Fat Fingers and Back of a Napkin Calculations

Kiambu Governor captures family image

Kenyan slum dwellers undertake paperless survey of 10,000 families using hi-tech digital devices. 

By Jack Makau, SDI Kenya

Over the last 15 years, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Kenya federation of slum dwellers has surveyed and mapped over 340,000 slum families living in 364 settlements. In its latest survey, conducted in Kiandutu slum – 40 kilometres north west of Nairobi, Muungano made a switch to use technology for collecting and processing data.

On the ground, in Kiandutu (which means, place of jiggers) 170 community members were selected to map each of the settlement’s 10,000 shacks and collect details of each family and each person living there. Instead of a paper questionnaire, the enumerators used Android 6.3 inch touch-screen tablets. According to Muungano’s chair person, Rashid Mutua, “we had a choice of smart phones or tablets , both within the same price range. We chose tablets because some of us have fat fingers.”

The tablets are installed with an Enketo web form that has all 37 questions contained in Muungano’s previous paper questionnaires. The tablets do not require an Internet connection to work. The enumerators collect data offline all day, and in the evening the data is transferred into a GIS enabled database.

Muungano’s fears, that the use of hi-tech gadgetry would exclude the participation of its mainly community women membership, were heightened when the Kiandutu community brought forward the names of 27 elderly persons to be included in the survey team.  At the end of what is usually one day of enumerator training, Kilion Nyambuga, trainer and GIS expert employed by Muungano, reported that additional days of training would be required. By lunchtime on the second day of training, the enumerators were deployed to the settlement to start data collection. Kilion reported that somehow the whole team had made the switch and were comfortable using the tablets.

Muungano National leader, Joseph Muturi, says the decision to move to a technology solution was because, “we do not have the time to collect data for one month, then spend another month putting it into computers, and another month analysing it and developing reports – all the momentum for a community action that we have generated in a settlement is lost in the time it takes to process data”.

The step to venture into the digital unknown and invest in tablets was reached in Muungano’s planning meeting for the Kianduttu survey. A simple back of the napkin calculation showed a 23 percent saving on survey materials and equipment. Ordinarily the 37 questions in the survey fit on 3 sheets of paper that cost 30 US cents each to print. Another 30 cents is paid for data entry. Each survey requires boxes of pencils, rubbers and sharpeners. The Kiandutu survey would have also required an additional 9 cameras and 12 GPS receivers. The tablets take away all these costs.

The switch is however not just a horizontal one from paper into computers, says Kilion. The community enumeration process is made far more accurate. “We are now able to ensure that all mandatory questions like the house number and the resident’s name are answered”. It was a major problem in paper surveys when enumerators returned questionnaires with key information missing. “We had the painstaking task of going back to find families whose house number was left out and we also spend weeks linking pictures stored in separate camera’s with households in the database”. He adds, “Right now we can even check the exact location where a survey was done – if a house is in one end of the settlement we can ask why the survey was done at the other end of the settlement”.

Yet, the use of tech devices does not take away any or all the intensity of doing a 100 per cent household survey in a slum.  Like in all enumerations where a team stays on after the days data collection and goes through the returned surveys, someone will need to stay on to charge the tablets, download all the data and check that the data collected is good.  There are bigger considerations though.

On one hand, not only does the purpose of the survey need to be explained to every household, but also the capture of information into a gadget needs to be explained. On the other hand, somebody who operates an informal water or electricity distribution business in the slum is just as likely, or even more likely, to resist a survey using a tablet as they would one using paper.

The gadgets themselves present a challenge in a context like Kiandutu where you have large numbers of unemployed youth who are presented with a smart device with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all other pleasures. Things that are beyond their immediate ability to purchase. Whether Muungano can persuade without necessarily policing the community and especially the youth, that they stand to benefit more by not keeping the devices for themselves, remains a test of the federation’s effectiveness in organising.

Kiambu Governor Enumerates using tablet

Kiambu Governor, H.E William Kabogo enumerates a family in Kiandutu during an event to launch the community enumeration process.

Informal Food Vendors: Urban Food Security’s Invisible Experts

**Cross-posted from the IIED blog**

By Paolo Cravero

One in three urban citizens in Asia and Africa live in informal settlements. It’s time to consider their priorities when shaping urban food security policies.

Njoki places a flat disc of dough on a blistering, oily hotplate. Within minutes, it transforms into a chapatti she can sell to one of her hungry neighbours in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi. It will be a long day.

“I wake up at 5am to prepare the food,” she says. “I have my first clients at 8am and I close at ten at night.”

Night-time means more customers. By then, workers on day-wages have been paid and can afford what might be their only meal of the day. But often Njoki cannot serve these customers.

“If I had light I’d work for more hours,” she says.

The lack of light is not her only concern. Across the global South, millions of low-income people – mostly women – earn a living like she does. These food vendors are vital to the food security and informal economies of their communities, where most customers lack the time, money and place to cook for themselves.

Despite this, policymakers often ignore or stigmatise people like Njoki instead of learning from these invisible experts.

Why the stigma?

Policymakers often view informal food vendors as obstacles to infrastructure development and traffic flow… as sources of unsafe food and pollution. As a result, authorities often relocate vendors, sometimes by force.

