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. 


In Short, “Mapping is Important”

[caption id="attachment_11171" align="alignnone" width="600"] Mama Ronnie Hochobes explaining the importance of collecting enough points with the GPS to Mama Wenky Snyder from Okurangava.[/caption]


By the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia

“Mapping helps in starting the upgrading process for our communities, as partners in the development process” – Rebekka, Oshikoto Region, Namibia Shack Dwellers Federation

To date, the Namibia Shack Dwellers Federation has completed the only national level informal settlement profile within the SDI Network.

Ms Rosalinda Hendricks reflects: “It all started off with information collection amongst ourselves as federation members who are saving, we developed a questionnaire for profiling, collected information in 235 informal settlements, which was published 2009 with the support of the Ministry of Regional Local Government, Housing and Rural Development at that time. We further also carried out enumerations, interviewing each household in different informal settlements so we can use the data to inform the local authority on the affordability of residents in accessing services, and negotiating for buying land.”

To know where you are and what your neighbourhood looks like is the start of knowing your city. Mapping is an integral part of the enumeration (slum profiling and household level surveys) of slum dwellers federations. Following community mobilization, data collection begins with a community mapping exercise. With nothing more than pens and markers and pieces of paper – usually spread on the floor or another available stable surface – the mapping and the conversation begins!

Community elders, women, and youth gather around, the discussions and debates are lively and filled with excitement. Boundaries are drawn, disputed and redrawn. Landmarks and services are marked out. Then the community drawn boundaries are layered over satellite imagery and the discussion continues. For many community members this is the first time they see their settlement drawn on a map.

But it doesn’t stop here. This map needs to be digitized for it to become useful. Accompanied by community members, their GPS devices and recording sheets, federation members trained as mappers then proceed to walk the boundaries, capture the points and seek out and map the services indicated by the community.

It is Geography Awareness Week and along with community mappers and geographers from all over the world, SDI federations are celebrating the maps they are producing and reflecting on the power of their maps.

Below are some reflections from Namibian federation members actively involved in mapping work on the importance of mapping in their mobilizing, organizing, and upgrading efforts:

Juliane from the Kunene Region:

“Mapping is important to know where the services in the settlement are located and also to know the size of the area. When we do mapping we create awareness on services and encourage the community to start taking action in their own development. Mapping helps us to know how many households are in the area and also the schools. The process gives us an opportunity to discuss solutions around the challenges that we face in the community so we can help ourselves to address our needs. Mapping also helps us inform the municipality on what is going on in the settlement, at most times the officials don’t know.”

Wendelina from Erongo Region:

“Mapping informs us on the size of the land and the conditions of it. Some people built their structures where they are not supposed to do it. If they know the boundaries, it helps gives us more support in our vision of what we want for our community.”

Candy from Zambezi Region:

“Mapping helps us see our community, how big or small it is.”

Ester from Oshikoto Region:

“Once we know how big the settlement is, it helps us plan better and know that the settlement is divided into two. Some locations are big.”



Tuerijandjera community collecting boundary points for the settlement.


Mapping Evululuko in Oshakati.



Freedom Square Enumerations Team, finalising structure mapping and enumerations for upgrading.

The Namibia Shack Dwellers Federation has begun the updating of their historic settlement profile date base on SDI’s global slum database on ONA platform. To date they have profiled 62 settlements, and mapping of 39 informal settlements has been completed. Capturing of the data has commenced on ONA and community members are actively training in data capturing as well. Thus far they have captured 41 of their settlement profiles and uploaded 14 maps.


Data Entry in Oshakati for Evululuko Informal Settlement.


Community collected and captured mapping data available in ONA platform.

Five regions (Omusati, Ohangwena, Karas , Oshana , Khomas) have been actively collecting data in their settlements this past year. This involves community meetings, discussion of development priorities, settlement history, and the mapping of boundaries and services.

The federation has made presentations to various local and regional authorities, encouraging ownership of the information, and supporting the development and strengthening of partnerships between the federation, communities, and local, regional, and national authorities.


Community Data for Change

Written by: Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) and Federation for the Rural and Urban Poor (FRUP), Malawi

“Community Data for Change” constitutes one of the three thematic areas of CCODE’s current work in Malawi. At CCODE/FRUP, we believe that change occurs when people collectively know and understand their problems, because this is how they get to the right solutions that directly address their challenges. We want to empower organisations of the poor with skills and knowledge to generate data about their communities through situational analysis: community profiling, mapping and community-led enumerations. We want more organisations of the poor to know their communities through these initiatives and use evidence to progressively engage with their local authorities and other duty bearers. We want to see communities using data in a more informed way to advocate for change. 

