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Peace, Reconstruction and Human Development via Community-driven Urban Planning in Post-Conflict Monrovia and Freetown

Creating trust and social capacity between informal communities and local governments through urban upgrading in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Peace & sustainable development rely on virtuous cycles of trust, knowledge creation and collective action: We create joint urban planning capacity in post-war cities via community engagement + data.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and its affiliates in Liberia (FOLUPS) and Sierra Leone (FEDURP).

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

This project is an extension and continued development of SDI's community-led data collection and upgrading processes to support integrated and resilient cities. In Monrovia and Freetown's post-conflict context it builds socio-political and technical capacity for communities and local governments.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Create institutional platforms for slum communities and local government to engage in dialogue and joint planning and implementation of spatial plans for upgrading settlements. The problem is urgent because of low trust between war-displaced populations & government excacerbated by poverty.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Y1: FOLUPS and FEDURP identify most critical neighborhood challenges and possible paths to solutions. Use their data to create detailed settlement maps for incremental planning. Settlement Forums sustain community process and social cohesion. Y2: Community maps and upgrading plans form the basis of discussions between communities and city government. Settlement Forums design and implement pilot projects for City Upgrading Fund. Y3: Community and government together refine plans for scale.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

The Liberia (FOLUPS) and Sierra Leone (FEDURP) federations will lead the project with support from their local supporting NGOs, SDI Secretariat professionals and UChicago Researchers. SDI's Ghana, Kenya and Uganda federations provide peer-2-peer mentorship and support, leveraging other resources.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Program/Product/Service Design

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Iterate or improve on my product/service

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

SDI's Theory of Change's impact and output indicators and measures are aligned with international standards, viz. SDGs, New Urban Agenda, City Resilience Index (CRI). Our data collection processes (mapping, enumerations, perception studies) and systems for monitoring and evaluation are rigorous, community-led and driven for bottom-up solutions and interventions which are locally and contextually relevant for maximum impact. We design and measure with the bottom 40% in mind to ensure inclusivity.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

The priorities in our data have identified the issue of water as a concern around which we can mobilise to build our bridge to span all three objectives of the challenge with concrete steps. The challenges, concerns and responsibilities around access and management of water within all settlements offer opportunities for exploring peace and prosperity building and care for the environ

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

Whether community organization, engagement with governments and joint (technical) planning can build mutual trust to defuse violence from the side of the government (evictions, harassment) and the community (riots), and lead to a concrete (upgrading plan) common vision of a better future, based on civic engagement, peace and capacity for sustainable development. SDI practices have been successful elsewhere, but the history of conflict in Monrovia and Freetown poses stark new challenges.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.


Lack of access to basic services such as sanitation, as Micheal explains in the video above, places a compound burden on slum residents and their environment. Slum communities in Freetown (Sierra Leone) and Monrovia (Liberia) are located predominantly on the coastline. These communities and their cities, more generally, are at the forefront of issues of peace, human development, health and susceptibility to climate change. Having been the epicenters of some of the most terrible civil wars in memory, and more recently of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, these communities require a path forward to their own development that can stimulate hope and create tangible, cumulative outcomes over the next few years. 

Beyond the burden of waterborne diseases, insecurity, affordability of access and lack of dignity, residents suffer the double burden of contamination to their immediate environment and blame for the contamination of their surrounding of environment by their local governments. 

A typical sanitation unit 'hanging toilet' used by slum communities in Monrovia and Freetown.

Contaminated rain and flood water stagnates close to houses in S.K. Doe Community, Monrovia. The water provides ample breeding grounds for malarial mosquitos and waterborne diseases

Garbage mixed with human waste on the banks on the Montseraddo River, Monrovia. 

Drainage systems in slum communities, as this one in Freetown, are often inadequate and clogged with garbage, becoming the breeding grounds for disease and threaten the health of the environment.

Both cities are beginning their road to recovery from violent conflicts and recent Ebola epidemics. Populations are very young, with about 40% under 15yrs.

We have initiated a process of community engagement, organization, mapping and data collection towards creating development plans for slum neighborhoods in Freetown and Monrovia, integrated with plans also for their cities. This approach is based on:

  • Slum Dwellers International's Theory of Change outcome indicator #3 - Resilient, inclusive and integrated neighborhoods. 
  • SDG16 - 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels 
  • SDG11 - 11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • SDG 6 - 6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations 

These processes are also based on the observations that organised urban poor communities through their community data processes can co-produce the transformation of the built environment from slums to resilient, inclusive and integrated urban neighborhoods. 

The objective of this process is to create slum communities that are socially and economically integrated into the city and their neighborhoods and enjoy security of tenure with universal access to affordable and safe basic services and good quality housing. This is achieved through collective action and direct participation in urban planning through demonstration of incremental, precedent setting upgrading processes and projects using community data. 