When shaping policies and legislation, policymakers focus on the formal sector. The failure of policymakers to recognise a continuum from fully legal to fully informal, means legal barriers prevent informal food vendors from meeting their potential.

Contributing to this is a lack of information. While traditional vending locations such as markets and business districts are well studied, the roles and dynamics of vendors acting inside informal settlements are not.

As a result, informal food vendors continue to be seen as problems, acting outside the law. Instead, governments should identify the priorities of informal food vendors and their customers in informal urban settlements.

A community-based approach

In Nairobi, the Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a federation of Kenyan slum-dwellers’ associations – assisted by the Muungano Support Trust, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and University College London’s Development Planning Unit – set out to fill this gap and redefine policy priorities.

The research involved vendors, their customers and the settlement’s livestock keepers in mapping activities and focus group discussions (read the associated blog and briefing paper). Community members identified challenges that go beyond a lack of access to food, such as problems with infrastructure, environmental hazards, lack of capital and contested public spaces.

Factors affecting vendors’ businesses and food safety, and therefore food security within the settlement, included:

  • Insufficient sanitation facilities
  • Overflowing sewage in the rainy season
  • Infestations of pests
  • Inadequate access to fresh water
  • Livestock food contamination, and
  • Rapid food spoilage.

Through community-led mapping – which allowed the community to coherently articulate their priorities – residents gained a sense of ownership of the area they inhabit and the challenges they face. This led to an informal settlements-based Food Vendors’ Association, founded in late 2013, becoming more active in the community.

The mapping exercise and its results also provided residents with abundant, relevant, verifiable data that local governments simply do not have. This provided a basis for the community to encourage authorities to consider urban inclusion and food security in their policy discussions. It allowed disenfranchised communities to begin building their political voice.

Logical but rare

Community-based approaches that involve people from informal settlements in conversations about urban food security are as logical as they are infrequent.

Yet a third of Africa’s and Asia’s urban populations live in low-income, informal settlements, and the urban population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050 (PDF). Informality is likely to continue expanding. It already provides up to three quarters of non-agricultural employment in low- and middle-income countries, according to International Labour Organization data (PDF).

To achieve sustainable urban food security, the knowledge and insights from local communities are fundamental. It is time for policymakers to consider these people’s priorities when shaping urban food security policies. The difficulty is that this may reveal systemic state failure to provide basic services or develop inclusive, equitable urban policies.

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 (https://sdinet.org/blog/2014/09/18/reflections-kampala-learning-centre-kyc/). 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.


Citywide Data Collection and “Knowing Your City”


SDI launched the Know Your City campaign at the 7th World Urban Forum in April 2014. The Know Your City campaign is a global campaign for grassroots data collection and inclusive partnerships with local government for citywide community networks of urban poor communities. The campaign urges affiliates to scale up data collection processes and outputs and demonstrate that SDI’s arguments for community-driven data collection are about more than just information and data; they are aimed at building inclusion of the urban poor into city policy.

Know Your City speaks to active awareness, engagement, and understanding of the urban space that you occupy. It encourages citizens and local governments to move beyond the shelter you call home to the level of your street, neighborhood, and ultimately, the city as a whole. To gain a sense of familiarity through information and experience that can inform both theoretical and practical understanding of space and the relationships various inhabitants have to it. When information moves to knowledge and understanding it comes to stand in opposition to narrow opinion. It then becomes a powerful tool in the hands of those who own it. Slum dwellers have come to learn the power and value of information that moves to knowledge and understanding as they engage their city officials or those others who own the land which they occupy. A large and growing number of urban dwellers live in poverty because most city development plans exclude informal settlement. This is in spite of the precedents set by organisations of citizens such as SDI’s urban poor federations; in spite of evidence that conventional city planning is unable to meet the demands of rapid urbanisation and only exacerbates urban informality and poverty.

In practice, the core of SDI’s Know Your City campaign is a standardisation of our settlement profiling data collection methodology for informal settlements. Settlement profiles are different from household enumerations in that they allow a whole settlement to look at itself as a collective rather than as households in isolation. Whole communities then have the possibility to build relationships with their local governments or land owning authority for the improvement of the physical conditions of their settlements and lives as a collective.

The settlement profile gives settlement leadership and city authorities a glimpse of the big picture at the settlement level. The standardised profile allows for an aggregated view of the types of land occupied by informal settlements in a given city, as well as the physical conditions of the spaces in terms of and in relation to infrastructure.

SDI has developed a standardised settlement profile questionnaire based on the questionnaires developed and used by federations across the network. This questionnaire forms the new baseline for all historic and future data collected for settlement profiles within the network. Both quantitative and qualitative in nature, the profile affords possibilities to compare and aggregate settlement level data across a city and, where federations work in multiple cities, across the region. In maintaining an emphasis on the nuances of local contexts, federations have the opportunity to supplement the standard questionnaire to improve the qualitative descriptions of individual settlements.

Both the process and the resulting data become tools of communication, dialogue, and building relationships. Drawing on SDI’s guiding premise to make ‘visible’ the invisible communities of the urban poor, the data communicates quantifiable facts about the physical conditions and scale of informality and urban poverty on a citywide scale while at the same time adding nuance to the particular conditions of poverty and exclusion as experienced in the daily lives of slum dwellers inhabiting these spaces.

