SDI Rituals: Profiling & Enumeration through the Vusi Ntsuntsha Project


A piece written by Camila Yanzaguano, Erica Levenson, Manuela Chedjou, with photography by Ana Holschuch. 

Every year SDI hosts students from The New School, as part of their International Field Program. During the internship the students, alongside the SA SDI Alliance and Know Your City youth from the Western Cape, documented the data collection process and community organising of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project. 

Bridging the gap in data surrounding informal settlements is one of the main priorities of SDI. As the profiling process has developed SDI has relied more and more on the community participation of residents of informal settlements. The lack of data on informal settlements is a major issue, and speaks to a larger oversight of informal settlement residents. For this reason, community participation in the data collection process is crucial. Through SDI’s ‘Know Your City’ Campaign (KYC), this profiling and enumeration work is active across 32 different countries, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, serving as an engine for active community participation. The initiative’s main goal is to produce valuable data on informal settlements so that the data can be used to determine what and where service improvements are needed.

Settlement profiling and enumeration is a process driven by the community for the community. The process helps to organize communities and define the most pressing problems in their settlement, as well as provide a space for communities to discuss priorities while encouraging cross-learning. Through social interaction, residents of informal settlements learn from each other and give helpful suggestions regarding the implementation of development projects.

Informal settlements are typically built by the residents themselves, and the conditions of the construction are not always under local or national codes and regulations. In South Africa in particular, there has been a steady increase in the number and population of informal settlements in the last two decades. The lack of information and data on these settlements has made authorities’ attempts at improvements extremely prolonged. Thus, the KYC initiative aims to expedite slum upgrading projects by compiling crucial data, all the while engaging communities in the process.


photograph taken by Ana Holschuch at Vusi Ntsuntsha meeting.

Enumeration, settlement profiling, and mapping are some of the processes that KYC is involved with and led by slum dwellers. Gathered data has facilitated sanitation improvements as well as the construction of transportation infrastructure, such as the paving of roads within several informal settlements across the SDI affiliated countries. As a result, residents of informal settlements have received improvements in roads, potable water, and sanitation- improvements that they have needed for some time. In some cases, communities have been able to get access to health services, construction of community centers, and schools.  

Enumeration is a community-driven process that has been used by the SA SDI Alliance for years. Enumeration is essential to profiling residents of townships: how many residents per household, what resources they have and do not have, and so on. The data gained by enumeration is then presented to governments and used in requests for resource provisions. In other words, by having an exact number of people residing in each area, it becomes simpler and quicker for the government to budget, plan, and implement upgrading projects at the sites. 

The South African (SA) SDI Alliance has been working in informal settlements for years and has come together with communities to develop the Vusi Ntsuntsha project through community participation. The Vusi Ntsuntsha project was stalled for twenty years, but with leadership commitment and contributions from members of the Vusi Ntsuntsha community, the project was recently re-established. The ultimate goal of the project is to build affordable, proper housing for community members using subsidies from the South African government. With the help of community leaders and the Alliance, the Vusi Ntsuntsha project is making impressive progress. 


photograph taken by Ana Holschuch around profiling and enumeration of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project.

Community members have to be ‘visible’ to the government in order for any project to be planned. Profiling and enumeration create an undeniable visibility of residents and their needs. Through enumeration many important questions are answered: how long respective people have lived in their respective settlements and how they make a living. The data collected is ultimately used to ensure that all residents’ needs are accounted for in planning and service delivery. The data collection work of communities has gained organizations such as SDI and the SA SDI Alliance worldwide recognition. By collecting necessary information, the Western Cape Provincial Government was able to screen all Vusi Ntsuntsha beneficiaries and to provide a response about members who qualify for grants, and set new options for those households who do not qualify. Today, at least half of the 800 beneficiaries have been enumerated and verified, becoming formal members of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project. 

Vusi Ntsuntsha’s process of profiling and enumeration has been crucial to the projects movement and success. Community members not only created valuable data but also gained knowledge during the process. Today, new projects, such as Mossel Bay, are starting with the support of the SA SDI Alliance. Vusi Ntsuntsha leaders and members are exchanging their knowledge on enumeration with Mossel Bay members. Community participation emerges as a key way to give power to the people within informal settlements. Communities are becoming more visible,  capitalizing on their rights as citizens. 


Stories from the ground: Know Your City settlement profiling in SDI’s Asian Hub

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In July 2017 during the Asia Hub meeting, members made a renewed commitment to explore links between SDI and a longstanding partner organization in the urban space, the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), through the Know Your City campaign. They developed a plan to initiate, implement, and activate the settlement profiling process in 25 cities in 6 countries across Asia.

The five country teams who were present at SDI’s Asian Hub meeting were selected for the first phase of the citywide community-led profiling project. All five teams have a history of building urban poor networks in their local contexts. The support NGOs in each of these countries actively assist the urban poor networks with community savings, community mapping, initiating community-managed development funds, and exploring solutions to problems of land and housing through initiatives in community and housing development.

As of April 2018, great strides have been made.

  • 23 settlement profiles and GPS boundary maps completed in in Davao, Philippines
  • 7 settlement profiles and GPS boundary maps completed in Jhenaidah, Bangladesh
  • 9 settlement profiles and GPS boundary maps completed in Jogjakarta, Indonesia
  • 51 settlement profiles and GPS boundary maps completed in Yangon, Myanmar
  • 26 settlement profiles and GPD boundary maps are underway in Battambang, Cambodia

The present strategy for citywide profiling builds on the community surveying and mapping processes which community networks in Asian countries have been practicing for decades. The idea of this profiling initiative is to help urban poor communities in these countries to collect settlement and citywide information in a more systematic way and to strengthen the capacity of their networks to engage with local authorities on issues of land, housing, and access to basic services.

The mapping and profiling tools systemize the process and produce baseline information for each city. The profiling process also helps identify new community members and new leaders and encourages community members to look beyond their own settlement to understand that the problems they face are structural problems of the whole city and to think strategically and collectively for solutions that will work at city scale.

The process of citywide network-building through savings, surveying, and mapping builds trust, voice, and identity for urban poor networks. The information they collect about their settlements helps them craft alternative solutions that address the problems of individual communities while simultaneously developing a framework for addressing the problems of land and housing for poor settlements for the city as a whole.

The focus of this particular initiative is on strengthening settlement profiling and mapping as tools for urban poor community networks. These tools only have meaning and gain momentum when they are part of the network’s larger mobilising strategy. If this process is to be led by communities from the start to finish it has the capacity to build the confidence and capacity of local communities to engage with their local authority around alternative solutions that are based on real information – knowledge that most city planners do not have access to. Thus, the emphasis of this first phase of the profiling process is on training and learning to strengthen the building blocks of citywide profiling.

Training workshops were conducted in all five cities. An important part of these training workshops was making sure that the local groups understood the big picture along with the details and could understand the value of this new learning within their ongoing work.

The two main activities in this phase include:

  1. Learning to build tools for a citywide information collection strategy
  2. Learning to prepare a GIS map and fill out a settlement profile questionnaire for a few settlements

The settlement profiling training lasted three to four days in each city. The content of the training was tailored to respond to local needs while overall learning principles remained consistent. An overview of the agenda and activities undertaken is below. The steps for training flowed with the learning needs of each team.

