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developed in Kenya after the post-election violence of a couple years ago called Usahidi (you can as well read my yet unpublished blog post on this).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 …
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.
Skype has changed the way international work is done.
For example, 10 years ago when working in Kenya finding any form of landline out was difficult – it was calling cards and a significant expense to get a crackly line. 5 years ago you could use a cell phone, but again, great expense. Skype was theoretically possible back then, but realistically it didn’t work. 2 years ago skype became more usable, but still it wasn’t like talking on a real line
Now, using skype, and especially skype to skype, has seen dramatic cost reductions, and quality improvements. Much of this in East Africa is due to the recent arrival of fibre optic cables in Mombasa.
Is Skype a game changer for you? Sing us a song and fill in this poll!
Seth Godin is a well know blogger who get’s it right a good percentage of the time. Read on about 10 (I added two at the bottom) email smarts:
From Practical Radical: I would add two more –
9. If you wouldn’t say it face to face, don’t say it in an email.
10. Sit on it. I often have a drafted email that i don’t send for a day or more, especially if it is to do with an emotional or really important issue (which are often one and the same).