The Know Your City campaign also aims to emphasise the spatial, social, economic, and political relations between slum dwellers and their cities over time. To date, we have a total number of 6,343 historic data sets in standardized format available. This data forms the baseline for conditions of informal settlements from 2009 – 12 across cities like Mumbai, Nairobi, Kampala, Johannesburg, Harare, and Freetown. As these datasets were collected via an array of forms they remain in various states of ‘completeness’ in terms of the standardised form. On a federation-by-federation basis, the SDI network will ‘complete’ these as far as possible over the next year. The importance of this data is twofold. It constitutes the first point for developing longitudinal comparative data of informal settlements at the city level, as well as an opportunity to monitor and evaluate SDI federations’ work and engagements within these cities. It offers the foundation from which informal communities can develop citywide arguments at scale and over time.

Seven national federations in Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, and Ghana) have committed to field test and further improve the rigour of both the new standardised profile form and the data collection process. At present, 377 new settlement profiles have been uploaded to the central web based data platform. These are the beginnings of SDI’s learning around citywide profiling with a standardised tool to take the SDI methodology and process of data collection to scale at a citywide level in slums/informal settlements and enhance the rigor and verifiability of our data. 

An increasing body of evidence suggests that the major cities of the Global South are overwhelmingly “slum cities,” in which a majority of residents live in neighbourhoods understood as “slums.” The objective of our work is to bring slums into relation with the ‘formal city’ and into the centre, rather than confined to the margins, of policy and development debates. The aim is not for inclusion by emphasis on the subaltern identity of slums and their dwellers in the city, but rather a shift to the recognition of the role and part of slums and their dwellers in the complexity of the city.

As We, the Invisible: a census of pavement dwellers in Mumbai asserted in 1985, “a society which permits and in fact depends on a large mass of unskilled and underpaid labour must also live with slums and pavement dwellers” (SPARC, 1985). Since then numerous other community-led profiles and enumerations of SDI federations, ranging from Joe Slovo in Cape Town to Old Fadama in Accra, have shown that slum/informal settlement dwellers are part and parcel of the dynamic of the city. These settlements and their residents contribute to the history and sociality of cities and fuel their economies, not just with their labour, but also with their own consumption. The data SDI federations collect about their lives and living conditions in the world’s informal settlements and slums concretises and legitimises what is at the core a political argument for both social and material change and a voice for the urban poor in the policies that affect their lives and living conditions.

Why This Matters

From a number of federations we are beginning the see and understand the power of standardised and aggregated data at the city level. The Uganda Federation has completed and verified settlement profiling for 62 identified slum settlements in the city of Kampala. A map of Kampala has been produced from data collected by the federations. The Kampala map shows the location and extent of the slums in the city. These areas cover an estimated 11,000 acres across the city and are home to a total estimated population of 2.5 million people. In Kampala, federation members using GPS devices mapped the settlement boundaries on the ground. Later these boundaries were verified by means of high-resolution maps and the settlement identification landmarks collected via the profile. As more often than not, a number of households, on average 5 but up to 10, may share a structure, the federation estimates the population based on the number of households multiplied by the average household size. Based on the federation data, the approximate population density of slum/informal settlement areas in Kampala would be 227 people/acre. The total area of Kampala city is 46,702 acres of which 43,490 acres are land and the remainder taken up by surface water bodies. This means that slum settlements, based on federation data may take up to 1/4 of available land in the city. The most recent census of Uganda was conducted in 2002. Accepted statistics estimate the city’s population at fewer than 1.7 million people and thus an estimated people to land ratio of 39 people/acre. According to a discussion paper delivered at the 2014 Annual World Bank Land and Poverty Conference, the National Slum Dwellers

Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) and support NGO ACTogether reports that “data cited in the Kampala Physical Development Plan […] claims there are only 500,000 people living in Kampala’s slums [and it] identifies 31 slums in Kampala – half the number identified by the NSDFU and ACTogether.”

In Zimbabwe, the Federation, alongside their local authority, “profiled the entire city of Harare, settlement by settlement” to identify peoples’ needs on the ground. This led to the transfer of land by the city to the communities for the construction of upgraded houses in Dzivaresekwa Extension, one of Harare’s largest slums.

The profiles completed by the Kenyan Federation thus far indicate that the central concerns for slum communities in Kenyan cities are access to land and access to adequate and safe sanitation. As most of the land occupied by slums in Kenya is privatized, and under high threat of eviction from developers looking to take back the land as land values in Kenya’s cities continue to rise, living space for the poor becomes increasingly precarious with little hope of engagement around upgrading and security of tenure. Interventions around sanitation, especially, have been nearly impossible and continue to threaten health and security of slum residents, especially women.

The Know Your City campaign marks a historic shift in data collection activities across the federation network. While maintaining a settlement-by-settlement approach, we are scaling up our arguments to encompass citywide scales of poverty and informality. We are putting renewed emphasis on the right of urban poor communities to collect and own the information and data about their lives and livelihoods and leverage these as powerful assets to claim inclusion in the cities in which they work and live. Moving from the local, based on our data, we are developing comprehensive and composite indicators to illuminate both the general and particular conditions of poverty and inequality in cities to challenge and simultaneously inform global sustainable development indicators proposed for the post-2015 development agenda.