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  • General background: Why settlement profiling? Why citywide? Linking profiling to savings and upgrading. Understanding why we are collecting settlement information and not household information at this stage.
  • What information and preparation is required before profiling and mapping? Coming to a common understanding about the municipal boundaries within the city and prioritizing.
  • Spread and total number of settlements within the different municipal divisions. The idea of this exercise is for the team to understand the whole city and then to break it into smaller parts for easier and more flexible implementation.
  • Deeper understanding of the current relationship between the community and local government.
  • Better understanding of the skills and capacities of the support professionals and the community networks that are currently available.

While many of the groups had experience with community mapping, using the GPS instrument to map their settlements was fairly new to most. All the groups had some experience with hand-drawn community maps showing structures. In the past these maps were transformed into professional maps with the help of the architects and looked more like cadastral maps. The idea of the present GPS mapping is only to collect the data on the boundaries of the settlement and to map the basic services.

Every team discussed and listed the steps for the three phases of the data collection process: before, during, and after the profiling. This framework consolidated what needed to be done from start to finish.

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Learning to use the GPS instrument to map the boundary of the community: One to four settlements were mapped during the training depending on the preparation and readiness of the communities. Finding the GPS coordinates got the attention of the young men and women in the settlements and many of them wanted to learn to use the GPS instrument, which was a big attraction. In Battambang Cambodia, the city officials were very much engaged with the mapping process. However this did not necessarily make the process more beneficial for communities to learn. In Jhenaidah, Bangladesh the mayor was also engaged, gave his blessing, and joined at the beginning and the end of the training. Of the five cities, Battambang and Junaidah were the two cities where local officials were engaged in the process from the start.

Going through the profile questionnaire: The original SDI form was translated into the local language in all five cities. In the beginning, we walked through every question on the form. This took a long time and was sometimes cumbersome, as it was easy to loose the attention of the local team. The other way was to walk through the questionnaire section by section. Either way, briefing the team on the different parts of the questionnaire at the beginning of the process was found to be a useful strategy as it helped the local team to understand the big picture and made the specific sections easier to understand.

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Teams in the field reported back to each other and the learning of the two days were consolidated. There was more clarity on the ‘before’ and ‘during’ steps. If dummy forms were filled out, then these were verified and corrected for errors.

There was some introduction to the data uploading process, but this was not so successful at this stage since the local teams already had a lot of information to process. In cities where there was a fourth day in the training, the support NGO used the time to discuss its own role and consolidate its strategy. Some general steps that evolved by the participants for the 3 phases of profiling are listed below. The specifics of this process changed from group to group.

Preparation before profiling:

  • Decide municipal township / division / settlement
  • Collect the general map if available
  • Collect information of settlement
  • Obtain permission from township administration
  • Set up timeline
  • Schedule meeting to train the local community
  • Learn to work with the GPS device
  • Prepare questionnaire and stationery
  • Young professionals, network leaders, and local community leaders form teams for the field activity: one team to work with the GPS device, one to record the data, one to take photos, one to mark pathways and landmarks, and one team to administer the survey form.

During profiling:

  • Plan for a meeting place
  • Prepare for GPS / local government / draft map
  • Set up time for mapping and profiling
  • Gather information
  • Edit information
  • Glimpse of first rough analysis
  • Upload informaton onto platform

After profiling:

Data team and technical team work together on the following:

  • Preparation of the profiling report
  • Planning next steps with citywide network and with the community
  • Plan for alternative proposals for upgrading / housing

Click here more information and photos from the team in Bangladesh. 

Know Your City Concluding Thoughts: Democratizing Data & Making the Invisible Visible

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By Jockin Arputham, Joel Bolnick, Somsook Boonyabancha, and Sheela Patel


When the police van went up

We went down

When it came down

We went up.

When the police stood

We also stood

When they sat down

We also sat down

When the committee went to negotiate

We went to invade

When they evicted us

We resisted the eviction

Patrick Magebhula

“This Is Not a Debate”


The late Patrick Magebhula was the founder, charismatic poet, and president of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor. In many ways Patrick understood, better than most, how organizations of the urban poor could use their capacities to produce disruptive change. Critically, Patrick understood that resistance and conflict were but part of an arsenal of actions that organized communities could use in their struggle for inclusion in city development. These confrontational strategies were never intended to be ends in themselves. They were a means to creating conditions for engagement with other stakeholders, normally the state: entities that otherwise considered the poor either as obstacles to development or beneficiaries of the interventions of others. What is more, these strategies made little contribution to the all-important question mentioned earlier in this report: When evictions are prevented, what happens next?

Patrick coined many of the slogans of the South African Federation, which over time got replicated in other countries. One such slogan was a pointed rephrasing of one of the rallying cries of the South African liberation struggle. “Amandla Ngawethu”— Power to the People—was a chant that stirred the excluded black majority to action and struck fear in the hearts of the apartheid police. “Amandla Ulwazi”— Knowledge Is Power—was Patrick’s reconstruction.

Know Your City underscores this message, the inference being that if knowledge is power, then data is political. The value of data serves many purposes that can be described as political. It legitimates representation of the urban poor. It removes the mantle of invisibility that impedes the urban poor in their efforts to contribute to the transformation of their cities. Most important, it gives voice and choice to a significantly substantial majority that live in the shadows of the formal city.

Many individuals, organizations, and institutions worry that shedding light on that which is hidden will produce more evictions, more divisions, and more oppression. SDI disagrees. Democratizing data and making the invisible visible is critical for making development investments work. Not only should the poor collect data that affects them and the city, but they have the right to interpret it as well, within a clearly articulated framework and within accepted standards. What gets aggregated and disaggregated and who creates the framework for how data is used and how it is owned is deeply political. The obsession with big data and the new science of algorithms is a case in point. Seldom has this big data been used to produce goods and services and resource allocations that serve the poor. Data about the poor—about their land insecurity and the huge deficit in amenities that they experience—is rarely the basis for understanding what cities need.

When community data links grassroots organizations, city governments, and private sector actors, it becomes easier to develop plans with a joint focus on delivery to ensure that all are included. Assigning different roles and responsibilities becomes simpler—as does ongoing monitoring.

SDI believes that each neighborhood must understand how their data helps them make choices and open avenues to seek useful discussions to improve their lives. What is more, SDI’s emphasis on women’s participation and increasingly on promoting the role of youth produces instruments for data collection, collation, aggregation, and application that are likely to produce outcomes that are sensitive to the needs of all residents, not just those determined by a few male leaders and politicians.

Patrick Magebhula called SDI’s data collection process “the community’s magic box.” The time is at hand to open it and spread its magic to all cities in the world.

