Idea File: Mapping Kibera and other slums

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Kibera photo by khym54 (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Today’s idea: Map Kibera

For many of us, all it takes is a few clicks to find out what’s nearby. The first thing I do when I’m restaurant hunting, for example, is go to Google Maps. Same goes for when I’m traveling.

But there are still areas that literally aren’t on the map. Nairobi’s slum Kibera, for example, was displayed as a forest on official documents until late 2009 when a group of volunteers set out to change this. Realizing the tremendous value a simple map could have for this city within a city, the group trained Kenyan youth in GPS and data editing. The result was an ever-evolving digital map that displays all of the community’s resources – hospitals, schools, food kiosks, gas pumps, Internet cafes, and more.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Community empowerment. The tool taps into one of our basic human needs: recognition. Instead of focusing on a lack, why not create a map that highlights existing assets?
  • Practical resource. The map increases residents’ knowledge of the area, thereby increasing access to resources.
  • Stake in own development. While the initial idea was from non-Kenyans, it was the local youth who implemented the project. From the process they learned concrete technical skills and built a sense of ownership.
  • Open technology. The platform accounts for rapid changes; anyone can go in and update the map.

How you can replicate it

First, see if the need for a digital map exists. If it does, participants can identify starting reference points, such as existing paper maps or firsthand knowledge. A clear view from space using Google MapMaker also helps.

You’ll need a lot of people to capture all the resources. Reach out to community members via traditional word of mouth, or through social networking sites such as Facebook. Once you have the information, a good tool to use is OpenStreetMap. For easy editing, MapQuest is surprisingly complementary.

Throughout the process, engage residents in its creation and provide opportunities for learning. Let the community take ownership; if you’re an outsider, they, not you, should be in charge of the map’s maintenance.

Caveats and considerations

Because creating the map ideally involves a lot of people, the potential for mistakes can be huge. But if it’s a peer reviewed process, where people are constantly checking to make sure the data is correct, then the mistakes can be lessened.

Once the map is completed, it can be a challenge to make the up-to-date version accessible for those who don’t have access to the Internet, or whose knowledge is sparse. One possible option might be to put an editable version of the map on residents’ mobile phones.

What else can you do after the map has been filled in? There are plenty of initiatives to glean lessons and inspiration from: Ladies Mapping Party, Ushahidi, Groundcrew, GeoCommons, Crowdmap, Managing News, and DC Foodshed just to name a few. Any others come to mind?

Written with the help of Scott Stadum, User Engagement Analyst for the Sunlight Foundation.

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Comments (3)


  1. Jamie writes:
    March 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks for highlighting Map Kibera’s work. You’ve capture many important factors to consider when designing a digital mapping project for an area with limited publicly available digital data. The first and foremost step is to develop a strategy for community engagement. Speak to organizations, key individuals and stakeholders (in the case of Kibera and now Mathare, local government and administration support is key). Engage leaders to lead the process. For documentation on how our strategy for community engagement has changed, see: http://www.mapkibera.org/blog/2011/01/24/whose-map/

    “Success of ICT4D partnerships is increased when detailed attention is paid to the local context and the involvement of the local community in …implementation” Tim Unwin http://bit.ly/golck2


  2. Celeste Hamilton Dennis writes:
    March 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Jamie,

    Thanks for the additional, and more in-depth, info! It’s a project we were proud to highlight.

    Thanks again,
    Celeste


  3. Rafaela writes:
    March 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Excellent project!

    I learned of Kibera recently after watching the documentary by BBC2: http://id.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00zfxm0/Comic_Relief_2011_Famous_Rich_and_in_the_Slums_Part_2/

    Thanks for sharing!


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