Check out SDI’s 2013 – 2014 Annual Report for more on the Know Your City campaign. 




Developing a citywide slum register: Freetown Settlement Profiling Learning Exchange

Sierra Leone

By Anni Beukes, SDI Secretariat 

A citywide register of informal settlements is a comprehensive list of all informal settlements in a city detailing population, area and access to basic services. While the value of a citywide register of slum/informal settlements may be desired and appreciated, developing such a register is no easy feat. Governments in the global South or at least their registers of these settlements can attest to this. Often government registers exclude unrecognized settlements and are compiled from incomplete data from national censuses. As a consequence their policy options and designs are often not adequate in addressing the particular planning needs for urban poor settlements. When communities of the urban poor participate in the developing these registers, they contribute more than just data to their cities to inform development.

The Sierra Leone Alliance and their fellow West African counterparts from Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Togo gathered in Freetown in June (6-13, 2014) to begin discussions around the importance and process of developing citywide slum registers.

Launched in 2011, the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP-SL) and their support NGO CODAHSAPA have been working towards developing a voice for the urban poor in Sierra Leone. For the federation the goals driving the development of a citywide slum settlement profile of Freetown are clear. Slum dwellers are yet to to be included as a constituency in the national census of Sierra Leone. The last census conducted in Sierra Leone was done in 2004 and currently the government is preparing a 2014 census. Members of both FEDURP and CODOHSAPA had partaken in a month long workshop with Statistics Sierra Leone (SSL), the main body responsible for statistical activities in the country, and were eager to put their skills learned around mapping and GIS into practice in the community. This will go a long way into the recognition of slum dwellers as a productive and contributing part of urban society in Sierra Leone. These same sentiments resonated with the other West African federations.

Based on their experience, the Sierra Leone federation was able to prepare a register of slum/informal settlements in the city of Freetown prior to the learning exchange. Listing the names of settlements in a single table and estimating their resident populations is something that comes easy and quickly to slum dwellers as they live and traverse these spaces on a daily basis. The federation identified and listed a total of 61 slum settlements along the coastline and hillsides of Freetown. During the learning exchange, 5 of these settlements were profiled and mapped and the data contributed to SDI’s global settlement profile data platform.

Learning by doing, means going back to basics. Drying up felt-tip markers and a failing electricity connection literally drove the participants of the learning exchange to their knees on the mud floor of the Kroo Bay community centre on the first day of the exchange. As profiling teams first started to outline their community maps of Kroo Bay, Moa Wharf, Oloshoro, Portee-Rokupr and Colbot in their A5 exercise books and then carefully with only one marker per team transferred the much discussed and debated ‘final map’ onto the presentation sheet, the resourcefulness, endurance and creativity of slum/informal settlement dwellers as it permeated through the histories of the five settlements identified to be profiled settled into this exercise and the collection and capturing of the data later. Kroo Bay, where the native Kroos mixed with the British settled ship crews from Liberia, much like the settlement profile of SDI, speaks to the coming together of diverse interests around necessity and a common objective. Portee Rokupr traces part of its history back to female wood sellers who would come to trade their wood and find water here. Moa Wharf, where rumour has it, one may still get some of the best fish in Freetown from, was and remains till today the home of fishermen who moor their long boats here after bringing their harvest from the sea. Oloshoro is the place where a drowning Nigerian fisherman found land and Colbot has a long history of reclaiming land from the sea, a ‘landlord’ as tough as many known to slum dwellers around the world.  

While these maps will eventually be digitized and available for easy dissemination via mobile technologies, the importance of the community map, how it is drawn, presented and debated, forms the spirit of a community-led citywide slum/informal settlement register. 

Mapping2_Freetown Mapping_Freetown

The standard settlement profiling tool developed by the SDI federations with its almost 300 questions focused on developing both a quantitative and qualitative picture of slum/informal settlements bears testament to the endurance of slum dwellers. The profile is a collaborative effort, borne from almost 30 years of learning by doing by federations from Asia, Africa and Latin America. What sets SDI data collection practices apart, is that the data collection process is part of a deeply social process of organizing, identifying and mobilizing around a simple dictum which may translate as: this is who we are, where we are and how we are here. The depth of knowledge our community-led profiles generate, are only possible because the process of collection is deeply community located. Profile teams must be from the local community. Mature federation leaders  “download” their knowledge, capacity and experience in data collection and mobilization to community members. Then by means of the learning-by-doing immersion within their own community space, members then practice the learning of these skills, which include ‘demystifying’ GPS data collection and understanding the link between the map and the survey questionnaire.

Developing a citywide register by means of SDIs profiling methodology goes beyond just the technical aspects of data collection. The process is deeply social and political and thus as a consequence, so are the arguments that emerge from the data collected. The data becomes the basis of, and the process opens up the dialogue around upgrading and improvement of living conditions at the community level between residents of these settlements and at the city level between residents and their officials. This resonates with one of the slogans of the Sierra Leone federation: take the slum from the people, not the people from the slum. Building on the learning gained during the profiling exchange the federations in Togo and Nigeria have started putting the skills they learned in Sierra Leone to practice.

