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Connecting Urban Slums for Enhanced Resilience

We will enhance the resilience of slum residents to climate-related risks by connecting urban slums through a city-wide learning network.

Photo of Frank Thomalla

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

Urban slum residents are often highly creative in adapting to adverse conditions in order to survive from day to day. Innovative solutions to reduce risk and build resilience to climate-related hazards already exist in many slum communities. However, in the absence of formal representation of the needs of slum residents in city governance, possibilities to support, upscale or replicate such solutions in order to benefit more people in the same slum or another slum are limited. While some slums have gained visibility by advocating for improved living conditions, many slum residents are unaware of the channels that exist to effectively communicate their knowledge and concerns to city officials, and which city officials to contact regarding the risks they face in their communities. Our idea is to build on an existing network of slums within the target city of Bangkok which faces recurrent flooding. The network’s purpose is three-fold: 1) Connect people of different slums within Bangkok to share knowledge and experience on the climate-related risks they face; 2) Establish a collective voice for Bangkok slum residents to raise their confidence and strengthen their communication and bargaining power with relevant city officials; and 3) Create a space for the local government, such as disaster management officials, to provide expertise to slum residents on climate-related risks.

WHO BENEFITS?

The beneficiaries will be the urban slum residents of selected slums in Bangkok, Thailand, who through this network will have increased knowledge and capacity to deal with climate-related risks in their communities. This project will also support and build the capacity of organisations already working in the slums, such as the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI).

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

Climate change and unplanned development are major drivers of disaster risks in urban slums. Our idea connects with current international and national efforts to build more climate resilient cities (key examples include the 100 Resilient Cities Campaign of the Rockefeller Foundation, the UNISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign, the Thai Four Regions Slum Network and CODI Thailand). Many of the existing Thai networks focus on improving livelihoods and land rights. We will add value to these efforts by addressing climate change as a common challenge to slum communities across Bangkok and by placing emphasis on the needs and priorities of the most vulnerable and marginalised urban residents. We chose Bangkok because 27% of the urban population live in slums, and because we have considerable work experience and good connections to government, civil society, and private sector actors there. Our idea adheres to all of the challenge design principles because it 1) addresses all climate-related risks in urban slums, 2) links to current urban resilience building efforts, 3) aims to identify, replicate and upscale tried and tested solutions already applied in slums, 4) aims to use low-cost, readily available and environmentally friendly materials, where possible, 5) engages all vulnerable and marginalized social groups, including women, and 6) engages members of slum communities in the design and implementation of the project.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

We're a group of researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute (www.sei-international.org) and are members of the SEI Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk (www.sei-international.org/transforming-development-and-disaster-risk).

IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?

Our organisation, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia Centre, has extensive experience in working on issues linked to climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. While SEI has not worked directly with slum communities in Bangkok, we have developed key insights through our work on the environmental risks vulnerable communities face in urban areas in Southeast Asia. Additionally, being based in Bangkok has allowed us to deepen our understanding of the contextual, social, environmental, cultural and political dynamics in formal and informal parts of the city. We aim to translate these insights and expertise to the ground level to support the co-development of knowledge and ensure that this knowledge is both useful and accessible for vulnerable communities.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?

A number of formal and informal networks already exist in Bangkok’s slum communities. For example, the Baan Mankong Network, coordinated by the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), actively engages with slum communities on housing and infrastructure development activities within Thailand’s poorest urban areas. However, such networks do not directly address flood risk, a recurrent issue in Bangkok’s slum communities. The project will work through and build on existing networks that focus on slum development, such as the Baan Mankong Network, and incorporate a cross-cutting flood risk focus. Working through an established and trusted organization will help mobilize our efforts to enhance resilience of urban slums to flooding. It will help promote dialogues on capacity building between different levels of government, local slum councils and slum communities to improve coordination, as well increase understandings around flood risk.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

Knowledge and awareness: What learning process would enable slum residents to better understand the linkages between floods and other concerns (e.g. health, transportation, livelihoods), in order to demonstrate the value of risk reduction measures alongside other important priorities? Communication: What is the best way to communicate information within and between slums? Through the internet? Through community leaders? Inter-slum dynamics: While there seems to be relatively strong coordination within individual slums, what are the inter-slum dynamics for different slums across Bangkok? What fosters or hinders collaboration?

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

While the risk of floods are well-known to slum residents, concerns over finding employment, avoiding land eviction and gaining access to education surface as more immediate needs. Although external support from governments and NGOs has been provided for some slums, it has tended to focus more on addressing these ‘immediate’ needs, rather than what are viewed as ‘uncertain’ and more ‘distant’ threats, such as floods and other climate risks, due to limited resources. The critical interlinkages between floods and other important sectors (e.g. housing, health) are not readily perceptible. Communication between government officials and slum communities is also a major challenge.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?

