Workspaces:The changing environment of infomediaries/Map Kibera

The story of Map Kibera

Erica Hagen, co-founder at GroundTruth Initiative


Map Kibera was developed in response to the lack of available map data and other public, open, and shared information about one of the world's largest slums: Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya. While other parts of Nairobi are well documented on online and paper maps, the most densely populated parts of the city, the informal settlements, remained invisible. Map Kibera was started in October of 2009 by Erica Hagen and Mikel Maron, with initial funding by Jumpstart International. The Map Kibera pilot is the first project by GroundTruth Initiative, LLC, established in March 2010 to provide a base for replicating and further developing the techniques used in Kibera. Kibera is designated a forest on government maps, and is absent on Google and other publicly available maps. Media in Kibera is also minimal, and residents complain that the mainstream news sources present only a negative picture – or no picture at all – of the place they call home. This invisibility of up to one million of Nairobi's population and their absence from mass communication as well as policy decisions is what Map Kibera has sought to address. It is founded on the premise that the advent of the digital age means that gatekeepers to information and data can often be bypassed or ignored completely, allowing for a new and sometimes parallel information system to be created and used by marginalized citizens.

1. Phase 1: Initial mapping phase, October-December 2009

Map Kibera first established partnerships in Kenya with three key Kenyan organizations: SODNET (Social Development Network), KCODA (Kibera Community Development Agenda), and CFK (Carolina for Kibera). The pilot began with the help of KCODA and CFK in the recruitment of 13 young people in Kibera, one from each village. The youth range in age from 19-34, with 5 young women and 8 young men who are active in the community and had some familiarity with computers. After two days of training in the use of the GPS devices (Garmin eTrex, consumer grade) and the editing software in the computer lab, the group spent three full weeks mapping their home villages. After collecting data in the field, the group traveled to the SODNET, based outside the slum, where a computer lab and internet use was donated. After one week mapping points of interest at their discretion, the team decided together which were the most important to comprehensively mark. At the end of three weeks, the map was complete ( Rather than creating a stand-alone map, the project contributed data to an ongoing open-source project known as OpenStreetMap. This crowd-sourced map is made by thousands of volunteer users globally. The mappers edited using Java OpenStreetMap application ( Resulting data can be used in many forms allowing for remixing of inputs into customized results. International virtual volunteers helped edit as well (see for more detail). To realize the broader vision of the project – not just a one-off map, but an engaged community around open and shared information, stories, and knowledge, it was clear that the project would have to expand and integrate the information with other technology projects as well as local media. Geo-located citizen journalism could provide a comprehensive picture of the local reality and support the achievement of community goals. To aggregate information on a map and create a platform for local storytelling, an Ushahidi instance was launched at called Voice of Kibera. The local media could map stories, including Kibera Journal, published by KCODA, and Pamoja FM community radio as well as a Flip camcorder video team. These community media are the only outlets that cover Kibera from within and are a vital source of news.

2. Phase 2: The Three Streams: February – August 2010

Based on analysis of the first phase, the second phase has gone further in developing a model for comprehensive, engaged community information development.

a. Issue-based mapping and PPGIS community forums

The second phase involves mapping in more detail in four issue areas: Health, Security, Education, and Water/Sanitation. The new mapping is adding detail such as operating hours and services provided by each clinic, and will also enable double-checking of original data. Some of the mappers also carry digital cameras or Flip camcorders, taking photos of clinics or recording interviews with clinicians and other health workers when possible. Small community forums targeting those interested in each issue area are being conducted, where participants can examine the printed maps and add comments and missing information by drawing on tracing paper over the map. These are then layered onto the original map online. Feedback and opinions about the quality of health services can begin to be collected this way, and networks engaged around thematic maps. Printouts will be given to organizations, possibly in exchange for data sharing.

b. Citizen Journalism & Media Video

Supporting the generation of local news and stories is a key program goal, as part of the development of shared information generated by the community. Map Kibera is now training about 20 Kiberan youth in the use of the Flip cameras and simple editing software, helping them to cover features and news events of their own choosing, with two local youth as project leaders. Five of the new video team are mappers as well and are taking clips of the locations during issue-based mapping. (See Online publishing: In order to facilitate online publishing by local media, Map Kibera established a Wordpress multi-user account and is training local organizations to build their own websites (see and The Voice of Kibera (, with the support of Ushahidi, is being relaunched in discussion with local residents.

c. SMS reporting and community feedback

In order to better connect with authorities and others considered "responders", Map Kibera is initiating a crowd-sourced feedback mechanism that allows Kibera residents to comment on the mapped services as well as supply and receive news reports on anything they feel is of interest. This makes use of an SMS shortcode developed in partnership with SODNET. Reports with keyword "Kibera" appear on Voice of Kibera website pending moderation, and reports on different themes can be directed appropriately. This also allows citizens to receive updates and subscribe to thematic SMS reports and helps solve the problem of lack of Internet access.

