Kibera was a blank spot on the map and thus could not receive any needed resources (e.g. sanitation, security, etc.). Map Kibera undertook an interactive community mapping framework that focused on developing better outcomes through both the process and the results.
Problems and Purpose
Kibera is an informal settlement just outside of Nairobi, Kenya and one of the largest slums in Africa. Categorization of Kibera as ‘illegal’ and the consequent absence of information pertaining to service and infrastructure availability has limited government intervention in the slum. Thus, residents lack essential services. Recognizing the gap in documentation of Kibera, a participatory exercise called ‘Map Kibera’ was introduced in 2009 that works to create a digital crowd-sourced map through open source software by empowering residents of the slum as mappers. Using technology to gather and share data on notable resources that rely primarily on community knowledge, the mappers developed one of the most comprehensive and accurate maps of Kibera. This allowed service provision in the slum and also paved the way for mapping exercises to be undertaken in similar contexts across various geographies.
Background History and Context
Rapid urbanization has contributed significantly to an increase in the number of informal settlements, or slums, in Kenya. (Mutisya & Yarime, 2011). In the capital city of Nairobi, these informal settlements date back to the period of colonization when the majority of Africans were restricted from living in residential zones designated for Europeans and Asians. However, the city still drew in low-income migrants due to the availability of employment opportunities. Nairobi’s initial urban development plans did not recognize informal settlements, resulting in an absence of government provision of essential services and road construction in these areas (Mitullah, 2003). Informal settlements continued to be excluded from city-wide plans and budget processes since the colonial period, with no policy support for improvement through urban planning. This clear lack of recognition by the government has resulted in a deprivation of basic infrastructure such as sanitation, clean water, access to energy, and an overall poor quality living environment for residents. It can be argued that the absence of policies that support upward mobility of low-income residents has contributed to the growth of informal settlements by pushing slum dwellers into continuous cycles of poverty (Mutisya & Yarime, 2011).
Kibera is an informal settlement that accounts for one fifth of Nairobi’s population (Bigon & Njoh, 2017). As one of the largest slums in Africa, Kibera is 2.5 square kilometers in size with an approximate population of over 900,000 residents. Being only five kilometers from the centre of Nairobi, Kibera is a cheaper option for those moving from rural areas looking for work. While the Kenyan government owns the land Kibera is situated on, it continues to avoid officially acknowledging the settlement or offering essential services to its residents (Mutisya & Yarime, 2011). Until Map Kibera was introduced in 2009, no official maps and documentation of infrastructure existed of the slum (Bigon & Njoh, 2017). Despite Kibera being the focus of a high number of studies on informal settlements, partially due to local UN-HABITAT headquarters (Hagen, 2010), the absence of continued engagement with the community has resulted in a lack of updated and formal maps of Kibera (Beguy et.al., 2010).
Map Kibera was developed with the intent of training residents to create their own online, public map of the informal settlement using digital open source tools in partnership with local organizations. Maps are essential to plan for development and gain access to resources. The program recognizes the power maps affords mappers through the control of information and hence, Map Kibera was designed as a grassroots participatory endeavor (Hagen, 2010). The initial goal was to establish a resource of shared and community-owned information, made possible through modern technologies that sidestepped traditional restrictions. Today, the mission of Map Kibera Trust, the continuation of the initial Map Kibera effort, is “to increase influence and representation of marginalized communities through the creative use of digital tools for action” (Map Kibera, 2020). The information provided by the digital maps further allows for greater communication and understanding between the residents of Kibera and relevant stakeholders in the area such as government officials, NGO representatives, legal institutions, among others.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Map Kibera was first conceptualized in October 2009 by Erica Hagen and Mikel Maron of GroundTruth, a global technology and media company specializing in community-based participatory projects (GroundTruth, 2021). Enabled by funding from Jumpstart International and local partners, 13 young people from Kibera were trained to use digital tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and cameras to gather data. The initial map produced of Kibera was developed in partnership with three local organizations: “the Social Development Network (SODNET) (...), Carolina for Kibera (...), an international NGO based in Kibera that seeks to promote leadership, women’s empowerment and community development, and the Kibera Community Development Agenda (KCODA), a community media organisation that publishes the Kibera Journal” (Berdou, 2011, p. 12). In less than a month the mapping team had produced the first digital map of Kibera, which noted points of interest such as water access, toilets, schools, pharmacies, among other categories determined by the mappers. Information collected was uploaded to the OpenStreetMap database and platform, allowing participants to gain computer literacy in the process (Hagen, 2010). To promote community participation, other residents were trained on blogging and other forms of digital storytelling and information sharing to reach wider audiences (Bigon & Njoh, 2017).