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. This is the last chapter from the book. Scroll back in our blog posts to read the rest of this exciting publication. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

Looking Ahead — Opportunities for Fundamental Change

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By Joel Bolnick, Robert M. Buckley, Sarah Colenbrander, Achilles Kallergis, Nancy MacPherson, Diana Mitlin, and David Satterthwaite

SDI has been inspired by the vision of socially and economically integrated slum settlements with security of tenure, universal access to affordable basic services, and adequate housing. To that end, SDI has demonstrated over many decades that constructive dialogue, collaborative data gathering, and knowledge sharing among informal settlements, communities, and local government authorities can contribute significantly to inclusive and sustainable urban development. Our societies face mounting global risk, characterized by profound inequality and rising wealth disparities, social instability, disruptive technological advancements, large-scale involuntary migration, and climate change. Many of these challenges are concentrated in cities.

Fundamental changes are needed to:

  • shift the approaches to urban development and informal settlements so that the poor are recognized as assets and partners, not problems;
  • support the essential partnerships required to deliver inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban development;
  • reimagine data and information systems so they support shared knowledge, trust, and collective action;
  • develop innovative instruments and frameworks to monitor and report on poverty that shape more inclusive policies, programs, and investments.

✸ ✸ ✸

The successful realization of KYC in 103 cities and 1,238 settlements demonstrates the power and potential of an expanded KYC campaign. KYC is capable of reorienting the way that urban planning and development happens. It can guide local governments, national and international policies, and programs and investments at scale. As such, it can contribute significantly to managing the persistent social, economic, and political risks facing cities and nations.

A scaled-up KYC campaign presents opportunities for SDI and partners to transform existing urban development practice and policies by catalyzing new thinking and solutions in: monitoring for local action; advancing urban resilience and inclusion; redefining and managing risk; and securing new finance for the urban poor.

Monitoring That Enables Local Action

As noted in Rose Molokoane’s introduction, there is a need to move from talk to action. KYC has much to offer the SDG and city monitoring processes in moving to achieve inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban development.

KYC profiling and enumeration processes provide the detailed information needed to reframe issues from a local perspective and identify practical solutions for informal settlements. The central role of slum dwellers in collecting and processing data ensures a focus on the poor and on operational knowledge for local actors working to implement global commitments.

Universal generalized indicators fail to capture the complex and locally specific conditions of slums. They therefore lead to policies and programs that do not respond to the most pressing needs of the urban poor, and can direct investments away from realistic and affordable improvements. Without accurate information and a deeper understanding of the needs and priorities of informal settlements, slum dwellers remain invisible, and efforts to reduce urban poverty and inequality will fail.

KYC fills a crucial gap in efforts to localize global development monitoring agendas in the following ways:

It generates operational local knowledge. A commitment to disaggregated, local data on the most vulnerable populations is essential to ensure we understand the reality of life for the majority of residents living in cities characterized by informality. It is staggering to see the exclusion of slum households and informal settlements in national censuses, household surveys, and other data that form the basis of poverty measures. Through their design, such surveys miss millions of poor individuals, particularly those residing in informal areas. KYC is designed to measure what matters to the urban poor and cities concerned with inclusive development.

KYC offers systematic, rich, contextual information across low-income neighborhoods in cities of the Global South. The information generated through KYC profiling and mapping is operational. It informs local action by clearly showing what the priorities, capacities, and preferences of slum dweller communities are, and how those preferences vary by local context, city, neighborhood, or  even household. This level of detail is necessary to realize pragmatic improvements, set appropriate standards, and create adequate solutions from the urban poor perspective.

It generates collaborative local action. KYC has tremendous potential to develop a shared understanding of local conditions and build the relationships needed for collective action by slum dwellers and local governments. It demonstrates the critical role that community groups play in framing problems, identifying issues, and addressing priorities. The power of KYC extends well beyond the data it produces and is transformative because it serves as a mechanism for communities to use this rich information to broaden understanding and accountability, both in horizontal relations (within a community) and vertically (among communities, the state, local governments, and the private sector).

Concrete examples of KYC’s potential are found wherever there are active SDI federations. The impact is strongest where KYC is embedded in national urban policy and programming. In the Cites Alliance–funded Country Programs, for example, the role of community profiling and mapping is a core element recognized by government, local partners, and international support agencies. In Uganda, Ghana, and Liberia in particular, SDI federation profiling data set baselines from which program achievements were measured, informed the development of city development strategies and urban policy, and grounded the identification, by communities, of priority slum upgrading projects funded by municipal Community Upgrading Funds.

To “leave no one behind,” we need better tools to measure change in the most vulnerable populations. For those seeking to convert information into action, KYC offers tremendous opportunity for monitoring progress toward global agendas and catalyzing dialogue and action at local, city, and national levels.

Advancing Urban Resilience and Inclusion

Inequality and climate change are two of the defining challenges of the contemporary era. Increasingly, developing cities find themselves at the very heart of these challenges. Over the past decade, the global development community and investors have seen promising results from investments that seek to build the resilient capacity of individuals, communities, and systems, including the most vulnerable. Significant conceptual, technical, and operational advances have been made using a resilience lens to reframe problems, solutions, and investments to respond better to incremental, chronic, and catastrophic shocks and stresses. The KYC campaign has been essential in advancing new ways of analyzing and understanding the role that informal settlements can play in achieving resilient and sustainable cities, reframing problems and solutions, and managing and mitigating risks. As a groundbreaking civic initiative for urban resilience, KYC offers unparalleled insights into the risks facing urban residents, as well as the means to transform relationships within settlements and cities in ways that tackle the driver of vulnerability: exclusion.

While investments in resilient, “smart,” sustainable, green, and livable cities have proliferated, many of these initiatives fail to address persistent poverty, exclusion, and lack of opportunity. Instead they often focus on technological fixes to infrastructure while remaining relatively silent on inclusion and equity.

SDI’s membership includes some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. These people frequently live in parts of the city that are exposed to hazards—for example, in low-lying coastal areas and floodplains, or on steep slopes. Environmental threats are exacerbated by the absence of risk-reducing infrastructure, such as water supply, sanitation, drains, and durable housing. As a result, slum dwellers bear the brunt of major disasters, while living with a range of everyday hazards that middle and high-income households are often able to avoid. By proactively engaging with initiatives designed to achieve resilient and sustainable cities, such as 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), and C40, SDI seeks to bring the urban poor to the center of strategy development and implementation.

As part of the 100RC effort, Durban, South Africa developed a city Resilience Strategy that identifies two critical priority areas for resilience building—one of which is, Collaborative Informal Settlement Action. This priority emerged from a highly participatory strategy development process driven by the city. Implementation of the strategy will be informed and monitored by “consolidated quantitative and qualitative community and municipal-collected data, information and knowledge on all informal settlements [that] is accessible to all and updated regularly.” Other 100RC cities are already looking to Durban for lessons on developing strategies that address informality. SDI federations in Accra, Nairobi, Lagos, Paynesville, and Cape Town are strategizing with their city government partners about how the KYC campaign can add value to the formulation and implementation of their resilience strategies. In partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Inclusive Climate Action Program, SDI seeks to deepen the use of KYC by city mayors to make the case for inclusive climate action.

Redefining and Managing Risk

Much needs to be done to translate our understanding of the linkages between risks, human vulnerability, and poverty into robust risk management and investment strategies. Deepening inequality and poverty, compounded by the catastrophic effects of extreme weather events, violence, migration, and discrimination, have catalyzed new efforts to redress inadequate risk management strategies and instruments.

