Mapping Drainage

This is part of a series on the Industrial Training of Students on Zanzibar by Spatial Collective. You can read parts one, two, three, four, and five here.

As mentioned in previous blog posts, at the start of the training, the students met with the stakeholders from the civil society, government and the private sector to determine what are their key data needs. During these meetings, the following themes continuously came up in the conversation: creating a base map, mapping roads and drainage, and conducting a household survey in the Zanzibar City’s Urban West.

Drainage mapping was likely the most complicated task performed during the training. This is because the building materials, shapes, and sizes of drainage lines and accompanied infrastructure often change rapidly as they make their way downstream towards the sea. For example, a concrete, rectangular, closed drainage of 1-meter in width and depth can suddenly transition into an open, informal, 25 cm deep ditch made of dirt.

To make sure everybody collects the same data, in the same way, we set up precise data collection protocols and spent a lot of time practicing with the students in the field.

We decided to collect the following data and attributes on drainage infrastructure:

  • Type of drainage: [ditch, drain, undergroun]
  • If underground: [culvert]; Profile: [round, boxed]
  • Built from the material: [concrete, steel, asphalt, sand, plants, trees, gravel, dirt]
  • If covered, by material: [concrete, grating, metal, wood]
  • If blockage: [dirt, concrete, rubish or solid waste, grass or plants[
  • Width: [top, bottom]
  • Depth
  • Profile: [open rectangular, tabulated, trapezoid, elliptical, trapezoid eliptical]
  • Infrastructure: manholes, drainage outlets, and inlets, bridges, etc.

In less than two weeks, the students collected about 35 kilometers of drainage lines and more than 650 drainage related points of interest. A map and the list of some of the data collected can be found below.

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Half a million buildings mapped

This is part of a series on the Industrial Training of Students on Zanzibar by Spatial Collective. You can read parts one, two, three, and four here.

Building upon previous efforts (read here and here), the State University of Zanzibar students finalized digitization of buildings on the Zanzibar Archipelago (Unguja and Pemba Islands).

Fifty students participated in the digitization effort. They added about 100,000 buildings to the pre-existing dataset of almost 400,000 buildings. The entire dataset was re-checked for errors and building reference numbers were assigned following the nomenclature put forth by the Zanzibar’s Commission for Lands.

Finally, once the mapping was complete, Spatial Collective secured an agreement with the Commission for Lands, who is the rightful owner of the data, to release the buildings and make them available in OpenStreetMap.

Below is an image of Unguja and Pemba Islands presented only through buildings.

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Creating a Base Map of Zanzibar

This is part of a series on the Industrial Training of Students on Zanzibar by Spatial Collective. You can read part one, two and three here.

Geo-services are becoming an essential part of the fabric of society and geographical information is now interwoven with many aspects of life. Key to that service is accurate, up to date, extensive base map.

Recent laudable efforts to create crowd-sourced open data on Zanzibar have shown that the quality of the data produced by the students and others, using innovative tools and methods, can achieve the quality standards required to fulfill the essential geo-data needs on the Islands.

The goal of creating a base map of Zanzibar Urban West was to teach the students about OpenStreetMap, open-source software, GPS and mobile data collection, and other technical aspects of mapping, data collection, and open data.

During this effort, the students mapped 42 shehias and added almost 15,000 points of interest, 100,000 buildings, and more than 200 kilometers of roads to the base map of Zanzibar City Urban West. An excerpt of the data is displayed below.

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Zanzibar Industrial Training Themes

Between August and October, we carried out the Resilience Academy Industrial Training during which we taught 50 students from the State University of Zanzibar on community mapping. The project was supported by the World Bank’s Open Cities Initiative and was also a part of the larger Tanzania Resilience Academy Initiative that targeted four Universities across Tanzania.

At the start of the exercise in August, the students met with the stakeholders from the civil society, government and the private sector to determine what are their key data needs. During the workshop, several themes continuously came up in the conversations:

  • A need for a base map of Zanzibar Urban West
  • A need for the road network of Zanzibar Urban West
  • A need for a drainage map of Zanzibar Urban West
  • A household survey of one of the most flood-affected areas in Zanzibar Urban West

Another goal was to use the Industrial Training to complete the digitization of Pemba Island, finalizing the mapping of buildings on the entire Archipelago in the process.

The training commenced on August 20 during which the students learned about project design, budget allocation, equipment set-up, basically, all the nitty-gritty of how to carry out an independent mapping of communities based on the stakeholders’ needs.

The specific topics covered were:

  • How to design a mapping project
  • How to conduct GPS data collection
  • Introduction to OpenStreetMap
  • How to map drainage
  • How to digitize drone imagery using QuantumGIS
  • How to use mobile phones for data collection
  • How to set up a household survey using KOBO software

The students then used this newly acquired knowledge to collect approximately 15,000 GPS points of interest, 35 kilometers of drainage lines, 200 kilometers of roads, digitized about 100,000 buildings on Pemba Island, gathered 2,000 household surveys and hundreds of public opinions.