The second phase of Map Kibera, conducted between February 2010 and August 2020 was made possible through additional funding from UNICEF. This was utilized to introduce thematic elements of water, sanitation, health and education in the documentation. This phase also witnessed larger community engagement in an effort to push the idea of Kiberans mapping Kibera through which residents’ perspectives of pertinent issues could be prioritized. As the objective of Map Kibera was to create a repository of mapped information regarding infrastructure gaps in the slum, government organizations, especially local service providers, occupied a key role as larger stakeholders in the project. During this phase, Map Kibera also initiated the development of two other programs that have greatly contributed to information sourcing and availability in the slum. The first is the Voice of Kibera (VoK) project that allowed people to text in reports on events happening in the slum, which would then be approved by an editorial team and superimposed on the digital maps. This was made possible through Ushahidi, whose platform was utilized to develop the project. The second initiative that was also introduced during this phase was the Kibera News Network (KNN) through which videographers could create videos and publish them on the Youtube channel of the program. These projects allowed community members to create content and publish information in more ways than one (Berdou, 2011).
During the 2nd phase, the Map Kibera Trust was established in order to formalize the process of mapping of Kibera and replicate the process of using digital methods to empower marginalized communities. This also provided a legal basis for official incorporation of stakeholders and partners into the project (Berdou, 2011). Over the years, partners of Map Kibera have expanded to include GOAL (an international humanitarian organization), United States Institute of Peace (USIP) who supported activities during the 2013 Kenyan election, the Indigo Trust, the African Technology and Transparency Initiative (ATTI), UN-Habitat (whose office is located close to Kibera), Global Giving and Plan Kenya. Additionally, Hivos has been engaged with Map Kibera by funding certain initial expenses (Map Kibera, 2020).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Map Kibera began with the engagement of 13 youth residents as volunteer mappers (Hagen, 2017). The selection of the volunteers was made possible through the Kibera Community Development Agenda (KCODA), a critical stakeholder of the project. The organization’s pre-existing project (through which local youth reported the status of projects in Kibera funded by the government and other aid agencies) provided the structural framework on which participant recruitment for Map Kibera was conducted. The project was unpaid, and the purpose of recruiting residents of the area was to facilitate community-led mapping of Kibera (Berdou, 2011; Hagen, 2017). The fundamental concept behind the project was the penetration of mobile phones in the Global South which could be used for mapping. Participants collected information using GPS and edited the data using cartographic tools such as GIS, for which they received training (Map Kibera, 2020).
Methods and Tools Used
At the heart of Map Kibera is interactive community mapping. The project embodies the definition of community mapping by involving the residents of Kibera in the process of identifying particular features of their own neighborhood and recording their locations. Community mapping is more than just identifying streets and walkways, it also involves mapping locations of importance to the residents such as safe or unsafe areas, buildings in need of repair, or spots of cultural pride. For instance, some areas of Kibera were unsafe, including areas with high instances of rape, and these were denoted as ‘black spots’ (Map Kibera, 2010).
Map Kibera’s stated methodology is ‘impact-oriented’. When starting the mapping project, leaders wanted the community to be researchers as well as knowledge spreaders. They utilized community member knowledge to determine issue areas that need to be mapped. Map Kibera continues to help facilitate meetings of relevant bodies including NGOs, government organizations, and other interested parties (Map Kibera, 2020). The mapping itself is undertaken by local mappers who utilize GPS devices. They walk through Kibera engaging with community members to add pinpoints to specific locations of interest for each given issue. This engagement occurred either through informal face-to-face interaction or through slightly more formalized meetings and group sessions to verbally or visually share locations (Nelson, 2011).