Over decades, SDI has implemented proven approaches to risk reduction through collective power, data, and savings. These strategies reduce everyday risks for urban poor families and help to secure assets, such as their homes. What is seldom taken into account is how these strategies also reduce the risk that voices of the urban poor will be silenced.

The KYC Campaign brings the power of community data and local Urban Poor Funds together in order to identify and reduce risks for the most vulnerable. This underpins collective efforts to negotiate and deliver community-managed public goods and services (tenure security, water, sanitation, drainage). Investments in these public goods address collectively experienced risks and help to strengthen awareness within the community of the significance of reducing and managing risk.

KYC also provides the basis for building relations that enable organized slum dwellers to challenge adverse political outcomes and reduce the risk of political exclusion. Politicians and officials appreciate the detailed information provided by KYC and recognize the potential of the organizations that produce this data. This makes them more likely to listen to SDI federations. In Namibia, for example, using the relationships enhanced by KYC, the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia successfully argued for inclusive upgrading solutions that now have the support of city and provincial government.

In the face of outmoded risk management instruments and strategies, innovators and early adopters in the urban field are experimenting with advancements in insurance products, credit rating systems, pro-poor safeguards in protocols for city investment, and the acquisition of risk-reducing assets through finance and social networks. SDI is also helping public and private partners to rethink the assumptions and processes that underpin decisions about banking systems, basic services, and municipal finance.

Innovation in New Finance for the Urban Poor

The United Nations estimates that it will cost almost USD $4 trillion a year to achieve the SDGs in developing countries alone, with an annual shortfall of an estimated USD $2.5 trillion. A significant portion of this funding is required for critical infrastructure to reduce urban vulnerability, but the share of public funds for these developments is diminishing. This realization, along with the emergence of impact investing and innovative finance, has spurred SDI to explore the potential for the urban poor of new experimental financing mechanisms including resilience bonds, social impact bonds, diaspora bonds, insurance-based instruments, crowd-funding, peer-to-peer lending, and outcome-based contracting.

Lessons from SDI’s experience in urban poor finance can help to inform and ground the design and innovation of these and other much-needed new financial strategies and instruments in the realities of informal settlements. The Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI) is a self-governed, self-managed, and expanding financial facility that provides capital to national Urban Poor Funds. These in turn provide low-cost loans and grants to savings collectives undertaking important urban improvement and housing projects. It puts capital directly into the hands of slum dwellers undertaking urban improvement schemes that they have negotiated with local and municipal government. Giving federations direct control of capital enables them to negotiate as an acknowledged potential partner with formal bodies such as governments, investors, and banks. These interventions have been anchored by the same local knowledge and partnerships that guide KYC and have thus produced practical interventions for affordable and scalable finance in support of the urban poor.

Climate-Compatible Informal Settlement Investments

In the face of new environmental threats (such as floods and sea level rise) investments must, to the extent possible, be designed in ways that support low-carbon development. There is far too little work done with respect to informal settlement upgrading in the context of climate change. Particularly among city governments and investors, few appreciate the extent to which good-quality upgrading could build resilience to climate risk. Throughout the SDI network, federations are building housing structures that are better able to withstand storms and floods; installing piped water supplies; making provisions for sanitation and drainage; constructing all-weather roads and paths that are resilient to extreme weather; and creating house and neighborhood designs that help populations cope with heat waves and flooding. In partnership with Global Infrastructure Basel (GIB), SDI seeks to increase investment in climate-friendly infrastructure in informal settlements by producing business cases guided by KYC data and SuRe® Standard sustainability and resilience assessments.

Risk is all about protecting the bottom line. In the case of slum upgrading in an increasingly dangerous environment, the bottom line is to change the political and economic climate. The first step is to recognize that risks associated with leaving millions of people behind will be equally shared, not borne only by those who can least afford to carry them. And to appreciate that including the urban poor in development plans will generate economic, social, and environmental benefits for all residents.

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. We are posting a new chapter from the book every week. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

Would We Know Scale If She Walked By? Revolutionary Planning in Mukuru, Nairobi

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By Jack Makau and Jane Weru

Oh, I see her hand reaching out to me
Only she can set me free
Have you seen her
Tell me have you seen her

“Have You Seen Her”
The Chi-Lites, 1971

Muungano wa Wanavijiji is a slum dweller movement that emerged in Nairobi in the 1990s as a response to widespread informal settlement evictions. It federated to the global SDI network in 2001, and in 2003, Muungano built its first slum upgrading houses. These were 34 single-room units, each occupying a footprint of 16 square meters, which matched the size of existing informal structures. Each unit cost an affordable $1,000, and the owners could incrementally build them upward into two-bedroom apartments to increase living space. There was a sense that a milestone had been achieved in the search for affordable and in situ slum upgrading. Yet one question lingered: Have we cracked it—is this the solution for Kenya’s 5 million slum residents? A decade and 10,000 homes later, the questions around achieving scale persist.

On August 11, 2017, the Kenya government’s official journal, the Kenya Gazette, published notice number 7654 declaring an area of 550 acres (the area occupied by Mukuru slums) to be a Special Planning Area (SPA). Issued by the Nairobi City County Government, it announced the county’s intention to “initiate a participatory process to develop a physical development plan.” The Mukuru slums are home to 100,000 households and businesses. Contestation over land ownership, consolidation of informal ways of delivering basic services like water, sanitation, and electricity, as well as entrenched informal systems of education and healthcare, make the planning of Mukuru a much larger and more complex undertaking than has been attempted before by the federation or city.

Notice 7654 begins to answer the dogged question: What does scale look like? The treatment of the Mukuru SPA was significant, as it deviated from the country’s conventional approach to slum upgrading. In most cases, Kenyan slum interventions are driven by international development agencies that then draw in city governments. Such interventions are governed by a Memorandum
of Understanding or by other bilateral agreements. In contrast, the Mukuru SPA is a project of the Nairobi city government. Notice 7654 makes the SPA a statutory obligation of the city. The notice makes no reference to the word “slum” or any of its euphemisms. It also does not mention Muungano or any of the other proponents of the program. The SPA’s key goal is to develop a plan that is incorporated into the city’s own 20-year vision instrument, the City Integrated Development Plan. Muungano is confident this arrangement has the potential to create the critical institutional infrastructure required to achieve inclusive slum upgrading at scale in Nairobi.

Bold New Partnerships

The planning process, which will run up to August 2019, does more than provide a legal basis to a slum upgrade. According to the county, “The approach to the Special Planning Area intervention in Mukuru is conceptually a reconfiguration of the planning process.” A key aspect of the evolved approach is that it goes beyond the planning department of the county government to incorporate all departments of the county, as well as multidisciplinary consortia of non-state actors.

At the end of 2017, 37 organizations had signed up to participate in the development of the plan. One of the generally agreed-upon principles among the participating organizations is that the SPA is strengthened by pooling different types of resources from multiple sources toward a common goal. The participation of these organizations in the planning has been largely self-financed. Muungano is to provide community organization and community- focused financing. It plays a key role in what has been called the Coordination, Community Organization, and Communication consortium. This group, discussed in greater depth below, seeks to ensure that every technical consortium has meaningful engagement with the community and, in turn, that community voices remain at the forefront of the planning process.