We now describe these processes in greater detail.

Process of data collection:

Community Mobilization:

  • savings: communities organize into savings groups who on a daily basis save small amounts of money. the collection of money from members on a daily basis strengthens social interaction and cohesion. Saving money together builds trust among members and the dignity of especially young women who can build strategies for survival for themselves and their children, and tends to afford some protection from potentially exploitative/abusive relationships. The resulting capital also helps shift power differentials in households and create a logic of entrepreneurship and longer time thinking.  Savings groups also increase the possibility of accessing pro-poor credit that can support improving livelihood opportunities.

  • mobilization of slum communities: The data collection process centers around bringing together a representative stakeholder constituency at settlement level, incorporating city officials and technical staff. A community meeting with elders, youth, women, men, market queens and other community business owners etc, is held at least 3 times during the data collection process:
  1. Community mobilization and mapping meeting - the boundaries are community services and amenities are mapped during a community mapping exercise and then followed by collecting the data in the field with GPS to verify the boundaries and available services. 
  2. A broad community meeting (sometimes referred to as the Focus Group Discussion) where the Informal Settlement Profile Master form is administered. During this meeting the digitized community maps are also returned for verification by the community.
  3. Validation meeting - this meeting is held once all collected data has been digitized. Community members review a summary report of the main development priorities in their community, their maps and do a final check of the data.

A settlement/city forum is then held where communities share their data with other communities and city officials.

  • peer-learning: all activities in the data collection process is learned and passed on in peer groups. Skills like mapping, surveys administration, and data collection with GPS and mobile apps is all learned within groups. This fosters the building of healthy group dynamics and respect for the knowledge and capabilities of ones peers. 

SDI's data processes in the city-wide profiling of Monrovia and Freetown are building the capabilities of young women and men in these slum settlements in terms of knowledge, skills and confidence to engage in co-producing, with their city governments, neighborhoods that can evolve to obtain services and become formalized and on their way to normalization and development.

The processes by which SDI's achieves these objectives (data collection, organizing community members into savings groups, peer-to-peer learning exchanges) is a direct investment into the human and social capital of community members. Many of the aspects of mapping and planning also help ensure continuity and trust, within a process that is fraught with uncertainty and is susceptible to multiple interests.

Community members gain skills and knowledge in a range of literacies (including digital literacy), and training in mapping technologies (GIS) and their interpretation as maps and as analytical tools - this enhances their ability to access livelihood opportunities, confidence to talk and present their communities and their challenges to city officials. It makes them partners and implementers of their own development, rather than recipients and beneficiaries.

These skills and capabilities are especially valuable to young people and communities who through conflict and violence in their cities have been and continue to be deprived of opportunities to both improve their personal lives (education and health) and living conditions which make the pursuit of a dignified life impossible.

Settlement planning by communities puts them at the centre of the design process and negotiation around and for space and opportunities in their communities.  

Community members design roads for their own neighborhood using the data they collected.

Community members share the information and data they collected through their data process with the rest of their community during settlement fora.

Discussion the technical implications of their design decisions with researchers and support staff.

Planning with the city: Community designed maps are laid over the existing bulk infrastructure of the city to identify opportunities are challenges.

In this project, we are seeking support for a design stage of slum neighborhood planning, that uses ongoing unprecedented efforts at mapping and neighborhood data collection. We will use developed digital tools that create maps of upgraded slums, and include necessary infrastructure such as accesses, services and drainage, and that are editable by communities as part of a human-centered design process to reimagine their communities and cities. This process generates large scale, precise digital maps that are also a platform for negotiations and planning with other crucial stakeholders, such as the city governments in Monrovia and Freetown, with whom we have a working relationship.

As a result of this project, we expect

1) To generate detailed maps of Monrovia and Freetown, shack by shack, and including the present location of problems (e.g.flooding, fires, unsafe areas) and existing services, incorporating the living knowledge of resident communities.

2) Improve digital tools for community planning of these neighborhoods, by using existing maps and creating plans (new maps) of these communities on a city-wide scale. 

3) Test the effectiveness of the combined community organization+data collection + planning process at the city scale as a means to deliver rapid consensus, and a path forward towards peace, human development and environmental stewardship.