Three Times Land



By Jack Makau, Kenyan Alliance & SDI Secretariat

Patrick got up to go to the toilet. He turned to me and said, “uMfuwethu, now it is time for the NGOs to do some work. Take what we have spoken about and what we have decided to do and turn it into a programme of action for uMefelandawonye.”

 –  Joel Bolnick  in honour of Patrick Magebhula Hunsley

The ‘rule of three’ is a principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently more complete or satisfying. Like Julius Casear’s phrase, Veni, Vedi, Vici, or Lionel Richie crooning “you’re once, twice, three times a lady and I, I, I, love you. And also Patrick Magebhula, where he says about the land situation in South Africa, “They took this beautiful, radiant, blooming hope of the people and they began to define it for us. Because dreams are messy, inaccurate things. And they turned our dreams into their plans and their programmes. Now our hope has disappeared. It has shriveled and died, while they mock us by showing us their disciplined white papers and green papers and structure plans and land restitution policies and they say ‘Your hopes are not dead. Look, here they are. We have taken them and made them ordered, disciplined, programmed.’

I had three opportunities to reflect on land recently.

In the first instance, Muungano issued an internal report on the citywide slum profiling exercise for Nairobi, carried out last November.  The report says that 2.1 million (63%) of the city’s 3.4 million people live in slums. To arrive at this figure the slum profiling team put a chalk mark on all the 429,363 slum shack doors that they encountered in the 156 slums they profiled.

This figure though is not new or contested, nor does it elicit outrage – not anymore unfortunately. By tracing the boundary of every settlement the survey also established that slums occupy 2,699 acres (2%) of the Nairobi’s 169,020 acres. This is down from the 5% of land occupied by slums in 1995 – a fact that was so unacceptable then, that it formed the ideological basis for the formation of Muungano.

Flying to Kaula Lumpar, where I would have a second encounter with land, I had opportunity to reflect on the profile report. Approximately twice the number of people, occupying half the land they had 20 years ago. Three things are happening: The poor are losing ground in the city, and not gradually. The report shows that 263,893 families occupying 1777 acres currently have an eviction threat.

Second, the slums are becoming denser  – in some slums two storied shacks outnumber the traditional one level tin-sheet hovel; and third, another layer of disfranchised claimants to the city is being created – the profiling shows that the incidence of dual household subletting arrangements in a single shack, is no longer an oddity.  

How to fit 160 slum households or 700 people in every available acre? (A density only achieved in the tenements of New York’s lower East Side tenements two centuries ago).  And is that the right question to be asking? Or is there another way. Is the upgrading of existing slums enough? Or do the figures point to the need for a change in mission so access to more land for the poor in our cities becomes a key goal?

The International Federation of Surveyors, FIG, held its 25th annual congress in Kaula Lumpar, Malaysia late in June. With almost global coverage, the national chapters of surveyor associations and the chief executives or surveyor generals of land authorities in each member state were in attendance.   

To understand the congress, consider that land surveying, like carpentry and plumbing, is one of the world’s oldest professions. It has been around since ancient man and played a major part in all-major civilizations. And unlike the “lesser trades”, surveying has been a key tool of empire building. The concept of tax as we know it today is rooted in the ability to measure and register land. Therefore the nexus of power and land, and by extension land surveying is a very strong one.

A consistent message in the conference was that only 20% o 30% of the inhabited land in the Africa is surveyed, and it will take 600 years to survey the remainder, if the basis for land registration remains conventional survey.

And hence a debate running through many sessions and conversations at congress was the acceptability of general land boundaries as a way to speed up the processes of surveying and registering land. Conventional surveying is about setting fixed boundaries, where the error margin expected on a land boundary is less than10 centimeters. The accuracy is far less when establishing general boundaries.

However conventional surveying is limited in several ways: Cost – a huge cost for governments and near impossibly expensive for people in areas where governments have not invested in the administrative processes that underlay a land survey, such as land demarcation, adjudication and registration. Capacity  – the average age across the world at which someone becomes a registered surveyor is 57 years.  Which means that in many south hemisphere countries there will be one surveyor for every half a million people.

Without the presence of a small, but influential number of surveyors making the case for greater reliance on general boundaries it may have been an act of desecration to walk into this conservative conclave, while recycling jeans worn to map slums in Freetown (where I was before going to Kaula Lumpar), and suggest that there is another way to map land that involves slum dwellers doing the surveying themselves.  

Joe Slovo Measuring

My reflections on the congress, is that planners and city managers are more likely to appreciate data from profiling and enumerations. Surveyors or cartographers do not. Amongst them there may be a bit of a feeling that the profession may be damaged by reduced standards applied by para-professionals. More likely, the surveyor’s will feel that the general boundaries produced do not meet the accuracy threshold required to be part of a national land information system. And probably more important, your country’s surveyor general has made or is looking to make large investments in technology in order to meet demands for more surveyed and registered land.

