Idea File: Mapping Kibera and other slums


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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Haiti: Technology in a Time of Crisis

From Flickr user Allen Harper (Creative Commons)

By Scott Stadum.

Over the past week I’ve been keeping track of the technological and web-based aid initiatives related to the Haiti recovery. A number of groups—some previously related, some disparate—have quickly come together to leverage their skills, technologies and communities in this time of crisis. I want to highlight a number of these projects to give you an idea of what is happening in this sector.


The Drawing Together campaign, including OpenStreetMap, the International Community of Crisis Mappers, Crisis Commons, Ushahidi and others, are working together to map the crisis and share the information with people working on the ground.

Finding People

Google has created a people finder tool using Google AppEngine, which you can access here. Google is encouraging other people finder tools to contribute their data to the project and are making all the data publicly available. Google and Skype are also offering free VOIP calls to Haiti.

Interactive Tools

The Google Earth Blog has highlighted a number of interactive tools you can use now, like the New York Times tool showing some of the hardest hit locations in Haiti, and Microsoft’s Photosynth tool mapping damaged areas in Port-au-Prince.

Building Tools

Last weekend the Sunlight Foundation held a hackathon, bringing “together specialists in database creation, visualization, geospatial data and other fields in order to build reliable tools that field workers and other volunteers will be able to use on laptops and mobile devices.”

Sorting the Missing

The Extraordinaries are using microvolunteering opportunities to sort and tag disaster images and to submit, sort and tag images of missing persons.

Bridging Technology

Telecoms Sans Frontieres, MapAction, InSTEDD and others have people on the ground bridging technology like mobile telecom rigs and satellite phones with information and virtual volunteer initiatives.

Volunteering is working diligently to aggregate volunteer opportunities and volunteer information. You can also check out what InterAction partners are needing and and related volunteer information at

If you know of other projects, please leave a comment below.

Previous Haiti-related posts:

Helping Haiti: Things to Consider

Haiti Earthquake Response

[This blog entry first appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Mapping for Advocacy and Organizing

This entry is by Scott S., our Experience Analyst.

From Flickr user Jessica Wissel

These recent updates to mapping and cartographic services struck me as incredibly powerful advocacy and organizing tools, a new approach to empowering communities, organizations and individuals to affect change at a grassroots level.

Earlier this week, the GeoCommons, a tool for visualizing geographic data, launched a tool that enables users to create maps from their own data sets. Their goal “is to push the boundaries of web mapping to provide easy to use and powerful cartographic design tools along with access to a huge amount of complex geospatial data.”

Current services like Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft are quite limited in what they’re capable of creating. GeoCommons has differentiated itself by designing an “understandable and accurate cartographic design interface,” giving users more options for referencing existing data.

GeoCommons has also included the ability to export map data in a KML file, the accepted standard in online map creation. This enables the user to create a map in GeoCommons and then export the KML file into applications like Google Earth or NASAs WorldWind.

Combining publicly available data from sources like the U.S. government, the UN, the World Bank, and other outlets will allow nonprofits, businesses, individuals, and even social networks to efficiently target and coordinate a better plan of action for addressing various issues. Referencing campaigns and activities to varying data sets will allow for better decision making, allocation of resources, and course of action.’s Mapping for Advocacy is an approach for “[enabling] advocacy groups [to] explore and exploit the potential of maps to effectively send out their message.” Tactical Tech recognizes the potential in using maps to visually represent data for affecting change. Here’s an example: “The Darfur project undertaken by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) where mapping was used to expose a humanitarian crisis in Sudan is a prime example. Combining mapping and rich content, witness testimonies, satellite imagery, data and other information placed on a Google Earth map, the USHMM raised awareness of the reality of incidents in the Sudanese region.” This is an interesting approach to solving a very serious issue, but only one example of using mapping.

What other examples can you think of? How can Idealist use maps? How would nonprofits be bettered served by integrating mapping into their own services? What opportunities would be presented using this technology? Any ideas?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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