Mikel’s reflections on 10 years of Map Kibera

by: August 16th, 2019 comments: 1

4388702007_b8e0a942fe_o10 years ago Erica Hagen and I were getting ready to start Map Kibera. I read Planet of Slums, was buying laptops on the way to the airport after Crisis Mappers, getting excellent guidance and connections from Ushahidi, and feeling completely overwhelmed. Before we even started, the project was being celebrated in the global media. Heading to Nairobi’s largest slum to make a map. What had we signed up for? I’m looking back on the experience myself now 10 years on, after 6 weeks in a much changed Nairobi.

It’s way way more than I ever imagined. We intended to stay for a month. Through muddy days and very spotty internet, the map took beautiful shape. Zach Muindre and Lucy Fondo and 11 more young people from the 13 villages of Kibera got excited about mapping. That was never going to be enough. That map by itself did not do enough for the people of Kibera, and we felt a deep responsibility to see this work through. We wanted to make the connection to change, for the order and chaos, invention and despair, that city within a city, Kibera. To keep putting the people of the Kibera community in the driving seat on what data was important to them and how it should be used. That impulse quickly inspired citizen reporting and data journalism, with Kibera News Network, still led by Joshua Ogure, and Voice of Kibera. 

I wrote this in 2013:

In all honesty, the work Map Kibera has set for itself is extremely difficult, steps beyond what is normally attempted, and we have had our share of bumps and scrapes. But anything worth doing takes patience and perseverance, adaptation and learning. We carry on, and we’re ready for what’s next.

Building a team. Mapping and mapping again. Telling stories. Bringing together people to think about data and place. Training and riding the wave of new technologies. Putting maps on walls. Taking the world’s biggest and smallest stages. Fundraising and reporting. Strategic plan after plan. Building several versions of organizations. Advocating to government. Argument. Stress. Triumph. Sometimes all in the course of one day.

After 10 years, has Map Kibera changed Kibera? Yes there’s been significant contribution over the decade in Kibera. And around the world. We’re certainly not done, 10 more years for sure. It’s certainly hard to assess the impact of 10 years. Here’s a few ways I look at it.

Personally, I’ve carted recovered organization documents in a wheelbarrow across Kibera, fended off local youth looking for payment for “security”, waited for ages for a government official to sign a letter, met with ambassadors, and a thousand other unique experiences I never would have had otherwise. I got to know a unique place well.

There’s the data. I’m not going to try to quantify it, but it’s both wide in location and deep in the detail collected. Kibera was mapped and mapped again. Almost all of the slums in Nairobi — Mathare, Mukuru, Kangemi, and others — mapped. Outside of Nairobi, cities and rural areas across Kenya, from Kwale to Baringo, have been mapped. Not just mapped, but mapped by and for community members in each of those places. And the places in between, by the OSM community, inspired and connected by Map Kibera’s pioneering work. All of this data within the infrastructure and community of the global OpenStreetMap project, the foundation of all this work.

It took 3 years for me to feel at last satisfied that Map Kibera had an impact in Kibera itself. It takes at least that time to build trust, to show that an effort is not a flash in the pan, and figure out exactly how something as abstract as data and maps can make a contribution. The 2013 election saw mapping for peaceful elections, building strong networks, distribution of maps within the community and to security services and government, debates and interviews with candidates, monitoring and reporting through all phases of the election — from registration, primaries, campaigning, elections, results, and follow up — after the national and international media left. It made a difference. Voice of Kibera and Kibera News Network really found their stride, reporting from polling stations, and doing video interviews with candidates. OpenSchoolsKenya brought visibility to all kinds of schools in Kibera (and Mathare and Kangemi), that parents, teachers, administrators, and government lacked. Kibera is currently mourning the loss of MP Ken Okoth, who championed the work of Map Kibera and put schools data to work to successfully advocate for more educational resources. There were many other projects that had an influence on water and sanitation, health, food security — their impact less visible, behind the scenes. This data has been used by organizations large and small to orient, track and ground work in all these places. We know of some of them, but so many more we have no idea about because the maps are open to all.

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All of this progress requires money and an organization. From JumpStart International’s small bet on us at the beginning, to Unicef, US Institute of Peace, Hivos, Omidyar, Plan, Indigo Trust, World Bank, Map Kibera has had the attention and resources of international development. We are deeply appreciative. And deeply challenged. Matching a project rooted in grassroots community to global development has not been easy. The project cycles and organizational expectations don’t fit long term community development. Looking back now on countless proposals, work plans, reports, strategic planning sessions, organizational charts. And we did not come to this experienced in building organizations, and made our biggest mistakes in misapplying parts of models of a worker’s cooperative,  community organization, traditional NGO, and company, lately finding stride in a combination of those. For the past 5 years, Erica has focused so much effort to pull this work together, as have Joshua and Zack, who have devoted themselves on a day to day basis well beyond the call of duty to keep the vision alive. Map Kibera remains deeply focused on Kibera, while being the leading organization for developing community mapping across Kenya, as well as globally networked and linked. It’s not easy to connect a grassroots community effort to a global perspective and industries. I think they’ve finally found an operational groove 10 years on.

