to them in an understandable manner. In Mathare, where we began by talking about data to community groups, we found a large demand for data by community leaders, and groups. It’s something about having facts, a proof, in your hands that makes you fill with possibilities, with hope that you can actually do something and move from just talking about things to actively doing them. For once I’m optimistic.

General plan of community engagement
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  1. I think the idea to go back to people is the best idea. Development is a process and not a event and so is research. the problem with development workers is to collect data from the community and presenting it in a such a way that they cannot relate it with their daily lives. Training communities in use of GPRS and OSM offers grassroot people an opportunity to present their findings in ways that both the local people and development partners can understand and agree on action plan. Going back to the people and engaging them in dialogues is the best way of initiating development. I have seen people in Mathare making positive comments relating to their map.

  2. Thanks Simon. You’re the driving force behind the “community first” mentality at Map Mathare and an inspiration to this post.

  3. Hi guys,
    Sincere congrats on taking this step! I’ve been keenly following this mapping project (from Kibera now Mathare), and one of the key questions I always raised was – how can this information be used for implementing changes? How can it reach the ‘right people’ (by this, I mean, people with the means and mandate to provide water, sanitation, housing… e.t.c.).
    This is obviously good news then, that the Trust will actively follow up and lobby for changes, using concrete, and up-to-date data.
    Looking forward to some of the outcomes of this.

    One question though, would it harm to involve the government representatives earlier in the process? In my opinion, Govt. representatives would prefer to feel that they have been involved in the process from the start (or at least earlier on) rather than being confronted by new information.
    This might also enable the Trust to synergize their plans + community ideas into government planning and funding systems, (again, rather than asking them to provide for things they might not have planned for).
    Just a thought..

    Thanks and Congrats!
    Miriam M.

    1. Hi Miriam,

      Thanks for such a positive response! We realize no change can be made without involving the government and I totally agree with you that the government should be involved from the start no matter how hard it is to get it’s attention sometimes ;). Involving government representatives, such as the DC, city council, area chiefs etc. is something our participants in Mathare have been actively doing from start. We believe that’s because they feel a great level of ownership over the project. It also made us recognize the importance of having a strong, well connected person (community coordinator/mobilizer) on board who can mobilize different partners, including gov representatives.


  4. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for the reply. I agree. What Map Kibera has shown really well is that there is a huge demand for information coming out of informal settlements and the “invisible/shadow” cities of the world.

    What I realized is that we should stick to our “mandate” which is information collection and information advocacy and leave the implementation to people and organizations whose “mandate” it is to do so: like you said our role should be filling the trucks with gas (data). At the same time, we cannot just be satisfied by making petrol stations – what we need to figure out and work on now is how to get the gas into the right cars.

    At the same time, based on our experience in Mathare and Kibera, I think we have learned that it is important to involve the community not only in defining the data, but as a full owner and advocate of the data from the start – this is the only way to get sustainability and to make sure that the data is useful not only to outside development workers, but to community advocates themselves.


  5. Hi, thanks for the neat summary. I think it’s great if you take a larger role in pushing for the practical use of your data. Nobody is helped by a neat dataset that sits around unused.

    The community engagement plan looks good, however, as you certainly know the step between “data” and getting some committee write some action plan is much shorter and easier than between an action plan and actually getting shit done.

    I think in compiling these action plans, it will thus be of the utmost importance to:

    (a) Be very concrete and focused. It is better to have one concrete project for education than 30 vague goals, wishes and aspirations. If there is one concrete goal (e.g. “our data proves that there is a clear need for two additional primary schools with a capacity of Z pupils at point X and Y, because…”), it is easy to focus on it, to lobby for money and its implementation. However, if there are 100 aspirational “action steps” (e.g. “schooling services should be increased”, “school fees need to be reduced” etc.) the liklihood of anything actually happening is relatively low.

    I can’t tell you how often I have been in workshops and committees that came up with a set of vague “action steps” that never led to anything. Less is more, and it is critical to have very specific goals, very clear responsibilities and timelines.

    Thus, I would really think hard about which aspect of your data demonstrates the clearest and most easily addressable need, and then really focus on that, develop it as far as possible, and push hard for the implementation of one or two signature projects.

    (b) Obtain clarity about where the power and money is. I think it is important for the community to organize e.g. through “people’s committees” to voice their needs from below. However, there also needs to be a clear understanding about where the decisions about projects and money flows are actually really made, and what the process/timeline for that is. For instance – which government or donor body has a budget to build schools? At what point during the year do they consider new projects and determine their budget? Who is the best contact person and what influence could be leveraged?

    Well – I guess I am just saying the obvious, and you already know it. I just thought I’d emphasise it, because I have seen how easily “action plans” disappear into vague nothingness.

    Thus, I would just be careful to avoid having 20 committees that produce 200 action plans with 2000 action steps which all vaguely but not really relate to the empirical information you have, and which all hope to engage “stakeholders” but are not really clear about who,when,where and how. I think this is the greatest danger.

    Instead, I would do whatever you can to have very tightly organized committees, that look very hard at the empirical information and come up with a very limited set of well-documented signature projects, and who have a good understanding of local politics and budget processes in order to lobby effectively for them.

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