The point being that the relationship between a federation and the land authority cannot afford to be taken for granted. The fact of having produced the boundaries of slums or even mapped households will not be as readily acceptable to land officers as it may to many other authorities. Therefore, it is critical to understand and use current arguments about land when engaging land authorities. A particularly articulate argument is made by the University of Twente: http://www.fig.net/pub/figpub/pub60/Figpub60.pdf.

The orthodoxy of the surveyor general’s function could not have been in better display than the week after the FIG Congress. The African Regional Centre of Mapping of Recourses for Development, RCMRD, held a 10-day learning event in Nairobi for sixteen of its member states. The event was titled, “Innovative Concepts, Tools, and Practices in Land Administration.  I was invited to present on Participatory Enumerations to the body of largely land ministry officials.

It may be not obvious, and was not obvious for me until this event, that the land sector has three large sectors competing alongside the need to regularize land occupied by slums. A rural clientele that are formalizing and sub-dividing land to share out between the kids; an urban market driven by developers making a killing on middle class apartments; and the need for governments to find land for expansion of infrastructure based on available donor aid, where China has upped the game in Africa.

Using citywide profiling undertaken by federations in the last one year to produce land analysis at the city scale may provide opportunities to for a deep meaningful conversation beyond three immediate priorities of the surveyor general. Yet, I must admit that my reflection of the last workshop, and what I believe Patrick may have taught us, is that we will be measured not by changes in policy, structure plans or project blue prints, but by the testimony of slum dwellers who have acquired secure tenure.

I would have proposed that an indicator of the number of families whose tenure converts, annually, from informal to formal is named the Patrick H. Magebhula Measure. I fear though that this would both inspire but also create a project-like accountability pressure. Somehow Patrick inspired, but because he did not ask after, allowed you to account to yourself on the success or failure of your interventions thereafter. Perhaps a better indicator then, to name in Patrick’s memory, within SDI and hopefully across the urban spectrum, is the amount of land gained for slum dwellers beyond what they already occupy – 




SDI President Jockin Arputham Visits South African SDI Alliance in Cape Town

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town

SDI President Jockin Arputham (right) and Rajiv Jalota, Additional Municipal Commissioner for Greater Mumbai Municipality (left). 

*Cross posted from South African SDI Alliance blog*

Jockin Arputham, president of Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) received a warm welcome from the South African Alliance in Cape Town yesterday on the last of his four-day visit. As a long-standing, much-valued friend of the Alliance he spent the day with community leaders in Khayelitsha and with representatives of the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Province.  Jockin spoke about the power of savings and the Indian Alliance’s partnership with the Municipality of Greater Mumbai. In this context, Jockin was accompanied by Rajiv Jalota, the Additional Municipal Commissioner for Projects in Greater Mumbai Municipality.

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town

Community leaders in Khayelitsha welcome Jockin. 

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town

An official welcome from Tamara Hela, community leader from UT Gardens, Khayelitsha.

The Informal Settlement Network (ISN) has mobilised and profiled several settlements in Khayelitsha that are set to proceed on water, sanitation, drainage, re-blocking and community facility projects.  Jockin’s visit linked Khayelitsha’s community leaders – many of whom are fairly new to ISN and SDI processes – to the broader context of the South African Alliance and SDI as a global network.

National coordinators of the South African Alliance’s two social movements, Patrick Maghebhula (ISN) and Rose Molokoane (FEDUP) welcomed Jockin by speaking about the Alliance’s history with the Indian Alliance. They referred to the South African slogan – Amandla Imali Nolwazi: Power is Money and Knowledge – and its roots in the relationship with India.

“This slogan started influencing me after we went to India (in 1991). We shared ideas around democracy with the Indians. We saw that after 40 years of democracy millions of people in India were extremely poor. We realized that if you sit around and wait for democracy it will come…but it will come with its own laws that might not cater for you. We need to do something to translate these laws to our own life. And so we learnt the experience of self-reliance from the Indians. We need to drive our own lives – and we do that with savings. This is how relationships with government were formed in India. Our savings and our information give us power to influence laws. We know, that yes, we may be poor, but we are not hopeless“

(Rose Molokoane, National FEDUP co-ordinator)

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town

Rose Molokoane, national FEDUP coordinator. 

In the keynote address, Jockin emphasised that

“Savings are a life line. We talk about savings the whole time because money is what speaks.  But when you collect money – door to door – you also collect information. When you have information you can plan action and if you act, something will happen. This is why money and information guarantee us power.  We need to think about how to support ourselves”

As 40 – 50 % of Mumbai’s population – 19 million people – lives in slums, many millions do not have access to toilets. In fact, the ratio translates to about 1 toilet for every 800 people.  The NSDF has therefore been working together with Mr Jalota and the Municipality to construct community planned and -owned toilet facilities. This experience, Mr Jalota explained, would help to develop more policies for Greater Mumbai.