The diversity of participating organizations is another piece of the scale puzzle. Civil society and development organizations are well represented. In addition to Muungano was Wanavijiji and its professional support organizations Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT) and SDI Kenya, Caritas Switzerland leads a consortium to develop the water, sanitation, and energy plan, while Stockholm Environment Institute leads the environment consortium.

Academia is also prominently represented, with the Strathmore University Business School leading the finance consortium; the University of Nairobi leading the housing, commerce, and infrastructure consortium; and the University of California, Berkeley, participating in three consortia (housing, environment, and health services).

A distinct difference between Kenya’s previous slum upgrading experience and the Mukuru process is the involvement of private sector firms. Ordinarily, private sector corporate social responsibility schemes make sizable charitable contributions to development efforts such as children’s homes and other charity projects. In Mukuru, the Kenya Medical Association, a health professional body, leads the consortium that will develop the health services plan. The consortium of land and legal issues has the support of New York-based global firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLC and one of Kenya’s top legal firms, Pandya & Poonawala advocates.

Making the Case for Slum Upgrading: Unlocking the Poverty Penalty

Boy, nothin’ in life is free
That’s why I’m askin’ you what can you do for me
I’ve got responsibilities…
So I’m lookin’ for a man whose got money in his hands
‘Cause nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’
You got to have somethin’ if you wanna be with me
Oh, life is too serious, love’s too mysterious
A fly girl like me needs security

“Ain’t Nothing Going On but the Rent”
Gwen Guthrie, 1986

A lot of slum improvement has been supported by philanthropy. Despite evidence that slum improvement has multiple long-term benefits to the city, the business case for these ventures has not yet been made. The idea of more immediate returns on slum investment, the kind that mayors use on the campaign trail, remains elusive. This makes for a less than attractive proposition for city managers, who are often resource-strained. Part of the impetus for Nairobi to commit to Mukuru upgrading was the possibility of
a measurable short-term return on investment.

Research supported by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) between 2013 and 2018 and undertaken by a consortium consisting of Strathmore University, Katiba Institute, the University of Nairobi, the University of California, Berkeley, and Muungano established that there is a penalty exerted on the residents of Mukuru. The city’s poorest pay far more for lower-quality water, sanitation, and electricity than households in the city’s formal neighborhoods.

Households in Mukuru pay 45 percent to 142 percent more than the formal electricity tariff when connected to informal connections. The penalty on water provision is especially high, as residents can only access small amounts of very low-quality water, at a cost that is 172 percent more per cubic meter than the water utility tariff. The only toilet option for 30 percent or more of Mukuru’s population is a pay-per-use facility outside their homes.

Based on a conservative basket of services (electricity, water, toilet access, and rent), Mukuru’s annual economy is estimated at USD $70 million, much
of which ends up in the hands of informal service providers. The methods used to connect “informally” often result in significant spillage of service cost. So while the poverty penalty presents a challenge, it also demonstrates the latent capacity of communities to afford services, invest in their communities, and perhaps make contributions to housing improvement.

Where Is the Community?

I was born by the river
In a little tent
And just like the river I’ve been running
Ever since
It’s been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.

“A Change Is Gonna Come”
Sam Cooke, 1964

Perhaps one of the bigger challenges in achieving scale is how to ensure that the people whose homes and settlements will be most affected continue to be central to decision making as the process becomes increasingly technical and complex. Can the quality of the community’s involvement remain high as the program expands to the city-scale? And what does that look like?

The SPA has developed seven thematic and technical consortia. These consortia attract and engage the services of professionals and specialists from organizations with core competencies in project management, financing, planning, and architecture—specialty skills needed for the scale of SPA planning and implementation.

Muungano plays a lead role in an eighth consortium, known as the Coordination, Community Organization, and Communication Consortium. This reflects Muungano’s core mandate for community organizing and pro-poor finance. It also recognizes Muungano’s ability to draw upon the SDI network for support. This serves the dual benefit of bringing SDI expertise to the project and sharing vital lessons from Mukuru throughout the SDI network.

A core consideration for Muungano in this process is how to apply SDI’s distinctive approach to community organizing, sometimes referred to by federations as “SDI rituals.” What are these rituals and associated tools, and how have they manifested in Kenya?

  •  First, Muungano invests in establishing women-led community savings groups to drive community organizing, learning and gendered approaches to upgrading.
  • Second, SDI’s Know Your City campaign, which seeks to create city-wide slum profiles, has been Muungano’s key tool for framing the slum transformation agenda in Kenyan cities.
  • Third, household level slum enumerations, carried out by the savings groups, have been the basis of consensus-building within slums and have provided vital data to design interventions.
  • Fourth, Muungano’s project financing models have been based on community savings groups that have leveraged resources, often city or state resources, sometimes at ratios as high as 1:50 (converting community savings to development finance).

Muungano’s experience shows how the enigmatic pull of scale affects the rituals that have proven to be so effective for SDI over the years. It is exploring ways for these to evolve and accommodate the city government and sensitivities of a broader range of partners. Take, for example, the strategy of women-led community savings groups, very much the holy grail of SDI. In Kenya, this ritual has been adapted over the years to suit local context. Muungano is working to grow the number of savings groups in Mukuru from 53 in 2016 to 330 by the end of the SPA planning process in 2019.

The savings groups will act as catalysts for the establishment of theNeighborhood Associations, which the 2012 Constitution and various County Planning Acts have authorized to support public participation and civic engagement. Muungano’s intention is for these women- led savings collectives to imbue the Neighborhood Associations with qualities of horizontal accountability, peer-to-peer support, gendered development strategies, and the vivacious energy that characterizes federations in the SDI network. The savings schemes will also play the dedicated and critically important role of building the financial capacity of individual households to participate in the implementation of the Mukuru plan. The Neighborhood Associations, dubbed Leave No One Behind, will organize each community into household units of ten families. This is intended to ensure complete representation in the SPA planning process of all residents. In this regard, Muungano has effectively applied SDI rituals—designed to be flexible—to the demands of scale and the context in which they operate.

The New Narrative of Interconnectedness

The exploration of achieving scale has led not only to the evolution of Muungano’s practice but to the creation of a whole new narrative among city stakeholders. Essentially, the narrative has shifted from one in which slum improvement is a matter for slum dwellers alone. Instead, it is a challenge for the whole city and one that requires the city, in the broadest sense of the word, to unpack and resolve barriers to inclusive development. Perhaps nothing demonstrates the interconnectedness of the formal and informal city and the rich and poor more starkly than the real-life example of Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance contracting cholera in 2017 at the very same time that reports emerged of an outbreak of the disease in the slums of Mukuru and Kibera. The SPA represents a multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral approach to what were previously regarded as challenges exclusive to the slums and those who had to live in them.

The approach is significant because it produces new ways of understanding these challenges and a new set of innovations toward resolving them. Social, political, and economic resources are vested in different sectors—state, civil society, the private sector, and the community—and each should use its reach and influence, individually and collectively, in order to resolve challenges of the city as a whole, not just the challenges of its growing number of citizens who are locked spatially into areas known as slums.