Around the world, Map Kibera became an inspiration for a new kind of community mapping, one that was simultaneously rooted in community development, and also integrated into the global data infrastructure of OpenStreetMap. Map Kibera has served as a template and model for countless other projects. As Erica and I began our return trip to Kenya in January 2010 to work with Map Kibera for another year, Haiti was struck by an earthquake, and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team’s first effective activation began. After many stolen early morning moments during our “vacation” coordinating the Haiti response, I helped plan post-emergency activities of HOT on the ground in Haiti, modeled directly on Map Kibera. The Map Kibera team also started the OSM mapping effort in Dar es Salaam, in Tandale, which has now covered the whole city of Dar for flood risk mapping. It was our mapper Lucy, still a key Map Kibera team member, who traveled to Dar to train communities in OSM back in 2011. Regularly, even just last month, I hear from people starting mapping projects inspired by Map Kibera.

This influence flowed from an incredibly strong story — young people putting this large and famous and yet “invisible” settlement on the map. Map Kibera has been profiled by CNN, PBS, New Scientist, National Geographic, Wired, Al Jazeera, Le Monde, and The Guardian. It’s taught in schools, every geography undergrad seems to watch The Geospatial Revolution — it’s even a part of on-boarding for some teams at Mapbox. Map Kibera has been featured in the Smithsonian and other museum exhibits, in popular science books and coffee table books of critical cartography. It’s been referenced in hundreds of research publications. Though I happen to believe the best research on Map Kibera has been done by its practitioner, with Erica authoring good pieces early on for MIT, and more recent learning retrospective for Making All Voices Count. Erica has told the Map Kibera story on the TED Stage. I’ve shared in Seoul, Zach has presented in Hyderabad, and Josh everywhere from New York to Azerbaijan.

But ultimately, the best way I know to track the influence is in the people we’ve gotten to work with. Impossible to name them all. Some have come and gone, and some have stayed all the way through — Zach and Lucy are still mapping, training government officials, and leading the roll out of projects. Josh is the general manager and has brought KNN to a level on par with professional news agencies, along with Steve Banner and Jacob Ouma, who also have been with us from the early days. They are now as old as I was when this all started. Erica — who dropped everything to come to Kenya with me, then married me, and who has put everything into continuing the effort even after my attention has gone elsewhere. Unbelievable to think back to the 13 young kids who took a chance on this crazy project. 

So we’re going to celebrate and I hope to see everyone. Map Kibera is throwing a party tonight, August 16 to celebrate the first 10 years, and 15 years of OpenStreetMap. Find the details here and let is know if you’ll join us to raise a glass to 10 years of Map Kibera.

Open Schools, Government Data Stories

by: July 22nd, 2014 comments: 0

We love data. Yet we often only know enough to use the data, without knowing the story behind it. But, while in Kenya to work on the Schools Mapping Project, I finally learned the story of a key data set to our project.

The creation story of a data set is essential for understanding the peculiarities of that data, and how data collection in the future can be improved (and there always will be a future data collection). Among the most popular and useful data sets released on OpenData Kenya are the locations and indicators of primary and secondary schools, Kenya wide. Over 70,000 schools which also double as polling places in elections. So, a super important and impressive data set.

Screenshot from 2014-04-06 10:48:03

And I have had a lot of questions about it. One of the key parts of our project is to make authoritative data and community data inter-operable. In the process of matching OpenStreetMap schools to Kenya Open Data (KOD) schools, I found something puzzling. The locations in KOD of schools in the Kibera slum were off by hundreds of meters from the OSM data, and not in a consistent way that would suggest a projection issue or such. We have reason to trust the OSM data, as it was collected directly by GPS and confirmed with the community (and, it’s one of the powers of OpenStreetMap that our data story is completely out in the open). Other studies of the KOD data set had also found issues; like research from the World Bank (Points of Knowledge – Crowdsourcing Solutions to Improve Data Accuracy and Re-use in Kenya), which found a majority of primary schools were mis-located. Yet, this was a stupendous data set to put together, a real challenge, over 70,000 schools, back in 2007. How did they do it, and what can we learn?

Last month, I found myself sitting across from Teddy Ochieng at the Gigiri Java House. Through colleagues at USAID Geocenter, I connected with Teddy, currently a GIS officer at USAID. Teddy was generous with his insights on the state of school GIS data. And he just happened to have been a part of the team that collected the 2007 schools data. A man behind the curtain moment!

The Ministry of Education provided a list of over 70000 schools. They started with 15 teams, ending with 10. Each team had 3 people: a lead data collector, an assistant, and a driver. Most all of the data was collected in 2007, but some areas affected by the 2007-8 post-election were hard to reach, and waited until into 2008. They used ArcGIS and Excel to manage data. GPS used were professional end models from Trimble and Magellan, with our old friends the with Garmin eTrex for backup, and manually read and re-digitized the collected latitude / longitude into the database. Data analysis was undertaken in 2010.

