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Open Information Hub for Mitigating Effects of Climate Change in Urban Slums

Support people to adopt available technologies to collect, manage, and own data on problem areas, and make decisions on their development.

Photo of Primož Kovačič

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

You cannot rely on outsiders to tell you what is going on in the slums and if you don't know what is going on, you cannot make informed decisions about the most appropriate development solutions. Slums are in a constant state of emergency and lack of reliable data makes response to disasters or any type of urban planning near impossible. We believe the people who truly understand the complexities of the problems in slums are the people who face them every day. We put people at the center of development by equipping them with tools and methodologies to collect their own data, manage, analyse and own that data, and make decisions about their own development. Resilience is not just about having the ability to stay the course but to challenge it and to propose change. In this project, we will teach people how to use GPS devices to identify the most exposed areas and available resources; mobile phones to conduct public opinion surveys on problems that people face; participatory network mapping to identify decision making processes, response mechanisms and power dynamics; and identify respondents, again both formal and informal, to crisis. Beyond monitoring and ICT, we will partner with community members and build an information hub located within the community to store and manage community data. This hub will connect the community to outside experts both physically and through available open data shared through UNOCHA's HDX, OpenStreetMap, and other open data platforms.

WHO BENEFITS?

We will implement our idea in Mathare, Nairobi's second largest slum of approximately 100,000 people. Citizens will benefit by owning information which will help them direct development to the most problematic areas. Development organizations will benefit through increased impact of their investments. Emergency organizations will benefit through greater understanding of problems and communities' resources. The open data community will benefit though access to data.

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

Slums are often situated in geographically challenged areas which are prone to disasters such as flooding, landslides, fires and droughts. Effects of climate change in slums are multiplied due to poor infrastructure and fragile governance systems which are unable to adequately deal with increased pressures from both inside and outside of the community. The community’s power to ‘bounce back’, adapt, and to propose change depends on having the right information available at the right time. Our project will fill the information gap left by the absence of the state by providing communities with valuable tools to collect data for advocacy, as well as link them to organisations seeking to address resilience to climate change and its consequences. The Hub will contain information on the most problematic areas, list of communities’ amenities, resources (including social capital) and migration patterns, database of responders and potential areas for improvement. Information will be used both internally to increase accountability of local authorities and externally to share best practices and lessons learned. Furthermore, this evidence-based effort will “help the urban poor to obtain the recognition that cities and towns deny them both in infrastructure and in equal opportunities, particularly in what refers to adequate housing and preparedness and resilience to disasters.” – Claudio Torres

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

My name is Primoz Kovacic and I'm a co-founder and director of Spatial Collective, a technology and GIS consulting social enterprise based in Nairobi, Kenya. We support people and organizations in how to collect and manage relevant data from hard to access areas by using available technologies.

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

We have a proven track record in working on Community Data for Development projects in informal settlements. We have implemented projects on environmental management, water and sanitation, conflict, and use of public space. Recently, we completed a two year long project on hazard mitigation and environmental management in Mathare, with a specific focus on mapping amenities and researching formal and informal governance initiatives put in place to tackle environmental issues. We applied our tested and scalable methodology to great effect. We set up an information hub equipped with computers, internet and other ICTs. We trained community members and activists in data collection and analysis, communication and participatory research. We built relationships with the community, relevant development organizations and government offices. The next step will be to refine our model to fit the specific needs addressing community resilience and climate change, and to allow it to scale.

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

A certain perception of what is best development approach exists among most development organizations. Many organisations, however well-intentioned, approach the communities with a solution (likely based on the products and activities they provide) already at hand. Most do not take the time or do not have the necessary resources available to truly understand the problems at hand. We make no assumptions. We transfer knowledge by teaching people and organizations how to collect and manage data that is important to them, and further, support them in decision making and advocacy about the most appropriate development processes; all the while maintaining high quality assurance. We turn communities into data experts and development partners, increasing the impact of development organizations through the process. Starting by asking the people what the problem is and how to solve it, we can identify the often simple yet unheard solutions the communities may already have - including on climate change. The results are often disruptive because they are “too simple” in the eyes of many outsiders, however, we have seen that sometimes the simplest solutions can have the greatest impact.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

First, we are not experts on climate change. We are however experts in community/small data gathering, informal settlements, data analysis, monitoring and evaluation, technology, training, development, mapping, and communication. We will seek to partner with experts in the field of resilience to climate change, who will hopefully help us refine our scalable community model to fit this specific need. Second, community data it is often dismissed as not robust or accurate enough to be used for broader urban or development planning. The question remains, how will the experts perceive and react to community data on resilience and effects of climate change in slums.

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

Slums are often missing from geographic and statistical representation of countries. Little information is available on the quality and quantity of public institutions and amenities, public services, or on the population itself living there. Household surveys are “few and far in-between,” and results are often problematic. On the other hand, many development organizations collect data for their own purpose, to fit their own needs. This is the reason that data on slums are either non-existent or hard to find; biased towards specific goals of development organizations; dispersed and seldom openly available; or collected in a manner not specific to address resilience to climate change.