Explain your idea

Our idea is to build a integrated process of community organization, data collection, mapping, urban planning and implementation that can provide a path forward for the human development of some of the poorest neighborhoods in the world, in Monrovia and Freetown. The idea works by taking tried and true models of community organization and census type data collection - practiced by Slum-Dweller International for over 30 years in many countries - and meshing them with emerging mapping and map editing technologies, which can make information much more tangible and verifiable, and help build future scenarios for neighborhood development. We included photos and videos that show how the process works, but also highlights what needs to be improved. While slum dwellers - especially young people - find it natural and exhilarating to really understand and map their neighborhoods, we are still missing the tools to use this information prospectively to create plans that solve existing problems related to violence, health and climate change. Tools that make the verification, correction and creation of improved maps are being created quickly - by our academic partners, and open-source developers such as Digital Democracy and the Open Street Map community - but we are still missing easy to use tools and the opportunity to engage them with communities on the ground that can help improve them and make them productive for slum upgrading and planning. With this project we will take traditional community organization tools together with state of the art mapping and planning tools in a cycle of improvement. Our objective is to create a user-centric design process where community members can quickly incorporate measurements of their houses and services and discuss potential changes as part of the community reflection. This is then assessed for costs, given the quantitative characteristics of the plan (what needs to be moved, improved, constructed) creating also a financial plan. These plans most be owned, and understood by communities and their cities and become the central nexus of a stakeholder negotiation towards urban planning at the neighborhood and city levels. This project builds on a long term collaboration between SDI, local federations in Sierra Leone, and Liberia, our academic partners at the University of Chicago's new Institute for Urban Innovation and technologists at OSM, Ona and others in the open-source community.

Who Benefits?

Besides creating a process and tools that can continue to be improved for impact and ease of use anywhere (via peer to peer neighborhood collaborations, and the open source movement) we will be working directly with 5 neighborhood communities. These are 3 slum communities (Crab Town, Kolleh Town and Grey Bush) known as CKG in Freetown, Sierra Leone and 2 slum communities in Monrovia, Liberia - West Point and Peace Island. These communities are all part of an effort in these cities for city-wide profiling and part of a plan for post-conflict reconstruction supported by Cities Alliance and other international aid organizations.. These communities are already engaged and mapping their environments, and will through this project create their own development plans and engage with their local governments towards their implementation.

How is your idea unique?

Our idea is unique because it uses the state of the art in community organization, the best scientific knowledge of cities, and the best emerging open source technologies for mapping and planning. Our experience, honed in many nations over decades, is the the SDI process of collaboration between community and governments builds capacity in ways that top down initiatives and investments do not. At the same time, training with technology and creation of data creates a solid and verifiable basis of evidence that can be built on systematically and that becomes a solid basis for advancing choices and decisions between stakeholders. The success of this project will be a basis for channeling other investments by the international community in way that are transparent, create a trail of evidence and assessment by people and for people.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.
  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

We are an international collaboration driven by Slum Dwellers International and our Liberia and Sierra Leone federations and communities, but that also includes leading academic institutions (Santa Fe institute + University of Chicago), international organizations (Cities Alliance (CA): since 2009 - see: . SDI and CA are currently partnering on the Liberia Country Programme- see: and technologists, including Ona, and members of the OpenStreetMap community. Slum Dwellers International (SDI), is a network of grassroots community-based organisations in 32 countries and territories across the global South (Latin America, Asia and Africa). This allows us to test pilots - like this one - in specific places, and potentially grown them to affect change elsewhere globally. SDI Federations come together at the settlement, city and national level to mobilize both communities and governments to improve the lives of the urban poor. We are committed to supporting a process of development that is driven from the bottom up by slum dweller/informal settlement communities themselves. Since 1996, we have been instrumental in facilitating a global voice of the urban poor, engaging local and international actors and operating on the international stage in order to support and advance local struggles. Community planning activities build political capital for communities both internally and externally. Within communities, activities like enumeration (household-to-household socio-economic surveys) and mapping create space for communities to: identify developmental priorities, organize leadership, expose and mediate grievances between segments of the community, and cohere around future planning ( Such activities serve as a platform for engagement with governments and other stakeholders involved in planning and setting policy for development in urban centres. A key aspect of community planning activities is that communities own the information they collect. When they share the data with government, they are able to create new relationships — and even institutions — that make the poor integral role players in the decisions that affect their lives. In Sierra Leone and Monrovia we have long standing relationships with YMCA.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
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Team (2)

Luis's profile
Luis Bettencourt

Role added on team:

"Luis is an academic researcher at the Santa Fe Institute, soon to become the Director of the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation. He will contribute methods of analysis for maps and help coordinate the work of creating planning tools that are technically accurate and easy to use that the same time. Luis is interested in promoting new models of urban sustainable development from the bottom up, starting with neighborhoods and community knowledge and priorities."

Anni's profile
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Attachments (5)


Both federations had to consider 3 questions in relation to their data and the current project proposal. 1) what would make life easier in terms of spatial planning/ access to services/social conditions? 2) what would create trust and collaboration within the community and between community and government? 3) what would create a process that could continue to solve problems and improve, in terms of peace, living conditions and a better environment in your context?