The work that we do in Malawi under the theme of “Community Data for Change” (CDfC) aims to create awareness amongst organisations of the poor on the challenges they face. The data is not an end in itself; it informs community planning processes and resource distribution. CDfC reinforces community voices in planning and development. The data is used by communities themselves and other stakeholders to improve access to basic services, leverage funding for community priorities, raise awareness about community issues and enhance service delivery at local level.

The goal of our CDfC activities is to develop a critical mass of proactive communities, conscious of their needs and taking steps to address them in a holistic fashion. We are aware of development complexities of this time and that increasing people’s knowledge and awareness about issues affecting them, gives them a greater say over their destiny. Knowledge is power; it is this power that will drive communities to demand and proactive be part of the change they seek.

CCODE and the Federation of the Rural and Urban Poor currently work together on the following key activities under the CDfC theme in Malawi:

  • Community profiling and enumerations
  • Participatory mapping and planning studios
  • Developing community strategic plans and databases
  • Participation in budgeting and planning at local and national level
  • Stakeholder engagements
  • Negotiations with local authorities and planning committees
  • Creation of thematic working groups
  • Budget tracking
  • Dissemination and publication of data on ‘Know your Cities’

To date (August 2014), we had mobilized communities and developed community profiles for 85 settlements across the country, completed enumeration and mapping processes in seven of these settlements, with other two currently undertaking enumeration and further seven settlements with mapping work currently in progress. Physical and development planning is currently being undertaken in many of these settlements and will continue to reach all of them. A planning studio has been taking place since 2011 in a settlement in Mzuzu (the northern region), in collaboration with Mzuzu University.


To achieve the goal of expanding the critical mass of empowered communities with knowledge about their settlements, we have developed the following strategies, which will inform our work in the area for the coming years:

  •  Expand our community activities to enlist and organise poor people’s organisations.
  • Enhance community profiling, enumerations and mapping as tools for negotiation
  •  Increase community participation in planning and budgeting at local level
  •  Expand our training programmes and exchanges on community-led planning, implementation of projects and monitoring

The ultimate impact of our CDfC activities is to help create more proactive organisations of the poor to be influencing and demanding responsive service delivery. We have set a number of targets in the Strategic Plan for the Organisation looking at the next five years. In terms of our work in CDfC, our targets for the next five years include:

  • To compile a database regarding all informal settlements in Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu cities.
  • Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu city urban poor networks to use data for decision making and engagements with stakeholders.
  • Community generated data to be used as a tool for planning, development and monitoring in 11 districts.

Putting K2 and Green Park on the Map: Thoughts on Mapping and the Know Your City Campaign

By Julia Stricker, SDI Secretariat 

During a very successful learning exchange focused around settlement level data visualisation and mapping, community members from K2 and Green Park, two informal settlements in Cape Town, created digital maps of their neighbourhoods. 

Siyaunya puts his head over the GPS device and enters the code for water tap, WT 001. Next he records the geographic coordinates of the location: -34.0289, 18.6731. He and his team repeat this process for every water tap and toilet in K2, the informal settlement in Khayelitsha that Siyaunya calls home. Different codes are used for each type of facility and with regards to their functional status. A broken toilet, for example, gets an N added to its code. These codes together with the coordinates form the raw data for the maps. Apart from the team mapping the basic services there are two other teams on the go to map the settlement boundaries and other interesting features like shops, taverns, and restaurants. Each of the three teams consists of community members, Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) members from across South Africa, and SDI federation members from India, Uganda and Ghana. The latter travelled to Cape Town to support the South African SDI Alliance in refining their digital mapping skills – skills that will help take SDI’s community mapping process to another level, making it easier and quicker, and increasing impact. 

Through a hands-on, learning-by-doing approach Siyaunya and his fellow community members, most holding a GPS device for the first time that day, used these devices with confidence by the end of the day. They also understand that the need to stand next to the service or feature you are mapping is about more than getting an accurate reading on the GPS device. It is about the process of gaining intimate knowledge and understanding of one’s settlement and being able to share this knowledge with authority.