In the next blog posts, we’ll explore each individual topic in detail.

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Summary of the work completed so far on Zanzibar

In June, we signed the contract for the work on Tanzania Resilience Academy. Shortly after that, on June 16, we visited Zanzibar where we met the Resilience Academy team, reviewed the venue and equipment, discussed the plans for the training, and organized logistics for our team.

In July, we prepared a Curriculum for the Industrial Training and wrote the Inception Report. We again visited Zanzibar on July 18 to review the documents with the team on Zanzibar and worked out the logistics for the training.

After that, the team took a short summer break for two weeks but early by August, we were back in the office. We purchased all the necessary equipment and Justus and I relocated to Zanzibar for at least a couple of months.

The Industrial Training started on August 20. Approximately 50 students were introduced to mapping theory and best practices during the first week of training, and on Thursday, August 22, we organized a stakeholder meeting to determine the mapping themes and the scope of the mapping exercise.

After the initial week of theory, the students spent the last three weeks in the field collecting data and updating OpenStreetMap of the Zanzibar Urban West. By the end of week four, we will have mapped (collect information on basic public amenities) almost 40 shehias (wards) in the city.

The work continues…

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Zanzibar Resilience Academy

Since 2017, we spent many months on Zanzibar working with the government and other stakeholders on data collection activities. The main focus of these activities was to utilize the rectified drone imagery provided by the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative and generate datasets critical to disaster risk management.

Between May 2017 and March 2018, the first phase of the project called Digitizing the Outputs of the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative was implemented. The main landmarks of this phase include establishing a digitization laboratory at the Commission for Lands (COLA); determining digitization and quality control standards; training 30 COLA staff and State University students in digitization; altogether, approximately 220,000 buildings were digitized, reviewed and cleaned with building reference numbers assigned to each building.

Then, between July 2018 and February 2019, the second phase called Open Cities Africa was carried out. This project built on the first by adding 180,000 buildings to the map and implementing a GPS and household survey in the Zanzibar City’s center. Finally, several maps were produced, including an interactive map on urban resilience.

In mid-2019, we are building on these two initiatives through the Resilience Academy’s Industrial Training. This project is a part of the larger Tanzania Resilience Academy Initiative that targets four Universities across Tanzania. The  Zanzibar program will teach 50 students from the State University all the nitty-gritty of community mapping, from project design, budget allocation, equipment set-up, to carrying out independent mapping of communities based on the stakeholders’ needs.

Specifically, this assignment will:

  1. Provide a good working environment for emerging data and technological communities on Zanzibar, with the focus on University students;

  2. Design and implement mapping of Zanzibar City and create an openly licensed dataset;

  3. Ensure all data collected is collected to an agreed quality standard;

  4. Build a cadre of students to implement community mapping; and

  5. Produce maps and datasets.

The Resilience Academy training on Zanzibar began on the 20th of August 2019 and will continue for the next 8 weeks, so many more blog posts coming soon.

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User Experience Testing of Mobile Applications for Cadastral Surveys

Following our previous blog post titled Technical Testing of Mobile Applications for Cadastral Surveys, we continue our look back at the work we did a while ago on evaluating mobile tools/apps aimed at cadastral surveys and land/property mapping. In this blog post, we explain the tool we developed for user experience testing of mobile applications.

The user experience testing of application touched on evaluating the experience of users while operating selected mobile applications during fieldwork. Indicators such as accessibility, flow, functionality, information architecture, consistency, and satisfaction were developed during the user experience workshop in Nairobi and then tested in the field, in Taita Hills.

Below is a breakdown of the tool for testing the user experience criteria and rationale:

1. Accessibility: Is it clear where to go to in the application to achieve different tasks? Is it obvious, which buttons to press and which not to press?

The application should be accessible through clear language and functionality so that the user can intuitively accomplish relevant tasks without confusion.

2. Flow: Is the path from start to finishing clear?

The process of accomplishing a task should be as simple as possible from start to finish. The user should be able to know at what step of the process he/she is, what the next step is, and how to track back if necessary.

3. Functionality: Does the application load quickly? Are there any dead links or ‘glitches’?

Functionality touches mainly on the technical features of mobile phones and its interaction with the application. In developing countries, the majority of the people own medium- to low-end smartphones and, as such, the mobile application should be built in a way that these mobile phones can sustain it.

4. Information Architecture: Does the application have good navigation? Are the icons understandable? Is labeling consistent across the application?

The application should have clear and simple navigation, good visual cues, and well-considered iconography that aids the user through different tasks.

5. Consistency: Is the application consistent throughout in order for the user to perform additional tasks without problems?