Map Kibera uses open source tools and shares their maps both online and offline to reach the largest number of people inside and outside the neighborhood. Through the use of OpenStreetMap, local mappers can upload their collected locations and relevant information to a free, online mapping tool for anyone to access or edit. The free and open nature of OpenStreetMap and various analytic tools like QGIS allows outside organizations like NGOs and government bodies to understand issues and progress quickly and informally (Map Kibera, 2020). The maps can become input data for a variety of analytical tools and studies on the area that can further improve Kibera through local or global organizations, without Map Kibera expending extra resources.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Map Kibera initiative follows the Interactive Community Mapping (ICM) framework which seeks to improve and empower communities through both the participatory mapping process and project results (Gigler & Bailur, 2014). This is accomplished through a framework that considers local and external stakeholders, technology, identified users and audience, and attention to both the process and planned results (Gigler & Bailur, 2014). To do this, Map Kibera identified five steps key to the process. During the first step they sought to engage with local community members to determine key focus areas for long-term engagement, as well as local government and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) to discuss the issues and information gaps that needed to be addressed (Map Kibera, 2020).
The second step focused on gathering local data within the key focus areas and beginning processing and analysis of the information. This resulted in refined definitions of outcomes and the creation of visual representation of data (Map Kibera, 2020). This step was highly participatory as it engaged local community volunteers to act as mappers, bloggers, and videographers. By providing residents with the required skills and tools to capture daily life and navigate social media, the project established the basis of the digital ‘storytelling’ aspect of Map Kibera (Gigler & Bailur, 2014). The created maps depicted general features of the slum, but also included points of interest added by volunteer mappers that contained “data about the location of clinics, toilets, water points, places of worship, and more” (Gigler & Bailur, 2014, p. 87, Map Kibera, 2020). Map Kibera’s VoK initiative sought to create more localized information by having volunteers report local issues and events through blogging. VoK used SMS services to democratize this information, allowing for anyone in Kibera to text information or stories to be added to the blogs by the editors (Map Kibera, 2020). SMS methodologies have been highlighted as a way to “better listen to the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society”, giving a voice to those who may not be heard otherwise (Gigler & Bailur, 2014, p. xi). These community voices are further heard through the KNN initiative that allowed participants to reach bigger audiences by capturing community life through videos that were published on the platform’s YouTube channel (Map Kibera, 2020).
During stage three, Map Kibera reported their work back to the community through a forum to update residents and ensure the accuracy of the data. During the forum the community agreed on short-term and long-term goals in addition to selecting leadership. The results of the forum would then be reported to the ‘consortium’ of NGOs contacted earlier to further select goals and leadership. This provided further community control and increased the participatory nature of the project. Having gathered and analysed data, the fourth step turned towards community advocacy. Map Kibera shared their accrued knowledge through locally accessible forms of outreach such as murals around the community, screening the videos they created in gatherings, local media partnerships, and blogs. Map Kibera and associated NGO representatives also lobbied the local government where they presented their analyses. The fifth, and final step, involves negotiations with government representatives to seek tangible improvements regarding the stated goals of the initiative (Map Kibera, 2020).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
With the underlying idea of improving the ‘supply side’ of information, the direct outcomes of Map Kibera are the open database map of Kibera (that documents security, water and sanitation, health, and education conditions), the citizen journalist platform ‘Voice of Kibera’, the KNN YouTube channel, as well as the Map Kibera Trust which serves as a long-term platform for research, partnership, training, and sharing experience with other marginalized communities. Today, Map Kibera is often quoted as a successful case of how participatory planning can be used to improve social and spatial conditions in slums (Mawad, 2021). According to the follow-up study done by the co-founder of Map Kibera, a number of positive results have been observed in terms of security, legitimacy, education, water and sanitation facilities and management in Kibera (Hagen, 2017).