The SPA has used research, including community collected and analyzed data, to begin to frame the problem of slums in a new way: a way that says, “together we can.” Together we can mobilize resources and start to blend these resources for greater impact. Together we can take advantage of the political opportunities that exist, such as the new Constitution, the creation of counties, and the willingness of the counties to address the problems of marginalized and excluded groups. Together we can create a city for all.

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. We are posting a new chapter from the book every week. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

The Cities We Create Depend on the Choices We Make: Lagos


By Megan Chapman and Andrew Maki

The year 2017 witnessed two very different approaches to urban informal settlements in one city—Lagos, Nigeria. The largest city in Africa, Lagos epitomize the tension between tremendous economic potential and the overwhelming urban planning challenges posed by massive growth and rapid urbanization.

Within the space of a few months, one agency of the Lagos State Government carried out a massive forced eviction of over 30,000 residents of the Otodo Gbame community, an ancestral fishing settlement on the shores of the Lagos Lagoon. The eviction destroyed many hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of property, rendered tens of thousands homeless, and resulted in at least 11 deaths from drowning and gunshots. Evicted residents were literally chased off valuable urban real estate in the upscale Lekki area of Lagos and into wooden fishing boats in the lagoon. They fled by the thousands to no fewer than 16 other informal settlements on the waterfront, where most are still homeless and living in deep poverty. The seized land is meanwhile being rapidly developed into yet another luxury real estate venture, which will likely sit half vacant while the city’s enormous affordable housing deficit grows wider and informal settlements multiply to fill the gap.

During the same year, another agency of the Lagos State Government was—for the first time in the city’s history—opening up dialogue with residents of dozens of informal urban settlements organized under the auspices of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, with a view toward partnership in gathering community-led data and planning toward holistic in situ community upgrading. A peer-to-peer exchange for Nigerian slum community and government representatives to Nairobi, hosted by their Kenyan slum federation and government counterparts, provided an opportunity to see viable eviction alternatives forged by communitygovernment partnership. As a result, the Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA) and the SDI-affiliated slum dweller federation started the process of building the mutual understanding and trust that are essential to reversing a history of violent evictions and demonstrating alternatives for inclusively transforming the city.

These starkly different strategies for urban development and the choices they represent reveal the potential for Lagos to be a city of large-scale tragedy or large-scale opportunity.

The Cost of Eviction

The human and development costs of evictions are enormous. For evicted households, the results include homelessness; loss of livelihood; negative health consequences, even death; separation of family and loss of social support systems; interruption of education; and overall worsened living conditions.

These consequences are not limited to the immediate term but have lasting effects on urban poor households. Research conducted among victims of the February 2013 forced eviction in Badia East—another Lagos informal settlement—showed that 2.5 years after the forced evictions, over a third were still homeless, and over 80 percent were living in shelters worse than the homes they inhabited prior to the demolition. More than half were separated from family, and a third of children had been unable to resume schooling. Virtually all described their incomes and access to work as worse or much worse.Similar findings are reported on the long-term impact of the forced evictions of the Njemanze and Abonnema Wharf communities in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Nothing leaves people behind as evictions do. Forced evictions are a betrayal of the SDGs we signed up for. A large-scale eviction affecting tens of thousands of urban poor residents undermines progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on poverty, health, education, access to basic services, and sustainable urban development.

Government officials routinely try to justify large scale forced eviction on the grounds that such displacement will improve city security, sanitation, and the environment and will enable implementation of a master plan. But evicted communities do not disappear from the city; rather, the population forcibly displaced from one location simply moves to or creates a new informal settlement and does so with far fewer assets. Far from creating a more secure city, such mass displacement leaves affected populations desperate and erodes trust in government and law enforcement. In short, the city’s resilience is massively reduced.

Win-Win Alternatives: Learning from Other Federations

As the Nigeria federation and its partners seek and develop win-win eviction alternatives, they do so in solidarity with their peers from the SDI network. In cities across the globe, the experience of mass forced eviction and the manifold negative consequences of such evictions gave rise to these slum dweller movements. Organized communities have leveraged grassroots knowledge and the capacity to change urban policy and practice while developing strategies to protect and improve settlements. Over decades, in response to and in dialogue with these movements, city governments have found ways of working with the urban poor to craft win-win alternatives to eviction with improved outcomes for communities and the city as a whole.

Looking across countries, workable alternatives to eviction can be driven by innovations in policy, practice, and finance. Policy-driven alternatives are those that grow out of policy innovations that unlock investment in in situ slum upgrading. In some countries this has been achieved through innovations in land titling to enable the urban poor to secure tenure and, consequently, invest more in their housing and community infrastructure. Other policy innovations target the private sector, incentivizing investment in housing and infrastructure for the urban poor. For instance, in India, policymakers, in consultation with the SDI-affiliated slum dweller movement, designed a Transferred Development Rights (TDR) scheme by which developers could obtain the right to build high-end housing with augmented density in exchange for building free housing for the urban poor.

Innovations in practice involve partnership between governments and organized communities to directly upgrade or resettle informal settlements, at times with participation by global development partners. Examples include the large-scale railway resettlement programs in India and Kenya, in which SDI-affiliated slum dweller federations led enumerations of people living within railway line setbacks and then worked with the government to plan, organize, and implement resettlement programs. In India, strong partnership and highly organized communities enabled the resettlement of 60,000 in just one year. In Kenya, nearly 10,000 have already been resettled in situ and the program is ongoing. Housing units were constructed on the same land after clearing the 20 meters closest to the rail line through consolidation of households into three-story housing in the remaining 10 meters.

Even where third-party financing may not be available for rapid and large-scale resettlement, organized communities working in partnership with government may still plan for and implement community-led upgrading. An example is in Kambi Moto community in Nairobi, where the SDI-affiliated savings groups in the community negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the government. The government agreed to transfer land title to the community in exchange for a land readjustment and upgrading plan whereby residents used their savings and SDI-supported soft loans to build improved housing, going vertical to make more efficient use of the land and making available a plot for a government building. The layout and process are continuously being improved and have been replicated in other Nairobi slums.

Innovations in finance, as well as in policy and practice, are essential to unlock slum dwellers’ capacity to invest in the upgrading of their own communities. To this end, SDI-affiliated slum dweller movements across the world have been working with city governments to establish and grow Urban Poor Funds. Such funds pool capital from their members and third-party sources to finance investments in land, housing, and related projects. An example is the community-managed uTshani Fund, established in 1995 by the South African SDI affiliate with an initial USD 2.7 million pledge from the Minister of Housing. The uTshani Fund uses donated capital to pre-finance innovative community-based housing design and delivery through bridge loans, which revolve back into supporting new projects. To date, the fund has used its initial grant capital to secure land and build over 13,000 houses.

Trust and Partnership: A Foundation for New Solutions

In each of the successful examples of alternatives to eviction given above, a key to crafting workable innovations in policy, practice, and finance is strong partnership between organized communities and government. Against a history of evictions, it may take time to build trust and mutual understanding to enable such partnership, but the sustainable outcomes—upgrading slums and delivering affordable housing for the urban poor without recourse to evictions—are better for communities and for the city. This is the process that LASURA and the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation have embarked on, following in the footsteps of other SDI-affiliated movements and their government partners around the globe.