The application should have a common convention that requires a short learning curve in case new tasks are necessary. Multiple conventions can be disorienting and frustrating for a user with limited technical capacity.

6. Satisfaction: Is it satisfactory to use the applications? Did the application sufficiently fulfill the intended task?

Was the work accomplished with minimum user experience friction and in a satisfactory manner?

These are the user-experience specifications we developed and tested in the field. The next blog post will look at the field testing itself.

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Technical Testing of Mobile Applications for Cadastral Surveys

Following our previous blog post titled Introduction to User Experience Testing of Mobile Applications for Cadastral Surveys, we continue our look back at the work we did a while ago on evaluating mobile tools/apps aimed at cadastral surveys and land/property mapping. In this blog post, we explain the tool we developed for technical testing of mobile applications.

Through user experience workshops, we designed an evaluation tool that can be used to scrutinize mobile applications against the highest professional standards and legal thresholds. The evaluation tool was divided into two parts: the technical testing and user experience testing.

The technical specifications were developed during the user experience workshops in Nairobi and tested under the real conditions in Taita Hills. Technical testing of applications touched on evaluating the technical capabilities of mobile applications, such as whether they allow for the capture of photos, calculation of land areas, whether they allow for flexible fields, etc., and other data that is most necessary in parcel mapping and land documentation.

Below are the minimal technical specifications that each tool should have to ensure a successful data collection process on parcels/land:

1. Contact: the ability to collect multiple contact details, such as name, ID, date and other custom fields.

The legal process, starting at the land registrar and across the board, requires the collection of identity documents and contact details of the applicant, information on the owner or multiple owners, information on the certified surveyor conducting the survey, and in case of land disputes, disputing parties.

2. Photo: the ability to take and upload photos into the system easily.

Taking a photo of the parcel or boundary points is essential for boundaries, especially for general boundaries in rural areas. Additionally, photo feature can be used to collect pictures of owners, neighbors, their IDs, signed documents, disputed areas, etc.

3. Flexible Fields: the ability to create new fields on the go.

Flexible Fields are one of the most important features for the usefulness of the application. There are several use cases for Flexible Fields:

* A plot can have more than one owner, or each plot can have a unique number of owners, neighbors, etc. Flexible Fields should allow the user to add as many fields as necessary.

* A boundary point or a boundary itself can be unique (maybe there is a dispute on the boundary or a surveyor needs to indicate an offset point). Flexible Fields should allow additional information to be attached on a feature.

* Different government bodies require different information. Depending on the purpose of the survey and the targeted government body, the user should be able to create their own form/fields based on the template form from the respective authority. For example, if the user needs to satisfy information for the Registrar of Lands or the Survey of Kenya, they should be able to use the template from the respective body as a guide to creating their own custom fields. This way it is ensured that relevant information is collected each time.

4. Preview/Review: the ability to allow for previewing of results.

Due to the amount of information gathered at each field visit a Preview/Review feature should be necessary.

5. Editing: the ability to allow for editing of information after review.

This feature is linked to the Preview/Review feature and it enables for correction of errors or to add more data if necessary. Given the legal sensitivity of the information gathered, the user should be able to correct mistakes, such as wrong spelling of names, or add additional data.

6. Map or aerial imagery integration: the ability to view, plot, edit, and review coordinates on the map.

A map or aerial imagery interface enables visual interpretation of the parcel in question. For example, aerial imagery can support mapping efforts through visual image identification of the parcel’s boundary points, features, amenities, etc. Locations of collected boundary points can be verified with the help of the imagery and, if necessary, manually moved to its proper location. Map integration enables for greater accuracy of mapping results.

7. Sharing: the ability to easily share information with other users.

One of the main advantages if ICTs is its ability to make information more transparent. In some instances, the officials representing a community can communicate on the process, progress, findings, etc. with each member of the community. Sharing of information also allows for collective custody of data, reducing the incidences of disputes and corruption. Sharing can promote openness, which in turn can lead to better relationships between neighbors.

8. Storage: the ability to save files both locally and on the cloud.

Most land administration documents in Kenya are recorded on and stored in paper format. This makes them vulnerable to risk, loss or damage, and susceptible to manipulation and fraud. Digitally stored data in the cloud can mitigate the above-mentioned risks.

9. Acreage: the ability to calculate the size of the area based on boundary points.

The parcel area size is one of the most sought for information by the landowners. Most landowners know the approximate size of their parcels. This information was often passed on to them through inheritance; however, a proper survey of land has rarely been carried out. The application should enable users to calculate area size based on the mapped boundary coordinates of the parcel (in Kenya acreage is the unit of reference for land ownership).

10. Remarks: the ability to add additional text.

Aside from these specific technical considerations, the user should have an opportunity to record any other observation that he or she deems necessary.