3. Impact

The impacts can be seen primarily from Phase 1, as Phase 2 is still in progress.

a. Personal impact for participants

In March 2010 during one of the regular Map Kibera meetings, the mapping participants of Phase 1 were asked what personal benefits they had seen from the project. These are some replies:

• Learning new skills in computers, comfort with something unfamiliar such as a new technology (GPS). Many expressed initial fear that they would not master the technology, and then pride that they had. This may translate to other experiences and support their overall personal development. • Several mentioned new social skills and greater comfort in public speaking and encountering strangers. This was both within Kibera, where they had to reply to general inquiries about the activity, and in greater Nairobi, where they were often invited to participate in functions like meetings and conferences about technology (Ushahidi Day, 1% Club, TedX Kibera). Some spoke about their experiences at these events. Some noted feeling like local celebrities after the mapping exercise, which was featured on a Nairobi evening news program and became known by word of mouth throughout Kibera. At least 5 mappers were interviewed on camera or followed by foreign documentary crews. It was also pointed out by a guest that such celebrity can lead to more than fame, helping to build leadership skills and a sense of responsibility to the community. Throughout the duration of the project and continuing until now, the Map Kibera founders have also observed the participants changing from very shy and passive to more confident with emerging leadership abilities. A visible sense of pride in being from Kibera also grew as the map was completed • Achievement of the sense of group identity and unity –it was mentioned several times that other groups have split after initial disputes. Group solidarity is a highly valued achievement in Kibera and also a strong cultural value among Kenyans.

• Gaining new knowledge about the impact that technology can have on the community.

b. Community Impact

The mapping project itself was well received from the start by local organizations. There has been no resistance to the concept by CBOs, NGOs, or local government; whether seen as a simple technology skill training for those on the other side of the digital divide, a way to get important and accurate data, a potential tool for the advocacy work of the organization, or even simply a practical way for visitors to find their way around in Kibera, it has been widely embraced as something missing that is seen as a basic entitlement: to exist on a map. Many have requested the paper map which is in production. While the separation from greater Nairobi and its corridors of power cannot be overstated, the map seemed to bring the community closer to legitimacy and give a sense of being a real neighborhood. Sensitive to external perceptions and its negative reputation, Kiberans appreciate any image such as this map that portrays it in a positive, or at least "normal" light (this is an issue in constant debate; see for example and comment thread). Local organizations are keen to be represented and eager to learn how they can make use of the map as well as the Voice of Kibera site to highlight their activities. (No one seemed to think of it as a politically subversive activity, or a potential tool of state control, except foreign journalists such as

c. Unexpected Impacts

The data collected is being reused internationally in other projects, for instance in Flickr and other applications that include a map. The personal networks of the mappers have grown to match and they are more aware of international opportunities and events. Groups that are interested in a variety of issues such as health, gender-based violence, sanitation, new mobile phone services, farm-to-market supply chain, large-scale conflict mapping, peace promotion, and others have contacted the directors to look into collaboration or use of collected data, sparking new thinking on each issue and the potential for the project to move in unexpected directions. Unicef has emerged as a partner and supported Phase 2, which has increased full time staff to three, while new volunteers have come on board with backgrounds including anthropology, public health, media, and GIS. The mappers have become avid Facebook users over the course of the project in part thanks to use of the computer lab and creation of a Facebook group. Access to Facebook on their mobile phones has also begun signaling an increase of Internet use among Kiberans via mobile.

4. Challenges

a. Technology: getting online, understanding technology, lack of access

Technology challenges were based on lack of familiarity with computers, and on environment. Common computer challenges included such problems as difficulty with use of USB devices, manipulating windows on the desktop, saving and uploading work, difficulties with passwords. Broader issues included poor spelling, difficulty following step-by-step directions, and lack of attention to detail/frequent errors during collection and input of data. Use of the GPS devices and Flip cameras was not difficult. Environmental problems included lack of reliable power and internet in Kibera, meaning all data uploading had to happen off-site, and high frequency of computer viruses on flash drives. Many organizations did not have basic websites or, like KCODA, were stuck with outdated content. Map Kibera trained 9 groups in using Wordpress blogging software to launch new sites and publish media. However, lack of internet access has made it difficult to keep the sites updated. 