By making Kibera visible on the map, the slum that had been ignored for so long, attracted attention from the ‘outside’, including the local government and NGOs. The visibility of interventions in Kibera through websites and online maps produced through the project convinced donors about the existence and legitimacy of the projects (Hagen, 2017). Based on the data, government officers were able to advocate, justify, and secure funding of 37 million shillings from the Ministry of Education for high schools in Kibera (Hagen, 2017). New police stations and street lamps have been set up based on the crime hotspots mapped out by local females. Six months after ‘Black Spots’ were mapped by the community, a new police post was added to one of these locations (Mapkibera, 2010). Similarly, the map also helps NGOs such as Carolina for Kibera (CFK) to re-distribute their proposed latrines and health-care volunteers to provide training programs to the community. Furthermore, by mapping out polling stations, hosting candidate debate forums and issue-based interviews, the Map Kibera team helped an election to proceed smoothly (Hagen, 2017).
Apart from the instant and visible impacts, the media, participants, and researchers who hold positive attitudes towards this project praise the long-term positive influence on community empowerment and democratization. After the departure of the GroundTruth team, Map Kibera Trust continues to serve as a community-based platform of information run by local participants. Unlike the ‘authoritarian image’ of elite mapping conducted by professional cartographers (Harley, 1989), ICM positions the local residents as the center, aiming to promote empowerment and democratization through participatory mapping. The process strengthens community identity by highlighting local resources, develops community capacities by adopting local participants’ own narratives to representation, and empowers the community by training locals and establishing a long-lasting self-growth platform. Map Kibera also played a critical role in providing young adults in Kibera with opportunities to learn professional skills and articulate their claims. This manifested into community based ownership of Map Kibera Trust as a permanent platform that nurtured knowledge sharing. The success of the project allowed its replication in other slums in Nairobi; Map Mathare and Map Makuru are two of the most prominent examples (Map Kibera, 2020).
However, we also acknowledge the myriad of criticisms of Map Kibera that have been discussed in academic and public discourse. The deficiency of Map Kibera reflects the inherent weakness of specific interpretations of ICM. Gigler & Bailur (2014) describe ICM as a continuum of trade-offs in mappers identity (from professionals to community members) and project endeavor (from specific-purposed to general-interest). One of the biggest critiques is that while the objective of the project was to document infrastructure needs and allow for improvements, little evidence can be found to argue that interventions were outcomes of Map Kibera. Although there is good reason to assume that mapping initiated service interventions, the criticism is based on the fact that Map Kibera provided general information with the hope that decision-makers would consult it, but it did not answer specific, well-defined needs. This made the process of translating mapped data into specific impacts a difficult one (Hagen, 2017; Gigler & Bailur, 2014). Another issue highlighted is the lack of official recognition of the database due to absence of professional participation in the process. Map Kibera aims to create a grassroots, bottom-up map of the slum through community-based knowledge; yet, the absence of professional and government stakeholders has called into question the legitimacy of the data (Gigler & Bailur, 2014). Questions of authenticity and legitimacy were also raised by community members who were asked to contribute information to the project. When mappers approached the general public, they were questioned about their authority to elicit information from community members. This was partly due to the vulnerabilities associated with publishing information pertaining to infrastructure in settlements regarded as ‘illegal’ (Berdou, 2011). While privacy was partly ensured by avoiding collection of personal data such as household information, the risk associated with mapping processes must be recognized, particularly when replication is carried out in contexts where visibility of illegal communities often increases vulnerability. “Identifying the informal pharmacies, for example, could provoke government action that would result in their closure, blocking access to a critical community resource” (Berdou, 2011, p. 16).
Additionally, the nature of mapping work as ‘voluntary’ was resisted by participants who sought recognition for their time and effort. This was later addressed by GroundTruth resulting in all mappers being paid, yet, this is a key point that must be addressed in any replications of Map Kibera. During community meetings it was also highlighted that not all members had the means to access digital sources of information, even though it was open source. While some maps had been printed and displayed in public buildings, distribution was limited. This was also the case with videos on YouTube published by KNN and the VoK website. Finally, we observe the need to establish equitable governance structures in community-based participatory projects. In the case of Map Kibera, the inclusion of VoK and KNN in the Trust was initially resisted by mappers as they were skeptical about how funds would be distributed and/or allocated. However, through group discussions, the need for collaboration and the establishment of hierarchies for operations were developed in participatory manners (Berdou, 2011).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Overall, Map Kibera remains a relatively meaningful project promoting community identity, empowerment, and democratization. Fundamentally, Kibera no longer remains a blank spot on the map, and thus is open to informed decision-making in the future.
