Kenya Digital Public Works

Between 2021 and 2022, we carried out a project called Kenya Digital Public Works. Here’s a short description of the project with more on the way in the future.

The goal of the Digital Public Works project was to produce the information necessary for informal settlement upgrading by engaging with and providing short-term employment opportunities to urban youth through data collection. 

The project was carried out in collaboration between Nairobi County, the World Bank, the State Department of Housing and Urban Development, the project implementing partner Spatial Collective, and the three communities in Nairobi: Embakasi Sokoni, KCC Settlement, and Kahawa Soweto. 

To an extent, the project drew inspiration from the Kazi Mtaani initiative, an initiative aimed at empowering youth and providing them with a source of income mainly through the beautification and sanitation of the city’s public spaces. 

The DPW retained the youth component similar to Kazi Mtaani but engaged them in digital work instead of physical activities. The youth, instead of working on beautifying community gardens, learned about the digitization of aerial imagery; instead of creating and paving walkways, they used terrestrial cameras for image acquisition; and instead of repairing and refurbishing public spaces, they carried out digital micro-tasking and household surveys. 

The project further implemented the concepts of community data ownership and localization of knowledge and took advantage of the proliferation of new and affordable technologies. Instead of relying on private companies to carry out the work, DPW recruited and trained the youth from the settlements and gave them tools to collect their own data. 

Youth participating in Digital Public Works

Apart from providing short-term employment opportunities to the youth, the project had to satisfy the data needs of the Kenya Informal Settlements Improvement Project (KISIP). These were thematically organized as data for investment selection, disaster risk management, solid waste management, socio-economic inclusion, and crime and violence. 

DPW set out to answer a question: Can the youth use affordable and widely available technologies to gather the information necessary to support informal settlement upgrading? 

Each of the thematic areas mentioned above had unique data requirements. For this reason, Spatial Collective developed several data collection modules consisting of digitization of aerial imagery, mobile data collection, acquisition of terrestrial imagery using 360-degree cameras, micro-tasking, and household surveys.

Busy at work

The project recruited, trained, and employed 300 youth from the three informal settlements to collect data, while at the same time monitoring their progress, and paying them for the work done. 

The project specifically targeted youth because they represent the majority of the population and are among the most vulnerable groups due to the lack of opportunities, especially in urban centers. 

The applications for work were made open so anyone living in the three settlements aged between 18 and 35 could apply and the selection criteria were as inclusive as possible. In the end, out of 300 youth, 70% were women, 10% were persons with disabilities, and they came from all walks of life, religion, education, and income levels.   

Meeting the youth in Kahawa Soweto

Once selected, the youths were placed in the data collection modules to receive orientation and training and start work. Each individual, each day received a number of predetermined tasks depending on which module they were placed in. For example, the digitizers had to digitize 200 buildings per day, the mapping team had to collect data on 30 points of interest, micro-taskers had to tag 300 images, and the survey team had to carry out 10 household surveys in a day. Each of these tasks took approximately the same amount of time to complete to make the work more equitable. 

At the end of the day, they submitted their work for evaluation by experienced validators who checked the quality of the data and estimated their daily payments. 

The payments were divided into three categories: base pay, quality, and overtime. Each youth received an equivalent to the daily minimum wage for all completed tasks in a day. But the youth who produced good quality work earned extra cash and qualified for overtime which earned them another level of payment on top of that. 

The project used incentives like these because it was found to be the best way to ensure that the quality of work satisfied the government’s data requirements.  

At the end of a four-month-long exercise, the youth collectively spent thousands of hours on digital tasks, producing the most detailed dataset on the three settlements ever created. They performed 1,8 million digital tasks, digitized 350,000 buildings, collected thousands of points of interest, gathered 6,500 terrestrial imagery, produced 1,5 million tags on that imagery, and carried out 700 household surveys, providing essential information for the Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project and earning money in the process.  

Data on buildings from the three settlements
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