b. Economics: challenges of volunteerism, paying for participation, and impact of NGO saturation

In Kibera, many NGOs come through briefly and hire residents to carry out information-gathering for their own purposes. Whether it is focus groups, baseline studies, user testing, needs assessments, or household surveys, this population has been picked and prodded over the years to the point that they either resent all outsiders or participate in each and every NGO opportunity with the expectation of payment, without developing any marketable skills or getting a permanent hire. The resulting data is almost never contributed back to the actual community members for their own knowledge or use.  In this environment, one of the biggest challenges for Map Kibera has been determining whether and how much to pay trainees and other participants. Training should ideally be viewed as a donation in itself to the participants, and only those who are motivated to learn and gain skills should be selected. However, Kibera is also a very poor community and most youth are unemployed . For the mappers, the decision was made in Phase 1 to pay an "appreciation" at the end of the exercise. In Phase 2, the financial issue arose again, but questions arose about the proper way to inspire organizational development. Several meetings had been held about how to initiate the group as an entity, register in Kenya as an NGO or other type of group, designate a chair, and otherwise move toward independence from the initial directors and GroundTruth. If the mappers saw the group as an entity which they owned and managed, they would need to learn fundraising and financial management skills, yet paying them for mapping could appear more like a one-off job which would threaten the long-term sustainability of the group. Inspiring the group of youth to take charge of the project is a delicate and ongoing process for Map Kibera. After much debate, the uneasy conclusion was to pay during Phase 2 yet continue to support the independence of the group (non-dependence on GroundTruth) and impress upon them that fundraising would later be up to them. 

c. Community: difficulties understanding the larger concept, benefits

Many ordinary Kiberans, upon inquiring about the mappers' activities, did not see how the map could benefit them or their community since it was only available online and they already knew how to get around. The concept of community-owned information was abstract, and the idea of self-representation came against the question, to whom? Even if the primary users would end up being local CBOs, the average citizen needed to see the results as well even if they were not able to access the internet. These issues became the primary drivers for most of the activities developed in Phase 2. As a partial response, Map Kibera decided to make paper printouts of the map to post and distribute around the neighborhood in public places, but the cartography of such a dense map has delayed this process. 

The mappers themselves were not able to articulate the benefits and potential impact of the map at first. It has taken many discussions, and more importantly demonstrations of the possibilities, to see comprehension of the potential for technology to bring real change to Kibera. Those mappers who are more educated or experienced were more likely to see the social benefit from the start.

There were also occasional challenges with "hostile" Kiberans who asked the mappers for money, assuming they were paid well to do this research or simply because they'd been seen with a white person. The video team also encountered challenges. Filming and interviewing on camera in Kibera can be very difficult. Residents expect to be paid for their interview, or refuse to be filmed and sometimes threaten or chase away the cameraman. Filming can be outright dangerous. The very purpose of journalism and its function in a democracy is not understood, since journalists do not always operate ethically and politicians are seen to control the media.

Finally, a bigger question about raised expectations emerged. Who are the appropriate responders, and who has a responsibility to act on the scenario represented by these data? Without guaranteeing any improvement, it is nonetheless critical to address this issue and bring the resulting information to government and other responders. However, unlike many data-collection efforts, Map Kibera is not conducting a needs assessment for the purpose of programming. This subtlety is often difficult to explain.

d. Organizations: Information silos and competitive tendency

NGOs and other organizations do not like to share information, traditionally speaking. In Kibera, there are so many organizations that they tend to see each other as competition. A collaborative spirit is hard to achieve, and it is not obvious to many why they would benefit from working together. This sometimes slowed progress as efforts were made to bring together organizations for the media network, Voice of Kibera, as well as the video news team, Kibera News Network. The initial intention to create a cross-media, cross-community group for both video news and online reporting has begun to materialize, but only slowly. Every group was interested in having a map for their purposes; few have the sense of why an open and shared platform for everyone could be even better. The technology world has an ethos of creative collaboration alongside competition, in the spirit of innovation and problem solving. It is hoped that this concept will over time influence organizational behavior.

5. Analysis

Various realities exist in any location, as many as there are individuals living there. The techniques here have the potential to represent multiple realities while aggregating subjective opinions into a collective version of truth. The facts on the ground about location, visible and objectively verifiable, can by layered with the lived experiences and views that residents want to include. This comes closer to local truth than a simplistic survey methodology used to "gather" information, but can also be combined with external "data" to make the case for reforms. The result can be viewed as journalism or field-specific knowledge management, depending on the audience.