In order to test this idea and the impact it would have on beneficiaries, we met with CODI, which has worked directly with Bangkok’s slum communities for two decades. We decided to firstly go through CODI, an organization that is widely trusted by slum communities, rather than approach slums directly which we felt could be seen as intrusive. Following this initial meeting with CODI, the need for a city-wide learning network on risks and resilience was reaffirmed as CODI described the absence of such elements in the Baan Mankong Network. CODI has piloted some projects on reducing risks associated with earthquakes in northern Thailand but they have not yet done any similar work in Bangkok. They expressed a strong interest in potentially being a partner in this project in order to help slum communities put climate-related risks on the agenda. One potential challenge raised by CODI is that different slums may not initially see the benefits of sharing experiences and knowledge with each other as they are first and foremost concerned with their own needs. However, such shared learning dialogues are possible over time and have proven useful for addressing community needs to officials. For example, CODI has been able to support inter-slum dialogues through the Baan Mankong Network which has representatives from various slums in Bangkok. The network has allowed residents to participate in cross-slum engagement and helped towards collective action for improved living conditions.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

We envision this project taking a multi-level approach to address climate-related risks in Bangkok. Firstly, this project will build on existing slum networks to promote shared learning dialogues on flood risks. Through this we envision a stronger collective voice for slum communities to be created which will help them effectively channel their concerns regarding floods to policymakers and relevant government authorities. Lastly, this network will offer an opportunity for policymakers and government authorities to directly address the concerns of residents and share expertise on floods and other climate-related risks in a more organized and equitable manner.

How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

CODI is a long-standing public organization that engages a wide range of communities, civil society groups, and government actors in Bangkok. By working directly through CODI and the Baan Mankong network, we are able to situate this project within Bangkok’s existing institutional landscape, and build on the relationships CODI has established with slum communities, and local and national partners over the past two decades. CODI largely focuses on housing and land rights for slum communities, and while it has identified the need for a flood risk perspective in its projects in Bangkok it doesn’t have the existing capacity or tools to address it. By directly addressing a need identified by CODI, the relevance of this project for pressing local priorities is ensured. CODI offers access to networks and contextual knowledge on the challenges and opportunities faced in Bangkok’s slums. This project will boost CODI’s efforts by providing insights on disaster risk and development linkages.

11 comments

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Frank,
Below is some feedback from our experts. We look forward to reading your responses!

With Bangkok being part of 100 resilient cities and having a Chief Resilience Officer, an effort such as this could find willing collaboration in government and has fairly limited resource implications. 

I'd like to know more about is what specific new innovations and approaches could be introduced to support slum communities (e.g. new technologies?)

How have you engaged your beneficiaries in this process? What have you learned and incorporated into your idea? 

Photo of Frank Thomalla
Team

Dear Chioma,

Thank you for the feedback from the experts.

Regarding question 2 about innovations and approaches, we're planning to partner with LIRNEasia (http://lirneasia.net), an information and communication technology (ICT) think tank, that has expertise in using ICTs for hazard risk assessment, risk communication, early warning and community preparedness.

Building resilience requires understanding the risks. Intuitively ICTs can be effective in using GIS techniques for mapping and visually analyzing risks. For example, the Sahana Community Resilience Mapping Tool was designed for such a purpose: http://sahanafoundation.org/los-angeles-community-resilience-mapping-tool/. We also plan to use social media messaging parsing and #tag techniques to identify knowledge.

To understand the risks we need data. Gathering data is always a challenge. However, concepts such as play-sourcing, game-sourcing, or gaming are entertaining ways to collect data and at the same time use those methods to send data to make people aware of risks and mitigation practices.

One emphasis is in the use of low-cost ICTs. These are easier to replicate and experiment with. There are tools that can be customized for community development, in this case addressing urban slum issues. Generally, we would consider text-messaging, interactive voice, and mapping as the minimal functions for a community-centered ICT system.

Given that we plan to focus on urban slums, we don't expect any issues with telephony, internet and connectivity, as there is likely to be at least one service provider. The more difficult part is getting people to adopt the ICTs. For this we would suggest a community-informatics model that Michael Gurstein et al promote (see: http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/383).

LIRNEasia have developed a rapid prototyping approach using the stewarding
technology model (http://ennuonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/DigitalHabitats-Chapter62.pdf). This would allow for a participatory approach to developing systems for knowledge mobilization.

Other ICT-enhanced work could involve around considering migration patterns as many urban slum dwellers tend to be migrant workers. Using telecommunications data to understand their behavior may provide insights and policy relevant evidence for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

Photo of Frank Thomalla
Team

How we have engaged with beneficiaries and what we have learned (question 3):

We met with CODI as a way of testing our idea with those who have good insights into the experiences of slum communities. Through learning more about the work of CODI and the Baan Mankong Network, we were able to better understand the ways they engage with slum communities and the challenges they face in working with them. We mention more about some of the challenges in the questions above.