User Experience Map 1: The Okada drivers


Snapshot of SDI's Theory of Change and outcome indicators.

SDI_TOC Community Presentation.pdf

SDI's Theory of Change development was a participatory process between SDI national federations through their Regional Hub process and the Secretariat's Learning Monitoring and Evaluation (LME) Team, and supported by the Rockefellar Foundation.


Join the conversation:

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Annie and Team!

We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the BridgeBuilder team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

One expert shared, “This initiative is grounded in practical experience and places the spotlight on the harsh realities of people living in slums in Monrovia and Freetown whose lives have been devastated by conflict and the Ebola crisis. It's exciting because young people are taking the lead in mapping the conditions of their own communities, using state of the art technologies, and developing plans for improving their communities. Similar successful models exist in Guatemala, India, Southern and East Africa.”

When thinking about desirability, feasibility and viability here’s what experts shared:
• Experts shared: Desirability -“Community mapping processes are very useful for enabling communities to understand more clearly the challenges they face and the actions needed to address them. They are also really useful for presenting concise, data-based information to planners, government officials, and funders.” Two challenges that experts wondered about around feasibility and viability a) how are you ensuring the collection of accurate data and also feed that information back into the community in a way that increases collaboration rather than divisiveness, enables coordinated planning and prioritization rather than a multiplicity of options? B) This initiative as outlined is very ambitious what are some of the ways you will ensure success and sustainability of this project? Are there ways to break this proposal down into incremental pieces?

When thinking about how your solution considers the end user experts shared:
This project does a great job taking end users into account!

Some additional questions experts had about your program:
• Are savings groups already established and how will they contribute to the process?
• How have you identified that three community meetings during the mapping process will be adequate for five neighborhoods, and the authentic inclusion of diverse community members?
• If you were to summarize what would be your 1-2 top goals for this project?

Thank you so much for sharing the important work you are doing!

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 16 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Anni Beukes

Dear IDEO Team,

thank you so much for your feedback and questions to help us think through our idea and tune it up!
We are actively thinking about this at present and will be sure to email you all some more where we get stuck.

Thanks so much and best wishes
Anni & Team

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Anni and team,

I look forward to seeing your response to the expert feedback. The deadline for responses is Friday 11:59 pm Pacific Time.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me -

Are there any specific organisation operating in certain geographies or sectors that would like to connect to for this project or in general?

Photo of Anni Beukes

Hi Kate,

thank you very much for the encouragement. We have posted our reviewed and revised comments and project plan in the Improve phase as images.

We answered all the reviewers comments by going back to our data and identifying one key issue around which we could federate around in both cities through using planning and our data processes and system to create concrete mechanisms of trust, collaboration, conflict resolution as not only a base for human development, but also as a potential path for peace and prosperity.

There is one question we do hope became clear through our presentation, but in case it did not, here goes:

Q: How have you identified that three community meetings during the mapping process will be adequate for five neighborhoods, and the authentic inclusion of diverse community members?

A: Mapping and data collection meetings are only the beginning of the process:
There is a general, comprehensive approach to create collective efficacy in each community
- savings groups which meet at least once a week
- the long term iterative processes are led and ‘curated’ by the savings groups
- the process is build on our SDI incremental settlement upgrading framework
- we use in-country and international learning exchanges between our federations to share learnings and build soft-skills.

We recognize that there may also have been some confusion in the number of settlements. There are 3 settlements in total. Two in Monrovia and one in Freetown.

The 3 settlements is Freetown (Crab Town, Kolleh Town and Gray Bush) have since last year decided to amalgamate (CKG) as a heuristic to strengthen their capacity for engagement and create more voice. This in itself presents an opportunity to develop communities capacities to think beyond the immediate boundaries of their own homes and settlements and practice their negotiation skills at the local level.

Within Monrovia, given the context and the age of the federation, they are still cautious in engaging with organizations beyond the SDI network of federations and partners.

In Sierra Leone the federation is already engaged with other civil society actors in this space. Here their reply:
"We are working in collaboration with other community development partners. We already have the Pull Slum Pan Pipul (PSPP) Consortium that constitute of six organisations working in similar settlements, including the Freetown City Council (FCC), Njala University, University College London through the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, all are key partners to this process. The data generated will be shared with these partners to support the process."

We believe strengthening the relationships within this partnership will be of great benefit for the federation and also a great opportunity for learning for the federation in Liberia on how to balance and capitalize on engagements with organisations beyond our own network.

Thanks to all the reviewers for their comments which have guided us to think more concretely about what we hope to achieve and set clear and measurable targets for ourselves.

Thank you too for your support and we hope very much to continue on this journey with you all.

Best wishes
Anni & Team

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