Applying ICTs to the Data Capture Element of Land Registration: Lessons Learnt and Recommendations

This is the next in the series of blog posts on research into applying ICTs to the data capture element of land registration. It follows the previous blog post titled: Testing ICTs and Affordable Mapping Tools for Demarcation of Land Under Real-World Scenarios.

In our research conducted in 2017, we aimed to test whether:

  1. Cheap and widely available tools that can be used for land demarcation exist.
  2. These tools can reach the demarcation threshold required by the Kenyan government in terms of accuracy and attribution.
  3. Communities, using these tools, can replicate the work of a professional surveyor.

We find that cheap and widely available tools that can be used for land demarcation indeed exist. Kenya is a major technology hub of Africa. Mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions are higher than 80 percent and the percentage of individuals using the Internet was as high as 26 percent in 2016. These new technologies “help marginalized communities communicate, conduct business, receive nearly real-time feedback from crisis areas, alert populations about health risks, fight corruption, climate change, and alleviate poverty.”[1] Given the central role of communication costs in collective action, the growing abundance of cheap, broadly distributed and sophisticated information and communication technologies can affect the nature of collaboration in community-based development initiatives.[2]

When we tested a series of off-the-shelf GPS and mobile tools to see whether they can achieve the accuracy and attribution standards required by law, we found that environmental factors greatly affect the nature of measurements of different terrains. Lower accuracy and precision were observed in the forest with high canopy cover and low field of view for all devices. The measurements improved significantly as the environmental factors (canopy and terrain) improved, in the village and lowlands. Relatively high canopy cover and low field of view had the greatest effect on the measurements.

We find that these tools cannot reach the accuracy threshold required for demarcating fixed boundaries as these boundaries require three to four-centimeter accuracy under the Kenyan law. However, apart from the heavily forested areas, most devices were able to collect location data within three to five meters, as required for general boundaries.

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 (general boundaries). Smartphones can store the necessary attribute data from the field in a digital format, fulfilling the requirements to document people, land and associated rights.

We find that these tools provide an excellent alternative to the system that is currently used in rural areas where most parcels are registered only through pen and paper, and sometimes by measuring tape, and the information is stored in paper format at the County offices. The tools are also much cheaper and easy to use than the professional grade surveying equipment.

Some bottlenecks can be removed by using these affordable technologies:

  • Lack of affordable tools.

The tools are widely available, affordable, and easy to use by communities.

  • Local communities have no access to information.

With these tools, information can be easily collected, stored and shared.

  • Local communities are not able to value their land.

Applications can be built to streamline the valuation of land based on the data input.

  • The registration process is unclear or unknown to the communities.

The tools can be used for information sharing.

  • The relationships between Kenyan national, community and individuals in terms of property rights is difficult for communities to comprehend.

This is a systemic issue that the tools cannot address on their own.

  • Antiquated procedures sustained through inertia in the titling process and an inability to explore, let alone adopt new technologies to replace old methods.

This is still an issue in Kenya, however, the tools provide for an excellent alternative to the current system of paper-based data storing, etc.

  • Technical tools used to capture vital information 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.

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.

As practitioners, we see the need for simplification and streamlining of the functionality of various hardware and software used for documentation of community lands. The use of affordable and widely available ICT tools can empower local people to rightfully claim land and thus eradicate future land disputes and conflicts amongst them. There are ample 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.

Authors: Primoz Kovacic, Michelle Gathigi, Justus Muhando, Alan Mills


[1]Kovacic, Primoz. 2014. Digitally Enabled Collective Action in the Areas of Limited Statehood, Implications of Information and Communication Technology for Collective Action on Hazard Mitigation and Environmental Management in Mathare, Kenya. Masters Thesis

[2]Kovacic, Primoz. 2014. Digitally Enabled Collective Action in the Areas of Limited Statehood.

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