A geographic profile of the settlement consisting of the boundaries and the basic services, at a minimum, is a crucial part of the standardised profile. It is not enough to know the number of toilets – one also has to know their spatial distribution. If all the toilets of a settlement are located on one corner, the numbers alone are a bad indicator for the reality a woman from the other end of the settlement experiences when going to the toilet at night. The spatial dimension adds value to the data and is highly relevant for planning upgrading projects. To put it in a nutshell: Numbers are good – but maps make the numbers come alive. In addition to that John Samuel, from NSDF/SPARC India and part of the data team at SDI, points out that maps are more intuitive to understand than plain numbers and respond better to the variable literacy level of slum dwellers.

There is no perfect map and there never will be one. Maps are by nature abstractions and only a limited inventory of the reality on the ground, a complement of both objectively observable phenomena, as well as the subjective relationships to these. Bearing this in mind they remain highly important as a means to communicate our location in the world and our view on the world. The data used to generate maps of informal settlements must therefore be gathered by the slum dwellers themselves. Maps generated from community-collected data naturally put the emphasis on issues that matter to the community. This in turn is critical for the successful planning and implementation of slum upgrading projects

When speaking about Know Your City, Sumaya, a young delegate from the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) puts it like this: “First you have to know what you have, then you can decide what you need, and only then you can tell somebody what you want. This is what Know(ing) Your City is all about.” She was part of the team that profiled and mapped 62 settlements in the city of Kampala. The comprehensive report with the maps generated was handed over to the Kampala City Authority in September this year and is a good example how the data can be used to drive communities’ dialogues with government for slum upgrading and development at the city-wide scale ( The profiling and mapping of settlements is a powerful tool for promoting active citizenship in communities of the urban poor.

SDI’s focus for the coming years will be to routinize and consolidate the learning around city-wide profiling and mapping for the cities it works with. Concretely, the idea of going city-wide is to push the federations to think beyond their existing network so as to include the voices of other settlements in the city, meet new leaders and together create concrete alternative plans with which they can begin to talk to their cities. Community mobilisation and mobilising city-wide federations are then also among the first goals Celine D’Cruz, SDI co-ordinator anchoring and supporting the data collection process for the SDI network, mentions when she talks about the Know Your City process. It is about the creation of a momentum of inclusion and of identity making for the community of the urban poor. Furthermore, the data collected supports the development of alternative participatory plans for slum upgrading strategies based on prioritised needs; it offers federations and communities at large the ability to monitor their own settlements and, last but not least, grounded and consolidated data at the local level, once aggregated, opens up the space for advocacy at the national and global level.

The maps of K2 and Green Park were visualised the same weekend and brought back to the respective settlements. They are as different as the settlements themselves are. Spread out Green Park contrasts with dense K2. In the latter, all the toilets are located on one site, leading to a situation mentioned above, where a map paints a clearer picture of reality then just numbers.

The learning exchange made clear that settlement profiling and mapping is an essential tool to leverage upgrading, monitor settlements and for regional and global advocacy. The young leaders from K2 and Green Park definitely seemed eager to continue the work and make the realities and needs of the city’s urban poor majority visible through maps.


SDI – SFI Partnership in Action: Profiling in Khayelitsha, Cape Town

SDI - SFI Exchange

By Walter Fieuw, CORC 

When the question of collaboratively testing new techniques in profiling informal settlements was raised, Cape Town was proposed as the gathering place for federations from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, India, Namibia, and South Africa. Community leaders and NGO representatives from these countries have in common the quest for improving data capture processes. The agenda has a global imperative: first, to analyse the 7,000 profiles federations have captured over two decades in more than 15 countries, and second, to look forward at improved processes for citywide settlement profiling.

SDI and SFI Partnership Background

Delegations gathered for an intense 10 day programme, which started on the 3rd of June 2013. Old friends reunited, and new contacts were made. This project is a collaboration between SDI and the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), which is supported by an 18-month, $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is anticipated that this project could yield a “science of slums” if SDI’s data and SFI’s methodology are successfully paired.

SFI’s special research focus on Cities, Scaling, and Sustainability, which is the key department working with SDI, has a “… particularly important focus [of this research area] is to develop theoretical insights about cities that can inform quantitative analyses of their long-term sustainability in terms of the interplay between innovation, resource appropriation, and consumption and the make up of their social and economic activity”. SFI Professor Luis Bettencourt, who is the SFI project leader, remarked on evolving partnership with SDI in an interview with Txchnologist. “We want to find ways to make the greatest use of the data SDI collects,” Bettencourt says. “In this way, the project will help create standards through which informal communities can collect and use data about themselves and develop economic models to sustain these efforts.“ 

The project has been a work in progress since January 2013, when key representatives from India, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya visited the SFI group in the USA to discuss the make-up of the project. Sheela Patel, Director of the Indian NGO SPARC and Chair of the SDI Board, reflected on the evolving partnership with SFI in a SDI blog article. “As part of its ongoing quest to bridge informal urban settlements into city planning, an important first step has been to get communities of the urban poor living in informal settlements to believe that aggregating information about their settlement and households is a valuable tool towards improving their lives.”