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

Based on our discussion with stakeholders we realized we need to actively seek partnerships with climate change professionals. We have already established contacts with relevant offices and individuals (such as Mike Hower who is a senior writer at GreenBiz) dealing with effects of climate change on urban settings. Catherine Allison from Future Earth advised us that we need to include other data sharing platforms in our project. We agree. We will upload all of the geographic data to OpenStreetMap, as we usually do, and share all of the other data with UNOCHA's HDX, Kenya Open Data and other relevant open data platforms. Claudio Torres from UN-Habitat Housing and Slum Upgrading Program wrote a great comment addressing the importance of using our information both internally to increase accountability of local authorities and externally to share best practices and lessons learned. He also said that this platform can serve as a springboard for communities to advocate for their own rights, thus making our data usable and our initiative less dependent on external funding. We have incorporated all of his comments by putting a greater emphasis on data analysis and advocacy as opposed to only on data collection. Our partners on the ground alerted us that the Open Information Hub isn't just a digital hub but also a physical space where people congregate, hang out, work and share ideas. This is a very important point and we have since included it into our proposal.

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

Our mission is to increase the communities’ resilience and the impact of development organizations dealing with effects of climate change in urban slums. Specifically, our goal is to provide a replicable and scalable model for collecting and using community data in resilience and climate change projects throughout the world. We aim to document, test and scale the methodology in several settings and problem areas, and work with creatives from various backgrounds to help us refine the model to better suit the climate change angle. Finally, we will use this model to advocate for the greater inclusion of community/small data in the broader development process.

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

Informal governance systems in slums often lie on the periphery of the city’s official governance systems, hence, separating the two is never a viable option in development. Our work falls at the crossroad of formal and informal and the possibility of bridging the two. In this project, we will continue working with the Kenyan Red Cross Society to improve disaster response mechanisms in Nairobi's slums; support Mathare’s Member of Parliament in his efforts to better allocate government funds towards the area's most pressing needs; and work with UN-Habitat to ensure the greater inclusion of "community data" into Sustainable Development Goals.

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

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

Do you expect that community members will become data experts as part of this idea? How do you envision that happening?

What information have you collected about what the community finds desirable? How has this been incorporated into your idea? 

Photo of Primož Kovačič
Team

Thank you Chioma for sending your questions.

Regarding the first question: “Do you expect that community members will become data experts as part of this idea? How do you envision that happening?”

We have been developing our training methodology for several years and have already implemented it in a variety of settings and problem areas with great success. Out methods are based on transferring knowledge from experts (both in-house and outside) to community members and on learning-by-doing. To achieve the maximum learning impact, we address issues which are beyond just data collection and management. Our training methods include: support in community organizing to recognize the most pressing issues and needs within communities of interest; reconnaissance of resources and of the technology environment; project design and project planning; resource assessment and resource allocation; budget development; technology training: using GPS units, satellite imagery and mobile phones for data collection, using GIS and data management software for output creation (designing maps, charts and reports); and last but not least, data advocacy workshops.

In the past several years, we have trained more than a hundred people, often youths, and we have implemented dozens of community data projects throughout Nairobi’s informal settlements, Kenya’s rural areas, and other projects across several African countries.

Our methods are very effective. Many of the trainees have since successfully used the acquired knowledge in advocacy efforts of their own organizations; some are now running large government programs on data and governance in at least two African countries; some are employed by non-governmental organizations to continue data collection/advocacy work within their organizations.

Concerning the second question: “What information have you collected about what the community finds desirable? How has this been incorporated into your idea?”

Slums are relatively invisible to the outside world. They are often missing from geographic and statistical representation of countries and very little information is available on the quality and quantity of public institutions and amenities, public services, or on the population itself living in the slums. Throughout the years working in slums we found that people desire one thing in particular: having the ability to adequately address the most pressing needs within their communities and then having the ability to use that information to determine and implement the most appropriate development of their own communities. Our methods are based on supporting community’s initiatives first and foremost. This theme is present throughout our proposal.

Thank you again for your questions! 

Best,
Primoz

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Primoz,
Thank you for your detailed responses! It looks like a lot of the work that you already do contributes to resilience in slum communities. I'm curious to know whether there is a gap that you see that you'd like to fill if you were given Amplify support. For example, is there a type of data that isn't being collected, or a group of people you haven't engaged with in the past? 

Photo of Primož Kovačič
Team

Hi Chioma!

Thank you again for your question and please allow me to first wish you and your team and family a Happy and prosperous New Year!

As you have already noted, we have invested several years into training communities in dozens of slums across Nairobi, Kenya, and several other countries, on methods of acquiring and using community data for advocacy. Each of the projects, however, focused on different aspects of, or the need for, community data, depending on the aim of the project. While many of our projects do touch on resilience to climate change in slums to a certain extent, they were never implemented to address the issue head-on. In our work we have seen the need for having such data available, and perhaps even more importantly, the need to have it collected, used and organized in a responsible manner.

The Amplify support, if awarded, would first and foremost provide us with the opportunity to refine and consolidate our data collection and advocacy model for this specific issue. Specifically, it would allow us to: first, conduct research into data needs to address resilience and monitor the effects of climate change in slums in general; second, look into current organizational capacities of the city and community to address effects of climate change in slums; third, help us design and implement a model to gather and analyse community data on resilience and climate change in slums; fourth, help us define best options for achieving sustainability of this and similar projects; and last but not least, provide us with the opportunity to design advocacy strategies for the cause and wide dissemination of data and findings.

While the spatial scope of our project is narrowly defined (Mathare slum), the findings will have far-reaching consequences.

Our overall aim is to refine our model to better suit resilience to climate change angle, test the model, extensively document it, and finally, scale it up across the city/country/continent. Our goal is to create – together with our partners – the “go-to platform” for collecting, using and accessing community data on resilience and climate change in slums.

I hope I answered your question. I’m happy to answer further questions and in more detail if necessary.

Best,
Primoz

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