Jockin founded the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India (NSDF) in the 1970s. Often referred to as the “grandfather” of the global slum dwellers movement, Jockin was educated by the slums, living on the streets for much of his childhood with no formal education. For more than 30 years, Jockin has worked in slums and shantytowns throughout India and around the world. After working as a carpenter in Mumbai, he became involved in organising the community where he lived and worked (Reference). He helped found SDI and has been awarded many prestigious global awards, most recently the Skoll Foundation award for social entrepreneurship. On behalf of SDI Jockin has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town


Know Your City: Discussing Community-Collected Data at World Urban Forum 7

Know Your City

By Ariana MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

There has been a lot of discussion at this week’s World Urban Forum about the use of data as a key tool in the development of inclusive, sustainable cities. Key to this discussion is how data can be used in the cities of Africa, Asia and Latin America, most of which still face major challenges around urban poverty and whose city development strategies, for the most part, continue to exclude the large majority of these cities’ populations – the urban poor. But yesterday at SDI’s networking event, a strategically different approach to data was presented and discussed. The Know Your City campaign – a global campaign for gathering citywide data on slums as the basis for inclusive partnerships between the urban poor and their local governments – was presented as a critical component of the push for urban data. When communities of the urban poor collect data about their own communities, in partnership with their local and national governments, they are armed with the necessary tools to become key players in the development of strategies of urban development that take into account the realities and needs of the city’s urban poor majority.

In our networking event, delegates from SDI-affiliated urban poor federations and support NGOs, the SDI Secretariat, and key international networks and agencies discussed the importance of this campaign in greater detail. Jack Makau of the SDI Secretariat spoke on the history of SDI’s data collection strategies. SDI-affiliated federations of the urban poor have been collecting information about themselves for decades. This data has led to upgrading projects in affiliates across Africa, Asia and Latin America, and has formed the basis of large-scale slum upgrading interventions in India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and more recently, Uganda. 

Know Your City

In the last year, however, the SDI network has begun to standardize and aggregate this data in a way that we have not been able to before. This means that urban poor communities have expanded their scope – from collecting data only about the settlements where they live, to collecting data on all the slum settlements in their cities. This includes demographic, spatial and economic information that allows for a picture of the whole city – data that can be used to drive communities’ negotiations with local government for slum upgrading and development at the citywide scale. The accuracy and ownership of the data is enhanced because it is collected and used by communities in discussions with city governments on upgrading plans and programs, meaning that the communities themselves have a greater stake in the need for accurate, up-to-date information.

Know Your City

These claims were supported by the experiences of SDI affiliates from Kenya and Zimbabwe. Catherine Sekai, national leader of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, related that the Federation, alongside their local authority, “profiled the entire city of Harare, settlement by settlement” to identify peoples’ needs on the ground. This led to the transfer of land by the city to the communities for the construction of upgraded houses in Dzivaresekwa Extension, one of Harare’s largest slums.

Know Your City

Another example of the power of community-collected data came from Irene Karanja, executive director of Muungano Support Trust, support NGO to the Kenyan urban poor federation Muungano wa Wanavijiji. Karanja shared some key findings from 300 community-driven profiles from slums in 20 cities and towns across Kenya. Two central issues emerged from these profiles: land and sanitation. Most of the land occupied by slums in Kenya is privatized, and currently under high threat of eviction from developers looking to take back the land as land values in Kenya’s cities continue to rise. Because of the status of land ownership, interventions around sanitation have been nearly impossible and continue to threaten health and security of slum residents, particularly women. 

Karanja concluded her presentation by calling to action the Kenyan government and global urban development stakeholders, stating that, “The dialogue [around urban development] has to change now as we move towards Habitat III – poor people need a chance to expose the data that we are talking about today. Communities have data that government does not have. Despite this, government does not want to accept this data. It is our hope that this data can be used in Kenya to form part of the national urban agenda.” 

Know Your City

Two of SDI’s key institutional partners in the Know Your City campaign also participated in the event – Jean Pierre Elong-Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities & Local Governments Africa (UCLG-A) and Anaclaudia Rossbach, Regional Advisor to Latin America and the Caribbean from Cities Alliance. Elong-Mbassi reminded the group that at least 50% of Africa’s cities are made up of slums, and that “any mayor interested in managing a city in a comprehensive way cannot ignore slum dwellers.” Elong-Mbassi echoed the call to action of the Know Your City campaign, requesting that local governments “leave [behind] the moment where we use second-hand data to [understand] reality,” instead, he went on to say, “We want first-hand data from communities to be the mine of knowledge for the management of cities.” 

Know Your City

Lastly, Anaclaudia Rossbach of Cities Alliance, coming from her experience in municipal government and her background as an economist, went on to endorse the need for community-collected slum data as critical to the successful implementation of slum upgrading projects. Indeed, with SDI sitting as a member of the Cities Alliance Executive Committee, the Know Your City campaign is part of the Cities Alliance medium term agenda. Rossbach emphasized the key point that it is only feasible to collect accurate data if the local people take ownership of the process – a critical component of SDI’s data-collection strategies.


Know Your City: Reflections from the Kampala Learning Centre

Kampala, Uganda

By Skye Dobson, ACTogether Uganda 

Last year as part of an external review of SDI, the staff of ACTogether Uganda and members of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) were asked to consider a continuum from 1 to 10, on which being a “model builder or catalyst” was at one end and being an “operator for citywide upgrading” was at the other. The point was not that one was better or for us to move from one (model builder) to the other (implementer), but to understand the ultimate aim of our work so we can find the most strategic ways to get there. The discussion that followed was revealing. It was clear there were mixed feelings in the community and even the NGO staff when it came to situating our present work and future goals on this continuum.  