After the 7,000 slum profiles were collected and analysed, Federations came together again in Kenya in April 2013. Read the article on the workshop here.

Cape Town Workshop

The workshop started with a meet and greet, and presentations and informal conversations on the vastly diverse experiences of profiling informal settlements followed. Luis Bettencourt from SFI presented on the work of the institute, bringing into focus the dynamics of city growth by drawing on recent research SFI has conducted through GIS modelling. This was also a touch point for how SDI data could help federations understand cities better. Federations shared different experiences of profiling informal settlements. At the grassroots level, the data helps communities understand their settlements better and build relationships with government. Even though this is a practice commonly shared, SDI affiliates have, over the years, developed different mechanisms and processes for collecting information. The challenge and advocacy agenda of SDI saw it crucially important to start a horizontal conversation on how to integrate all the different data sets.

Sheila, a community leader from the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, said that the federation has been profiling informal settlements since the early 2000s. Initially they had challenges to store and analyse the data, and this also delayed the feedback to communities. The Federation decided that involving members from the local savings schemes was the most efficient way to move forward. In this way, they were much more involved, and they were also the first to pick up on errors. There were accounts of political interference, because the politicians were still denying the natural urbanisation. We have now come to a point where we can compare and integrate information to find workable solutions to upgrading.

SDI - SFI Exchange

The issue of data management seemed to be familiar in the Ugandan experience. The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda is presently comprised of 355 savings groups operating in six cities: Kampala, Arua, Jinja, Kabale, Mbale, and Mbarara. Katana Goretti elaborated that the question of local language difference was a further motivator to involve local people. For instance, people would lie about how many children they had because they thought there would be a kickback for their families. This is resolved in the verification process, “We had to update the database in response to increased evictions, since the data the government cites in justification of their actions are out of date. The large database helps us assist one another in times when other settlements are facing evictions.”

The cultural and experiential exchanges were important to align the various experiences. But the main focus was on learning by doing, and the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), a South African social movement linked to the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), the South African SDI affiliate, suggested that UT Section was perfect location. 

SDI - SFI Exchange

Learning by Doing in UT Section, Khayelitsha

UT Section is a dense informal settlement in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, located south of iKhusi Primary School. Founded in 1985 when people moved from other neighborhoods such as Crossroads to make a new home, UT section has seen incremental development throughout the years. At first service levels were very low, and the City government handed out buckets since toilets could not be installed. Years later, the settlement received grid electricity. Listen to Snax talk us through his settlement.

UT Section, Khayelitsha settlement profile from South African SDI Alliance on Vimeo.

The delegations from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, India, Namibia, and South Africa and SFI team had several meetings in UT Section between 4 – 8 June. The new profiling questionnaire was discussed and tested with various technologies, such as an Android phone application coded with the questions, GPS coordinates, and pictures pinned to certain points of interests, such as waste removal skips. Community also experimented with identifying shack usage and mapping out shack numbers by means of large printed satellite photos.

SDI - SFI Exchange

UT Section community mapping team assisted by Shekar (far left) from the Indian SDI Alliance. 

SDI - SFI Exchange

Structure use identification through community mapping. 

SDI - SFI Exchange

On Saturday the 8th of June, the full settlement enumeration of UT Section was launched with a kick-off party. Government officials from the City of Cape Town’s informal settlement management department and principle field officers (PFO) were invited to the celebration. At the launch, PFO Natalie Samuels remarked: 

“In 2009 a partnership was formed between CORC and ISN and the City of Cape Town… and communities were able to petition the City on important needs in informal settlements. The main purpose of this exchange is the profiling of informal settlements and the value that it adds to our communities.”

SDI - SFI Exchange

The on-the-ground learning environment has been a major success. Groups have developed new skills and technologies for profiling and spatially understanding their settlements. The open and transparent learning environment will go a long way in building local capacity to generate better quality spatial and socio-economic enumeration data.