Jamie Lundine
Primož Kovacic
Lisa Poggiali
Publication Date
December 1, 2012

Spatial Collective, Ltd. (Lundine, Kovacic), Stanford University (Poggiali)

"There is growing interest in the integration of new technology and community development, particularly on the value that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can add to community voices in setting development agendas. In the digital age, youth are emerging as leaders in capturing, packaging, and sharing information about their communities."

This field report documents experiences of working with youth to map their community in the informal settlement of Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya, in order to describe the connection between in-depth field work with youth, new technology, and community development. The initiative - referred to locally as Map Mathare - offers insights into how youth from urban informal settlements can utilise GIS technology to further their own development agendas and how these youth can be engaged to work with community leaders and development practitioners to create information to inform community development efforts.

The report gives background and history of participatory digital mapping projects in Nairobi, in particular, Map Kibera, a youth mapping project between 2009 and 2010 that evolved into a longer term initiative. Organisations in Mathare approached the Map Kibera Trust to apply their methodology to the Mathare context. This included presenting the work from Kibera to youth groups and organisations based in Mathare. Funding and support came from Plan International Kenya, Map Kibera Trust, and Community Cleaning Services (CCS), a local partner in Mathare.

Youth created the first open data map of Mathare through transfer of peer-to-peer skills and knowledge, including training mappers in interpersonal skills, such as project management and facilitation, in addition to technical skills, in order to increase employment opportunities and maximise the effectiveness of the project.

Lesson learned, in summary, include the following:

  • Engaging a locally based coordinator is key to mobilising participants and community leaders and ensuring local ownership.
  • "Continuous engagement of partners, community leaders, and government representatives through forums and meetings raises awareness and gives credibility to the program within the community and among stakeholders."
  • "Decision making regarding the type of data to collect and use must come from the community, stakeholders and participants through forums and community meetings."
  • "Rotating venues enables the participants to bring the program into their communities and puts them in the forefront of interacting with their community."
  • "When selecting participants, the process of self selection is preferred but is more challenging logistically (time, communication, funds)."
  • "Data collection can be led by the youth participants with the help of stakeholders and other community members."
  • "Establish roles for non-technical mappers - community leaders and elders who guide mappers around areas with which they are less familiar."
  • "Collecting information is not enough; participants need to become advocates of information."
  • Maintain an "open door" policy for participants from the original mapping site to map different villages.
  • Provide the maps and information on and offline, including paper maps, available at several resource centres and supplied to key stakeholders, including local government officials.
  • "Although the programs started on a volunteer basis, over the long term this is not sustainable for the participants nor the program itself."
  • "Using new media in communities requires a flexible approach. Some technologies may be embraced while others are not, which requires the coordinating team to improvise and respond to community needs."

Recommendations include:

  • Policy advocacy capacity building to integrate the community-generated data into official government systems.
  • Tackling language issues through a designated team translator - "…budgeting for language training of the management team is advisable. A greater emphasis also needs to be placed on developing soft skills, such as public speaking, training and management skills."
  • Evaluating throughout the project. "Repeat evaluations should be conducted in order to ensure that mappers have an opportunity to improve their skills, and thus be eligible for future work. This would help to change the understanding of the way in which money is distributed by NGOs in the informal settlements; rather than being equated solely with the time spent performing an activity, income can be reconceptualized as being equivalent to a skill set. Changing this mindset is just as important as imparting useful skill sets in helping residents of informal settlements gain economic opportunities."


[Editor's note: For a full PDF format document of this article, please consult the Children, Youth and Environments Journal website.]

Youth and Digital Mapping

Children, Youth and Environments website, Vol. 22, No. 2 (2012), ISSN 1546-2250, accessed on December 20 2012.