The Lagos chapter of the federation comprises hundreds of savings groups in over 80 settlements across the megacity; of these, the federation has identified three settlements with the strongest savings groups and highest level of contributions to the Nigerian Urban Poor Fund as priorities for upgrading in partnership with LASURA. During the initial phase, the federation has led household-level enumerations in two of the priority communities, with LASURA’s research department joining the fieldwork so that they can understand the process and help validate the data, which will be essential for planning. The federation has also convened a series of large town hall meetings in which community members engage directly with LASURA around upgrading priorities and data-based planning.

While building the foundation for partnership, dialogue is beginning on how best to drive eviction alternatives on a megacity scale: Should this start incrementally? Should it involve a development partner? Are policy changes needed to unlock investment? What is the role of private developers? How can communities remain in the driver’s seat if private developers are involved? What is the best way to overcome the legacy of evictions and avoid the pitfalls of the past?

One thing is for certain: as this partnership takes shape, it will not only make history in Lagos, but it has the potential to tap into the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerian slum dwellers to develop new approaches to eviction alternatives. It will simultaneously pose and answer the most pertinent question of all: What happens once an eviction has been prevented?

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. We are posting a new chapter from the book every week. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

Producing and Aggregating Local Knowledge


By Luis M.A. Bettencourt, Anni Beukes, and José Lobo

The power of the SDI network is predicated on the strength of collective action. The power of knowledge is predicated on its scope, quality, and credibility. At the close of 2017, SDI-affiliated slum dweller organizations had profiled 103 cities covering 1,238 settlements.

Settlement profiling is a process driven by the community for the community. It was designed by slum dweller communities to organize and empower themselves through knowledge. The process of profiling their settlement together fosters social cohesion, contributes to constructive conflict resolution and consensus building, and lays the foundation of a social infrastructure that supports long-term planning and implementation of development projects.

Over the past decade, SDI has recognized the power of aggregating local data. While the aggregated data conventionally used for city planning uses samples and averages of data from formal and informal areas, KYC takes detailed information on informal settlements and aggregates this to generate a unique global database on informal settlements.

After the initial success of data aggregation at city, metro, and country levels—the Nairobi Slum Profiles in Kenya, the Ekurhuleni Profiles in South Africa, and the Community Land Information Program (CLIP) in Namibia—SDI federations set out on an ambitious path to map all of the cities in which they had a presence, settlement by settlement. By aggregating their settlement profiles at the city level, federations could: 1) demonstrate their capacity to collect data at scale; and 2) harness the power of aggregated data to negotiate at settlement and city level with their local government. This would contribute to better and more effective planning with their local governments and better serve an international agenda for inclusive cities.

A central objective of profiling is that members of the community discuss and identify their most pressing problems, agree on priorities, listen to one another (women may experience different problems than men; the young may see things differently than the old), and harmonize the many voices that are heard. By means of a general survey, a settlement profile collects the baseline data of a settlement, including information related to demographics, shelter, access to basic services, and community development priorities. This is often followed by a household enumeration, during which a door-to-door, household-by-household census is conducted.

KYC is a scalable data system and a common platform that will improve over time through the contributions of many different communities, stakeholders, and partner organizations. It will drive the accumulation of knowledge, which in turn will inform policy solutions and action at local, city, national, and international levels.

Data Quality, Completeness, and Verifiability

Efforts to improve the collection of data about informal settlements initially focused on issues of data quality, completeness, and verifiability. The intention was, and remains, to use data to document and tell powerful stories about communities’ needs and aspirations, stories that can guide policymaking at local, city, national, and international levels. “Hard Data and Rich Stories” is the way SDI describes it.

Changes and innovations to the KYC data system follow a careful path of evolution. To avoid community processes being tool-driven, technology is used carefully as an enhancer and facilitator of human practices that were slow, burdensome, and prone to error or omission. Throughout these processes, technology (cell phones, portable GPS devices, aerial and remote photography, and mapping) is introduced incrementally to complement and facilitate the community process.

As the KYC data system moved through cycles of development and testing, valuable lessons emerged about managing and mediating the inevitable clash of perspectives among diverse stakeholders hoping to use community data. The values that underpin KYC are the core of its effective and transformative potential:

  • By and for the community: Informal settlement profiles must be conducted in the interest of local communities, and must be carried out by the community for the community. Only then can local knowledge capture people’s priorities.
  • Accurate, comprehensive, and verifiable: Data collected must be accurate, comprehensive, and verifiable by third parties.
  • Comparable: Data collections must document comparable human-centric problems across settlements so that analysis and assessments at the city, national, regional, and international levels become possible. Currently, data collections document the size (population, area, dwellings) and location of a settlement, its leadership structure, residents’ land tenure status, and the community’s priorities, as well as creating a detailed record of available physical, economic, and social services, with attention paid to access (public, private) and cost (money and time).
  • Accessible, transparent: Data and information about each local community is archived in a shared online platform, accessible in principle to any stakeholder. Data collection was designed in such a way as to allow transparent peer-to-peer comparison between data collections in different settlements. One goal was to facilitate data quality improvements and augmentations from any place of origin to the entire network. The Know Your City website is the visible face of the KYC data platform.

✸ ✸ ✸

KYC is continuously growing in scope and quality, while at the same time maintaining a staunch commitment to keep mapping and urban planning tools in the hands of community members. Profile questionnaires have been standardized and rigorously tested on multiple platforms; geo-referencing is mandatory; means of verification are embedded in the data collection tools and community protocols; standard questionnaires can be modified to accommodate different contexts, shocks, and stresses such as natural disasters, flooding, typhoons, and earthquakes; and slum dwellers, especially women and youth, are vigorously trained through “learning-by-doing” approaches in the art of digital data collection and management.

Looking Ahead

As quality assurance improvements are standardized, higher-level uses of the data have come into focus. Community data collection needs to be explicitly future-oriented, and it must enable rapid design of solutions to problems that recur almost everywhere. Specifically, we see three main areas for future expansion and improvement in the scope and power of these data collections:

An evolving toolkit for space-time mapping: Thanks to the democratization of mapping tools, documenting issues and analyzing data in rich and verifiable ways is now much easier than even just a few years ago. These tools are being deployed at a variety of scales in the profiling, enumeration, and mapping of neighborhoods as part of KYC. SDI and its partners have digitized maps showing every house, every street and public space, and every service point (and its condition). The maps are layered with socioeconomic and demographic data, stories and micro-narratives from community members, and visual media produced by slum dweller youth as part of KYC TV. The advent of new automatic tools from remote and aerial imagery—for example, the use of aerial drones and other new information technologies, especially as developed by for-profit companies—requires creative thinking to ensure these serve civic purposes.