To analyze the degree of community engagement and participation in Map Kibera, we use two distinct frameworks. The first is Arnstein’s ‘Ladder of Participation’. Through the framework, she indicates eight levels of participation ranging from ‘manipulation’ to ‘citizen control’. We observe that initiation of the project by people from outside Kibera and the engagement of local participants in a grassroots exercise indicates ‘delegated power’. However, in the later stages of Map Kibera, we identify that the stated goal of network building around important community issues represents an example of ‘citizen control’. Thus, based on Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation, we assert that the project was a highly participatory endeavor that involved residents from the beginning of problem formulation, through the mapping, and in outcomes, especially through the establishment of the Map Kibera Trust. Broadly, we observe ‘degrees of citizen power’ in Map Kibera (Arnstein, 1969).
The second framework we utilize is Fung’s democracy cube. The theory challenges the linear analysis afforded by the ladder framework and allows us to locate participation in a three-dimensional space. The democracy cube maps public engagement and participation along the three axes of selection, authority and communication, therefore allowing a more comprehensive analysis. In terms of participation, we observe that recruitment was open to community members but was targeted as the process involved skill development and training. The absence of expert, professional and lay stakeholders (apart from GroundTruth) must also be noted here as it led to the lack of legitimacy and official recognition of collected data. Second, considering that Map Kibera comprehensively documented infrastructure based on mappers inputs on how they perceived their community, we believe that participants were empowered to provide their technical expertise in the project. Training of participants in digital methods also contributed towards equitable modes of ‘communication and decision-making’. Finally, the ‘authority and power’ axis demonstrates how participants can exert influence on decision-making. Initially, mappers of the project participated in the project on a volunteer basis. This was partly to fulfill a sense of civic obligation, and also to benefit from the skills being imparted through the process. At this point, we observe that participation was largely for ‘individual education’. However, as documentation of Kibera became more comprehensive over the years, we observe that interventions in the slum were guided by the maps. Since maps were drawn on the basis of community inputs, here we assert that the influence of participants started growing as data collection became more robust and disseminated. It is worth arguing that this shift could continue raising the authority of local residents and have direct influence on decision-making processes one day (Fung, 2006).
In conclusion, we observe that Map Kibera utilizes mapping as a strong tool for community-led grassroots development. As mentioned previously, maps recognize power dynamics and transfer ownership of information to participants of the exercise (Hagen, 2010). Map Kibera also provides opportunities for the community to represent their interpretations of the space they occupy in the outputs. Additionally, we also assert that digital methods of documentation and mapping, along with open source software, are strong tools for development in low-income slum communities.
However, we must also be cognizant of the fact that digital repositories of information may not be accessible to all. This could be in terms of physical access or even the skills required to access information online. While pursuing digital modes of mapping, the dissemination of information amidst participating communities must be organized. We also observe a need for equitable modes of communication to be established with all members of the community. In participatory processes, empowering a few members could potentially lead to an imbalance of power dynamics within communities and raise questions of authority and authenticity.
A criticism that has often been highlighted about Map Kibera is that of the legitimacy of the collected data. The basis for this argument is located within the absence of professional stakeholders in the project. We observe that involvement of professional or academic stakeholders in similar mapping exercises might overcome this and provide legitimacy to the collected information. However, the question we are left pondering upon at the conclusion of our analysis is - would the involvement of these stakeholders skew the outcomes of a community-led project that aims to document neighborhoods as perceived by its residents?
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This analysis was completed as part of the PLAN 508 curriculum at the University of British Columbia by Alison White, Madison Lore, Meghna Mohandas, Xueqi Tan and GS