After challenging themselves to resist proprietary claims to projects, approaches, and information, the local team concluded that in order to achieve scale the primary goal is to set precedents and catalyze more inclusive urban development. To do this, the Uganda federation and support NGO, will need to capitalize on their comparative advantage as a mass movement of slum dwellers and partner and push others toward pro-poor development – not seek to implement all the projects itself. 

Personally, I was satisfied by the conclusion of the team as I had been nervous for some time that as we move to a city-wide slum upgrading agenda – increasingly defined and measured by projects – we risk losing focus on the community organizing that has distinguished SDI from so many other urban development actors. This year I feel assured this is the right approach in the Uganda context. Some recent developments have given concrete indications that the so-called “soft” investments of SDI are beginning to have a “hard” impact on city planning in Uganda, while staying true to the priorities, principles, and strengths of the slum dweller federation. 

At the end of last year ACTogether and the NSDFU began profiling and mapping slums in Kampala.  We identified 62 slum settlements and conducted profiling in each and every one in order to gather data on land tenure, services, housing, and livelihoods etc. The verification process will be complete in March 2014 and the final report will be produced in April.  This is the first time city-wide slum profiling has been conducted in Kampala and the opportunity for ACTogether and the federation to engage in the formulation and implementation of city plans is significant. 

As part of an effort by the city to improve sanitation access for the urban poor, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) recruited Fichtner Water and Transportation GMbH consultants to conduct a feasibility study on 20 urban poor parishes in Kampala. Thanks to lobbying and advocacy in 2013, ACTogether and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda were invited to sit on the steering committee for the project – the only NGO/community representatives to do so. The international consultants were concerned by the lack of current information on slums. Official population data is 12 years old, gathered during the 2002 census, and it became clear to them that this had resulted in a serious underestimation of the present scale of slum coverage and a failure to understand the population shifts that have taken place as a result of eviction or displacement.

When ACTogether and the NSDFU presented their information from the city-wide profiling, the consultants immediately recognized its value. It was the first time the information gathered by Ugandan slum dwellers had been appreciated on such a highly technical and immediately practical level. The consultants requested we share our slums map so they could overlay it with maps from KCCA and NWSC in order to generate agreement on the extent of slum settlement and prioritize the areas of operation for the project. It was clear this was a concrete opportunity for the information the federation had gathered to influence planning for the whole city and target planned improvements to service delivery to the most vulnerable.

In Map 1, below, you can see the map produced by KCCA in 2010, showing 31 slums (in yellow). This is the most recent map available from the city authority. Map 2 was produced by ACTogether and NSDFU and shows the 62 slums (in orange) mapped in 2014.

Map 1. KCCA Identified Slums (From Kampala Physical Development Plan)

KCCA Slum Map

Map 2. ACTogether and NSDFU Slums (2014)

Federation Slum Map

The consultants used these two maps and another from National Water’s Urban Poor Unit to produce the following map (Map 3) to propose a consensus on slum coverage. The green areas are only confirmed by one source (mostly ACTogether/NSDFU) as part of the recent profiling work – highlighting what we believe to be a critical lack of recognition for the scope of slum coverage in the city.

Map 3: Confirmed Slum Areas, Kampala (Fichtner 2014)

Confirmed Slum Areas

As a result of this information, priority areas for the project were altered to reflect on the ground realities  – a big achievement for the federation. The consultants were able to advise government that the scope needed to be expanded to 40 parishes and that administrative boundaries were not sufficient to identify slums, as some parishes are comprised of informal and formal settlement. The development of the feasibility study rests on conceptual guidelines including: “placing the communities at the center of the decision framework with a view to improve the quality and sustainability of services and reduce costs.” ACTogether and the NSDFU have demonstrated their relevance to this process and eagerly anticipate slum dwellers being part of the decision framework in a way that is unprecedented in Uganda.

Last month ACTogether and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda were contacted by KCCA’s Strategic Planning Department requesting us to support them to gather the most recent information on slums to assist with the formulation of the Kampala Five Year City Strategic Plan, which will include a slum redevelopment component. This month we will present to the Management Committee of KCCA and present a draft MOU for partnership that will enable us to leverage our data to achieve significantly more substantial partnership between slum dwellers and the city – especially as the city embarks upon the precinct physical development planning process for implementation of the Master Plan (2012). 

Here in the Uganda learning center it is clear that Knowing Your City is the critical fist step in planning for your city. The comparative advantages of slum dweller communities to Know Their City is obvious and gaining recognition from an increasing number of state and non-state actors at a very practical level. In Uganda the federation and ACTogether are increasingly finding a balance between technical and community knowledge, recognizing that both are necessary and the challenge is to find creative combinations of community and expert knowledge and practice. As the federation and government learn from each other and adapt their strategies accordingly we truly see a movement toward collaborative planning. As Watson (2014) suggests, this kind of partnership goes beyond merely the debates required to shape plans, and extends community participation into the realm of delivery, implementation and management.