I have been struggling to get my head around Usahidi, the Swahili for “witness” or “testimony.”
I knew it was created during the post-election violence in Kenya in early 2008. I had many friends who went through that terrible time, and felt equally horrified and powerless.
I am going to go out on a limb here and state that I think Mikel Maron and his crew of openstreetmap people are some of the leading experts globally in understanding how technology – specifically spatial technology – can be used in the developing world.
Why you ask? Why them? Well, because they aren’t at 10,000 feet, nor 5,000 feet, or even 500 feet — they are at ground zero. Yes, they passionately believes in technology, Mikel is a self-described techno nerd, but he, like many of the others involved in openstreetmaps movement, are on the ground seeing how technology ACTUALLY works, not how we would love it to, or how we report it to our funders to get more money, or how it works for just enough time for our research to be done (read about the hole-in-the-wall project in his blog post).
I wrote a management-nerdy blog post a while back on one of the projects they were involved in — mapkibera — and if you get past all the graphs my main message was that the people in the project were asking the right questions — basically — how can this project be sustainable past the initial “wow” phase. The answer to this question is quite simple, and one not often followed by aid agencies — the answer is “LIVE THERE”. Yup, be there, not in a hotel, or the UN compound, or the ex-pat enclave, but actually in the place you are working at. Find out where all the gnarly bits are, and then maybe it will be successful — or at least have a better chance. Parallel and just as important is WORK with the people that live there. Seems self explanatory … but something that is not always done.
And, that is what Mikel and his crew have done with mapkibera. They came for 6 months, and have stayed for a year+. They engaged the community in an asset based approach – a la John Mcknight’s Asset Based Community Development – and had the people map their community — and community which heretofore had no community accessible maps. The mapping was done on a platform developed in Kenya after the post-election violence of a couple years ago called Usahidi (you can as well read my yet unpublished blog post on this).
So, this all being said, the following blog outlines the questions he and they are asking, the possibilities and the possible pitfalls. I’ll shut up and let him speak … (but read my bolded bits to see where I think he nails it bang on) .. ok .. i will really shut up now. Promise …
This is a repost from the Polis blog with my comments (my comments first, polis blog From Kodak to the Mobile Phone below):
Thank you for this post. I think that the mobile generation with their ever more powerful mobile technologies are changing how we view, analyze and plan our cities. I work with youth in East Africa, and i have found that through the use of mobile phones, which are now prolific throughout the region, we have been able to not only capture images, both still and in video, but use these images to tell the rarely heard story of some of the poorest of the poor. (An example of such a project is http://mobilemovement.tv/)
I have as well found that “photovoice” is an excellent way to allow people to “map” their communities. I have used this technique with youth in North America, through the Growing up in Cities project , and more recently through work with UN-HABITAT on their community mapping project (you can check out a story a wrote for them titled Bridging the Digital Divide .
Though it isn’t sexy, toilets and sanitation are key to the physical and mental health of a community. This has been driven home to me countless times.
When I was working on the HABITATJam, a 2-day online preparatory forum sponsored by UN-HABITAT and IBM leading up to the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006, toilets and sanitation were a much talked about subject. The 70 Actionable Ideas follow-up report to this forum identified some best practices in this area such as the concept of Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) in slums which is a system that separates human waste, provides sanitation services at low cost to poor inhabitants, and recovers waste for reuse in agriculture.
More concretely i learned of the practicalities of toilets in Kibera with a youth group there. They were showing me some of the work they had been doing in creating a recycling centre (great CBC documentary); but they as well showed me the newly built toilet blocks that were built their. They were going to be run as a business, kept clean, and most importantly safe and open to all. (Sammy if you are reading this maybe you can give a quick update on how they are going).
I as well was lucky to be present at a presentation by David Kuria, a social entrepreneur, architect and Ashoka Fellow from Kenya. He is working to bring “toilet malls” to downtown Nairobi. He is passionate about the issue:
…the first thing you see, beautiful thing, is a toilet. When you come to the city of Nairobi, you’ll be shocked. And the next thing you’ll be asking is what is this? It’s a public toilet. We are putting toilet monuments just to try and bring back the importance to our people of public convenience and public toilets.
Lastly, an article came out recently through the USAID Urban Health Updates blog regarding the social side of public toilets, specifically as places where violence is perpetrated on women. Horrific stuff. With slums now being one of the fastest growing forms of human settlements globally, all efforts must be made to provide these basic needs to people. For humanity sake.
Community Mapping has always been quite an amazing tool – it localizes knowledge, draws on the “mappers” personal and community experiences, identifies interconnectedness – all this coming together and increasing social capital (if you are interested in the concepts of social capital read Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone; to better understand how it relates to mapping, read up on John Mcknight’s Asset Based Community Development). You can check out some of the work that the International Centre for Sustainable Cities and UN-HABITAT has done on community mapping by checking out their draft asset mapping manual.
As I have written about before, the Kibera Mapper’s project take this to the next level by combining the “soft” components of mapping – working with community, getting them to identify their “assets” or “social capital” – with the “hard” components of mapping – turning out maps which can be used in community organizing and advocacy. These organizing and advocacy outputs can be used to influence decision makers such as planners – I like to thing of it as the “pointy stick” of mapping, where you can drive your message home with great success.
What is even more exciting is how low tech this has become. Using what they call Walking Papers mappers are able to draw directly onto a map and then have it scanned and that be uploaded directly to a digital map. No GPS, no uploading to an onsite computer. The definition of High Touch/Low Tech.
Anyways, I am re-blogging Mikel’s post from the Map Kibera blog. It gives a lot more detail and new insight into mapping — real-time — in the field.
NOTE: I had a wonderful lunch when i was in Nairobi with some of the people from the Map Kibera project (you can read my previous blog on this here, or go to their website mapkibera.org). What fascinated me was the stage they were at in regards to the growth of their project and their concern about assuring that the project was sustainable. This got me thinking about sustainability and NGOs. Here are my musings on the subject …
Just as the coin for business is, well, coins, the coin for NGOs is change. Positive change. It is what every NGO assumes it will be able to achieve when they start, and what many fail to do. The challenge often for NGOs as with for-profit companies is achieving and sustaining their success.
To achieve success an agency agency needs to plan, to plan they must have a “business model” – guidelines to better understand where they stand in relation to their own development.
One traditional for-profit model is that of the “business cycle” or “S curve”.
This model is used to understand the growth of industries and organizations. However, the S curve does not recognize key components of a healthy system – specifically the phases of destruction and renewal. A healthy forest is one that has trees grow older, die, and then become the fertilizer for the new growth. The S curve is silent on these phases of destruction and renewal. Ironically, it is the paradox of having things dies that assures the longterm sustainability of a healthy system.