These are the technical specifications we developed and tested in the field. The next blog post will look at the user experience specifications.

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Introduction to User Experience Testing of Mobile Applications for Cadastral Surveys

We are currently in the midst of User Experience testing of our new mobile application, so I thought it might be useful to look back at the work we did a while ago on evaluating mobile tools/apps aimed at cadastral surveys and land/property mapping.

In 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 surveyorTo 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.

Apart from the technical specifications of tools, the methodology for data collection and mapping, and legal specifications, the user experience had to be considered. Are people able to access the services they need? Are they able to use the tools available to them? Are these tools capable of collecting the necessary information, so that they do not waste people’s time and effort? Are the processes and methods accessible, replicable, and easy to use?

To answer some of these questions, we ran a User Experience workshop in Nairobi. The purpose of the workshop was to gather a more holistic understanding of the cadastral system in Kenya and to design an evaluation tool that can be used to scrutinize the mobile applications against the highest professional standards and legal thresholds. The workshop helped determine the immediate and long-term usability and accessibility of these tools to local people in data collection. It consisted of a design-thinking workshop, walkthroughs, and contextual interviews.

Design Thinking Workshop

The Design Thinking Workshop is a process led by a professional facilitator in which relevant stakeholders come together to deliberate about the issues at hand. The process aims to directly approach complex problems, gather insights, uncover frustrations and latent needs and put forth opportunities for innovation as seen from varying perspectives to create holistic, sustainable solutions with a human-centered focus.[1]

The participants of the design-thinking workshop were government and independent surveyors, high-end survey tool merchants, legal professionals, community leaders, and community members. The topic of the workshop was:

“Can widely available ICT’s such as mobile phones and off-the-shelf GPS units meet the professional survey and legal standards when used for land mapping?”

The dialogue provided a well-rounded understanding of the issues on surveying, land administration, and land mapping faced by various stakeholders.


Walkthroughs involve a thorough examination of specific steps taken to achieve a specific goal.

Several walkthrough exercises were facilitated with stakeholders to understand the process of land adjudication and registration of private and community land.

Contextual Interviews

Contextual interviews are personal interviews with stakeholders to uncover their individual perspectives, frustrations, desires, dreams, and goals. It also allows for the observation of stakeholders at work.

Several in-person interviews were conducted with government and private surveyors, community leaders, landowners, community members, and legal professionals.

Design of the Technology Evaluation Tool

Based on the user experience workshop, a tool for evaluating mobile applications for parcel/land mapping was designed. There was a particular focus on mobile applications as these are the most common technologies for on-the-ground data collection in development.

It was also evaluated whether selected applications allow for the capture of the most necessary attribute and spatial data on parcel/land, and user’s experience while using them. The evaluations can be divided into two parts:

  • Technical Testing
  • User Experience

Only two applications, GeoODK Collect and ESRI’s Geo-Collector, were tested. These represent two strands of software, Open Source and Proprietary, and are two applications which are often used in development. The following evaluation tool developed, however, can be used on any other application/tool. More about that coming in the next blog posts.

[1] See:

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A neighborhood map

There is little accurate data about cities in Africa and a few effective methods to collect the same. Take Nairobi for example. Nairobi’s population has increased more than tenfold in the last 50 years. This rapid urbanization brought with it a two-tier development process where some areas are rapidly modernizing while others lag behind. Due to the speed with which the city is developing, there’s no easy way to understand and determine which areas are over- or underserved; there’s no easy way for people to share immediate experiences about neighborhoods.

Many data collection initiatives/tools that do exist are extractive and information rarely stays with the people. People are often cut out of the decision-making process, from determining what data points are collected to what happens with the data itself, and because of that, people don’t have access to data that is important to them. The failure to include the communities doesn’t just impact them negatively; it also reduces the accuracy of the data and knowledge about a place.

At Spatial Collective, we have been working on a platform that enables people to express their perceptions about a place through location, topic, and emotion. The spatial location means they can contribute information precisely in the area they are in. The topic section allows them to name or select which issue in particular matters to them. The emotion section allows them to say how they feel about the selected issue using their emotions with provision for further explanation. The platform does not dictate what is important about a place; the people will tell us.

Below are some preliminary results from Kibera.

The map above shows approximately one hundred perceptions from about half a dozen citizens of a small village in Kibera. The colors in the red specter are showing more negative perceptions/issues/feelings while the colors in the blue specter more positive.

If we focus on specific topics, such as security, waste, infrastructure, etc. we can extract very valuable data about a place. The map below shows only data that touch on waste and river in the area.  

Further, the map below displays a message touching on security at a specific open space inside the village.

Not everything needs to be negative. The next map below displays only positive perceptions of the people about a specific place in the village in Kibera. 

Finally, when we aggregate the data, we see the density of perceptions in each area of the village.

We are in the midst of platform development so more coming up soon.

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