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Map Kibera: A Case Study of Community Empowerment

May 24, 2011

Kibera, located 5 km from the city center of Nairobi, Kenya is one of the largest slums in Africa. According to Map Kibera’s concept paper, the area had until 2009 remained publicly unmapped, despite numerous studies that had been done:

Until recently, Kibera, a massive slum in Nairobi, Kenya, was a blank spot on any public map. The Nairobi City Council considers it a forest, and it was absent from online maps by Google and OpenStreetMap, despite an estimated one million people living in this informal area smaller in size than New York’s Central Park. Although many non-governmental organizations, government offices, and academic institutions have been involved in data collection in Kibera, and even mapping, none of the results were publicly shared or available at a local level.

Map Kibera was an initiative started in 2009 to put the power of mapping into the hands of the residents. It has since branched out into a “complete interactive community information project”  including Voice of Kibera, a citizen reporting project, and Kibera News Network, which aggregates citizen video journalism using small handheld video cameras. The vision is describes below the fold:

In developing countries, external agencies extract data from, write reports about, and conduct studies on local communities without sharing the results or soliciting local input. Rarely are communities themselves empowered to create and use that information in order to tell their own stories, among themselves and to the world. This project puts digital mapping and storytelling tools in the hands of local people so that they become the main repository of information about their communities, allowing them to better influence democratic debate, access resources, and plan development. Mappers create their own map from start to finish, while citizen journalists and monitors report local stories and communicate ongoing needs. The process helps humanize technology and also allows for its adaptation in unexpected ways.

There are three components to the project model:

1) Selecting and training a local group in mapping techniques based on the OpenStreetMap platform, and producing a detailed local map which can be changed as conditions shift. This group can also survey for additional data to add to the map (such as clinic services offered, ages of children at schools).

2) Working with local media and community news outlets, providing training in new media storytelling and citizen journalism, and developing online tools intended to communicate stories around the community and to the outside world.

3) Building platforms for collecting information and reporting back via SMS, and presenting this information to policymakers and the community itself to help them advocate for better service delivery and transparency.

The final map output is here. If your interested in more of the day to day process that they went through, there is also a blog which documents its finer details.

GIS is often used effectively in academia, government, and business to produce detailed maps, analyze spatial data, and model geographic processes. Perhaps its greater import, however, is its potential as a community building tool. Community based social mapping, employed as a pedagogic and development tool, is joining the new social media as a potent means by which citizens can become empowered to hold their leaders more accountable and better govern their own community affairs.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2011 12:35 pm

    Hi Jason. Thanks for highlighting Map Kibera’s work. Note that the pictures and map you have included are from Map Mathare and not Kibera.

    As you’ve rightly mentioned, a map can be a tool for community building. As such, there are many more steps involved in the participatory mapping process – including community mobilization and engagement.

    • Jason permalink*
      May 24, 2011 1:25 pm

      Thanks Jamie for the clarification.

  2. May 27, 2011 3:12 am

    Ah, the power of maps.

    One of my favourite stories — in fact of a mind-boggling one — starts with the community mapping accidents whose victims are brought to their local hospital. You can find that (very brief) story here:

    • Jason permalink*
      May 28, 2011 8:42 pm

      Nice example, thanks for the link!

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