Solving coordination problems in urban planning: Any lasting solution for the condition of informal settlements requires the coordination of information and action among stakeholders. This may be as simple as a systematic improvement in services, including joint status monitoring by communities and city agencies; or it may include systematic neighborhood upgrading, which requires building streets and infrastructure and upgrading or moving houses and other existing structures. These solutions are all predicated on solving a complex “coordination problem.” The interests of different individuals, communities, and organizations need to be explicitly identified, articulated, and aligned in any proposed solution or policy. More detailed spatial profiling can place these stakeholders literally “on the same map.” Such profiling in turn can be manipulated to display upgrading solutions such as changes in the built environment and the functioning of services. Using settlement profiles to solve multi-stakeholder coordination problems will generate better urban planning solutions, create trust among participants, and contribute to the development of improving civic institutions.

Real-time reporting for participatory citizenship: Community data collection is not merely a source of input into policy-making and neighborhood upgrading. Since SDI’s founding, data gathering has been part of the struggle to gain recognition, exercise participatory citizenship, and improve the lives of slum dwellers. Communities of the urban poor everywhere are demanding engagement. This requires governments, NGOs, and international organizations to collaborate with increasingly empowered and informed communities in jointly devising solutions. The technology now exists to make data collection and the sharing and discussion of citizen input fast and reliable—from 311 and 911 help lines in many developed cities to community profiling done with cell phones and tablets in informal settlements throughout the Global South. What is required is a fundamental rethinking of how community data can inform and lead to fairer and more effective actions that ensure that even the poorest neighborhoods in the world participate in, and benefit from, urban development.

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. We are posting a new chapter from the book every week. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

OpenReblock: Safe, Inclusive, and Integrated Cities

Adobe Spark Page

Re-blocking is an element of incremental slum/informal settlement upgrading that supports area-based design and planning. Through spatial reconfiguration and the introduction of new streets and paths, each home or workplace gains an address and obtains urban services, especially water, sanitation, and drainage. These are essential elements of response to slum development, climate change, and to building community resilience at the local level.

SDI-affiliated communities have conducted re-blocking with many communities worldwide over the last 20 years. Now, SDI – together with partners Santa Fe Institute, Ona and WhereIsMyTransport — are launching a new digital platform to make the slum planning process faster, simpler, and more scalable and to place it in the hands of local communities and other local stakeholders.

The OpenReblock platform is part of an ecosystem of open-source tools co-designed by slum-dwellers, technologists and scientists to re-plan and integrate slums and informal neighborhoods to their city networks with minimal disturbance and cost. Slum communities create an initial map that includes each structure, each available service and public open spaces and then obtain an automatic proposal for new streets and paths. This street layout proposal is then edited and adapted to local needs and preferences in coordination with other stakeholders, such as local governments. Ultimately, these layouts become plans for neighborhood development around a street plan that provides access to emergency services, regularizes addresses, and allows for drainage and the provision of services.

Maps are a powerful tool for the imagination, facilitating the question “How would I like my neighborhood to be?” OpenReblock integrates mapping at the community level, speeding up the process of community organization and decision-making to create better local solutions, improving design, and technical delivery.

Read the full OpenReblock press brief here. 

Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 4.01.30 PM

Earlier this month, SDI launched a landmark publication: “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. Over the next weeks, we will post a chapter from the book to our blog weekly and related material on our social media platforms every day. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

By Rose Molokoane, Vice President of SDI and National Coordinator of the South African Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP)

When I told people at the launch of our Know Your City campaign at Habitat III that SDI would profile 100 cities before World Urban Forum 9 (WUF), people thought I was making empty promises like everyone else. I told people that SDI was done with all the talking. Yes, it was good to talk and get the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in place, but now the talking should end and the work should begin.

Sometimes when I’m in the community, I gossip about the Member States arguing about commas and which words to put in their documents. While they argue, we’re in the informal settlements counting toilets, negotiating with mayors, and building our own houses. I tell the community that we were the ones who put words into the New Urban Agenda about participation and community knowledge, and that now we have to show everyone how it’s done in practice.

If you want to know what it means to Know Your City, I want you to talk to one of the SDI federation members. You’ll find them in more than 30 countries. They’re easy to spot. Usually they’re singing and making a lot of noise. I want them to tell you about measuring shacks that are so close together you need to climb up on roofs to see what’s what; about mapping settlement boundaries and trying not to fall in drainage channels lined with garbage; about going house to house and hearing stories that make you want to cry; and about being chased by dogs and even by people with weapons as you administer enumerations. SDI members will tell you why they go to all that trouble and why they’re always screaming, “Information Is Power!”

After you ask them, then you can read this report. Some of you don’t believe things until they’re in a report with some big words and big numbers. That’s why we did this. We have too many stories, but if we made the report too big it would cost too much money, and we need that money to keep doing our work.

As communities, we know we can’t do everything alone. But we want the global community to understand just how much we’re doing to try to improve our settlements and cities and fulfill the goals we set together. While we’re trying so hard, some governments are still bulldozing our communities and setting them on fire because they want our land. This is one of the things that makes me so angry and disappointed.

In South Africa, our government is trying to understand. Our national government is trying to support Know Your City. Our local governments, through the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG-Africa), are also trying. The problem is that government normally promises to bring resources, and then they don’t. If the slum dwellers can bring their resources, why can’t governments? Governments have already committed to these goals. If we really have a partnership, then each side needs to bring something to the table.

Know Your City is about understanding our problems together and then working, practically, to fix them. It’s not a “project,” this thing we call Know Your City. We have been doing it for decades, and we’re going to keep doing it until our cities change. SDG 11 calls for inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities. Look at our information, our knowledge, and our efforts, and think about how it will support all of us to implement these commitments.

Click here to read the full publication.

KYC 3.0: Using Community-Driven Slum Data to Build Resilient Cities


SDI’s city-wide profiling work has fed the growth of the Know Your City Campaign. The second phase of this collaboration (KYC 2.0) between SDI, United Cities and Local Governments-Africa (UCLG-A) and Cities Alliance was launched at Habitat III in Quito and a new MOU between UCLG-A and SDI to expand the work was signed. SDI anticipates additional support for this work to come from various partners engaged at HIII, where links were also made between the KYC Campaign and setting baselines and targets for monitoring the New Urban Agenda and SDGs; between the KYC Campaign and enhanced efficacy in UN Habitat’s PSUP program; and as a foundation for resilient city planning.

To this end, considerable effort is being placed in Know Your City 3.0. SDI is finalizing a strategic framework for the next iteration of our Know Your City programme: KYC 3.0. KYC 3.0 is underpinned by the relevant Theory of Change outcomes measurement framework, particularly identifying the leading indicators for normative and predicative analysis of cities’ capacity to manage shocks and stresses. SDI has enlisted the support of Andrew Means to support strategy and design with regards to the KYC data system. Andrew is Head of BeyondUptake the philanthropic and civic innovation arm of Uptake and Co-Founder at The Impact Lab. He has dedicated his career to creating a more effective and efficient social sector by developing data tools that help organizations improve their impact. SDI is confident his guidance will support SDI to achieve its ambitious vision for KYC 3.0.

What is that vision? It is to ensure that women-led collective organizing and action by urban poor communities anchors the co-production (by communities, local government and other development stakeholders) of strategies for transformation of the built environment from slums to resilient, inclusive and integrated city neighborhoods. This co-production results in the joint implementation of incremental, in situ precedent setting upgrading.