Nairobi and other urban areas were particularly challenging. Especially slums — slums are dense, and its sometimes hard to get a signal. The teams had a lot of data to collect, and were in a hurry. To reach many slum schools, you must walk. It’s hard to access by vehicle, often impossible, and it can be uncomfortable and difficult (or even dangerous) for outsiders to roam. This is just conjecture by me, but in searching for a reason, perhaps sometimes the team did not get out of the vehicles. Manual re-entry can also introduce errors. In any case, it seems some factor conspired to introduce some inaccuracies into the schools, especially within informal settlements.

The objective of the project was to go further, and essentially, to set up the Ministry of Education to manage this data better in the future. There are numerous departments like the Information Management Office, and Planning & Quality Assurance, and systems even within the Ministry of Education which don’t keep consistent and linked databases. One key thing they did was assign every primary and secondary school a unique identifier to help with this. Curiously, only the secondary school identifiers made it into OpenDataKE. Ultimately, the hope was to merge all education databases, including the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) which keeps information on teachers, and Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC). There is even apparently a photo database of each school within the MoE.

I was left with the impression that the challenges in the work Map Kibera has taken on — to link and update school databases in one place — are real ones the Ministry of Education has itself grappled with at a much larger scale. And, I  appreciate much more the impressive challenge of collecting such data for an entire country. This data story reveals an opportunity … if we can find a way for our Open approach to grow, perhaps to county level, then there’s a real repeatable method for keeping school data linked, accurate and up to date. We can take advantage of new networked data collection methods, distributing the cost of data collection to manageable places and to schools themselves.

Working Strong with the Team in Kibera

by: July 16th, 2014 comments: 2

The two weeks I spent in Kenya in June were probably the most productive and open to possibility since the often referenced 3 weeks of mapping in Kibera back in 2009.

My goal was to lend my weight to the push off of the education mapping project in Kibera. In short, we got our act together to a tight, professional level, and drew into the process people and organizations from all levels. In four parts, the mappers and the media team developed the work plan and logistics for data collection. We organized two groups of community advisors to help guide the project and the website. We informed and gathered support from local government. And I connected with government, NGOs, the tech community, and international development organizations looking at the topics of education & data. And I helped deal with the inevitable daily minor crises that are part of the territory of working in the slums.

The Kibera team for this project is a focused group of 3 mappers, Zack Wambua, Douglas Namale, and Lucy Fondo; and 3 media guys, Joshua Ogure, Steve Banner, and Jacob Ouma; as well as Yvonne Tiany scoping feasibility in Mathare. We examined the landscape, estimated the work involved in recollecting approximately 250 schools, and geographically divided up the work into three teams. We hashed out the specifics of two dozen data fields for collection, got feedback from our advisory group, settled on the collection form, and preset labels in the map editor for those data fields. There were timelines, contracts to sign, facilities to arrange (Kibera office and iHub), and we started a weekly coordination call on Fridays. The was all easy with our experienced crew.

We were eager to check that we were on track with parents and school heads. We held two focus groups, one with school leaders (at our frequent host Mchanganyiko) and one with parents. Most of these folks had already been introduced to, and interviewed for, the project by Joshua, so we could quickly get into details with the presentation and hands on demo of the Open Schools website that we are building. GroundTruth and Development Gateway have been working hard on the basic beta website structure, but had lots of questions on real usage. The energy levels cranked up when they got to use the website itself, real excitement. I hovered and wrote pages of user observations. This led into a very productive dialogue about the project as a whole.

For local government officials, we drafted a formal letter informing on the crucial details of the project, and requesting their support. Happily, the reputation of Map Kibera helped us to secure meetings with these busy individuals, they all gave us signed & stamped support, and expressed genuine interest in the outcomes of the work. It’s important that the administrators and representatives are informed and consulted early in the project. Their support helps assure schools that we are managing the information collected responsibly. We sincerely hope the data will be of use to the Honourable Member of Parliament for Kibra, the Assistant County Commissioner, the County Education Director, the District Education Officer, and the Chief of Saran’gombe.

In my “spare” time, I managed to meet with representatives from various NGOs and international organizations. Fascinating chat with USAID about previous schools mapping. Sharad Sapra from Unicef set some lofty goals for our work (think continent sized). It was great to connect with Concern Worldwid, who are already using our data, and have data on informal schools we can use. Had a whirlwind discussion with Innovations for Poverty Action about half a dozen points of connection. Interesting to check out the operation and insights of Bridge Schools. Promising discussion of mapping with Peace Corps Kenya. Open Institute was generous as ever with their efforts, especially looking at the role of devolution. Had a last minute dinner with Ashoka education innovators. And on top of these, great catching up with friends and exploring everything with Erik Hersman, Matt Berg, Sasha Kinney, and Mark de Blois.

We have lots more to expand on with all these threads. Thanks to everyone for a fulfilling and promising trip. I came away convinced that our approach is needed and our focus on education is timely, and that this project will be of service to improve understanding of education in Kenya.