This past month, Map Kibera became a research subject. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With all the excitement (or hype) around technology and mapping in development, there has apparently been very little academic or solid web based research into the challenges faced when applying the methodologies of participatory technologies to participatory development and aid (excepting a few highly valued voices like Paul and Linda). Basically, what will make you pull your hair out when trying to bring Open Source to the Whole Wide World? We’ve long recognized our own shortcomings in Map Kibera, and make no effort to hide them, but we have lacked an objective and constructive critical view. It’s so difficult to find critics of our project, that I was contacted to possibly provide the dissenting view to the recent BBC World Service report on Map Kibera based on this blog post!
What especially interested us about working with Evangelia Berdou from IDS and Samuel Musyoki from Plan was that the research was designed to not be extractive, resulting in research papers only for the eyes of academics, but to be immediately practically useful for the program itself. Evangelia and Sammy conducted interviews and focus groups with just about everyone, and wrapped up with a general meeting with representatives from all facets of Map Kibera to present the results together. It’s totally appropriate to call this group therapy! Sammy did a masterful job at drawing out honest reflections on the past year with just a little prompting, and I will be keeping the small trick of passing a literal baton between tight lipped participants to get them to open up. The focus groups were followed up with an incredible 3 day workshop on understanding learning, so that everyone is prepared for training others in Mathare and elsewhere.
One year on. It was the second Monday of November 2009 that we started mapping. Kenyatta Day (now Mashujaa Day) marked our official one year presence in Kenya. It was only supposed to be one month to start, then four months, now one year! Looking back over the past year, honestly so much has been accomplished, it’s staggering. With a small informal and fluctuating initiating team, and eager and motivated young people, Map Kibera has done incredible work and made huge waves. I think we demonstrated that the technology and the training totally work. What we continue to struggle with is everything else! The sticking points are the social and organizational dimensions of the introduction of this technology, but maybe more crucially ourselves as newcomers, to an extremely complicated community with a complicated relationship to the international community.
There’s much to reflect on the topics of Money, Organization, Expectations, Communication, Commitment and more. Each of these deserves at least a post in themselves, and I’ll return to these and others to dig into what we’ve learned about making open source work for development.
This post is part of a series exploring the ideas and issues that have emerged in our research project with Institute of Development Studies, supported by DFID. All posts from the Map Kibera team, the researchers from IDS, our trainers and colleagues are collected here. As always, we are eager to discuss this work, so we hope to hear your comments.