One of the key challenges relates to linking together different slum communities throughout Bangkok. However, together with slum communities, CODI has succeeded in establishing these inter-slum networks which has supported dialogue and joint action. Therefore, instead of creating a new platform, we agreed that it was more beneficial to work directly with CODI and the Baan Mankong Network. Together, we will spearhead this risk and resilience learning network with the communities they are already working with, bringing in additional slum communities at a pace that is deemed appropriate by all parties. CODI also stressed the need for connecting with high level actors to advance their work and increase impact. We aim to do this by connecting with local and national authorities, for example throught the 100 Resilient Cities campaign and ACCCRN.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Frank - thanks for the detailed response. Exciting that you have been working with CODI to get a better understanding of the needs of the community you intend to serve. It's great that you might form a partnership with them, but if that doesn't happen, who would carry this idea forward? How do you anticipate using Amplify support? 

Photo of Frank Thomalla
Team

In response to the first comment on the 100 resilient cities and Chief Resilience Officer, we agree that linking up with the 100 RC campaign could be both useful and strategic in order to engage with relevant local authorities and plug into the resilience network here in Bangkok. We aim to connect with Bangkok’s recently appointed Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) and explore options to integrate this project into Bangkok’s resilience strategy supported by 100 RC. Our project aligns with one of the major functions of the CRO by connecting diverse stakeholders: practitioners (CODI), government actors, beneficiaries and the research community. By establishing these connections we can potentially act as a bridging partner to facilitate the inclusion of slum communities into the larger resilience agenda.

We also intend to connect with the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) to build on lessons learned from their past work on flood risk and resilience in Thailand’s secondary cities. For example, the ACCCRN experience has shown that an iterative process that is designed with both flexibility and adaptability in mind is most effective.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

This is great, thank you! And do you have a sense of what you might like Amplify's support with?

Photo of Frank Thomalla
Team

Dear Nuwan, thank you so much for your feedback on our idea. I'm familiar with some of the work you're doing at LIRNEasia and wonder whether you might be interested in partnering with us? Our project would benefit from your innovative approaches in using ICTs for risk assessment, risk communication, early warning and enhancing community preparedness to disaster and climate-related risks.

Photo of Nuwan
Team

Interesting idea connecting urban slums. This relates to some of the work that I'm doing in Stewarding Technology and Communities of Practice (Wenger et al); although our focus in this current project is in agricuture the concepts can be applied to any group: http://mobilizingknowledge.blogspot.hk/2015/09/the-future-of-knowledge-sharing-in.html

Essentially, what you are addressing is a community of practice involving experts in climate change adaptation and urban slum communities. Mapping, Texting, and Voice-enabled ICT tools are easy-to-use and rapidly prototype knowledge mobilization within the community of practice.

Games, game-sourcing, or play-sourcing help incentive such communities to engage.

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on making it to the Feedback Phase Frank! We would love it if you can take some time to answer the new Refinement questions that we've added to your original idea submission form. To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Also, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 11/16" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Timothy Gachanga
Team

Hi Frank. Thanks very much for building on my idea. I agree with you that slum communities are isolated/excluded when decisions concerning urban slums are being made. Creating networks among urban slum communities can give them a voice, identity and strengthen their cohesion. I would love to be in your team so that we can share experiences.

Best wishes,
Timothy

Photo of Rehana Merali
Team

Hi Franck, thanks for adding us to your team! We do not currently work in Bangkok but what you propose sounds is very much in line with what we propose (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/ideas/young-women-and-men-in-urban-slums-the-voices-of-tomorrow).
Regarding purpose (1) around connecting slum dwellers from different communities and purpose (3) around creating space for officials to provide skills and awareness to slum dwellers, one of the lessons learnt from our disaster-risk reduction (DRR) pilot project in Sierra Leone was actually the value of collaborating with a variety of communities, agencies and organisations working in Freetown, as well as an academic institution in the UK. Working in collaboration with the community-based disaster management committees (CBDMCs), communities and young people was essential for the success of the project, as were the linkages between the CBDMCs. Additionally, partnerships with organisations (Concern Worldwide and Sierra Leone Red Cross Society) and government agencies (Disaster Management Department of the Office of National Security; and Freetown City Council) involved in DRR in Freetown were key to the project’s success. Research on young people and DRR as a result of the partnership with King’s College London, UK was also valuable for everyone’s learning.
Regarding purpose (2), this is what we are doing in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Lome with technical support from Slum Dwellers International to facilitate the establishment and provide support to slum dwellers' federations (e.g. FEDURP in Sierra Leone: http://www.citiesalliance.org/node/2399).
You may also find this link of inspiration: http://www.ycareinternational.org/2015/10/31/young-people-across-africa-take-action-to-make-slums-safer/. This is about our advocacy work in the 3 countries mentioned above and the role young people are playing about it.