Sitting in the iHub in Nairobi on Monday, I looked around to see if there were any other Canadian faces that looked as shocked as mine at the news of Jack Layton’s death. I was the only Canadian in the room at the time. I don’t normally write about Canadian politics, but this particular moment in time has caused me to reflect on how my views of politics and politicians have evolved over the past 6-8 years.

Like most young Canadians, my personal politics followed closely those of my parents. Growing up in a small rural community on Vancouver Island, I didn’t have much awareness of or exposure to the implications of voting for one party or another. On my 18th birthday (national voting age in Canada) my mom encouraged me to register as a voter and participate in National and Provincial politics. And so I did.  And I voted NDP. It seemed like the right thing to do – Jack Layton was a charismatic politician, his party supported health care and equality and many other things that my young, left-wing mind found appealing.

As I studied for a degree in Health Geography at McGill, I became more convinced about the need for strong legislation that supports a healthy social environment and that reduces constraints in terms of access to healthy living spacing (prevention) and treatment (access to care). As the party whose founding leader introduced free, universal healthcare to Canada, the New Democrats have been consistent in their commitment to safe and equitable conditions for all Canadians, at work and at home.

I was fortunate to see Jack speak together with Thomas Mulclair at an NDP event at McGill in September 2007. I remember leaving the event confident that I was well represented, should his party ever become the Government of Canada.

Now that I live in a country whose public health legislation and health care provision is weak if not in crisis – I am ever appreciative to the legacy of Tommy Douglas and the leadership of Jack Layton in fighting for medicare, and a better Canada. A Canada that we can be proud to call home.

The loss of such a strong, charismatic and honourable leader is ever more tragic in light of the crisis of leadership facing the African continent. I am not one to make generalizations, and surely the Canadian government of late has not made me so proud – however the hold that some longstanding African “leaders” have over their crumbling economies and social institutions (Mugabe, or “Bob” in Zimbabwe, Gaddafi in Libya to name only a few) makes the loss of a young, but well respected politicians even more of a tragedy. A loss for Canada, and the world – which could really do with more politicians like Jack.

Jack Layton’s final letter to Canadians is a reflection of his wisdom, integrity and strong leadership ability. Although he leaves behind large shoes to fill, the challenge will be for the NDPs to hold onto the support of the young Canadian voters like myself. I look forward to the changes the NDP may still make on the Canadian political landscape.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

                                                            Jack Layton


The question that sparked this post is: whose mandate is it to collect information?

A few weeks back our team attended a meeting with Plan Kenya and partners who are using mapping tools for generating information. Someone in the room asked:

“Whose mandate is it to collect information?”

The meeting was called to discuss a specific tool data collection tool called POImapper, which is being developed by a Finnish company called Pajat. Plan Kenya is piloting the tool and has developed custom data collection forms to collect data to inform Plan’s work in Kilifi. There is no question about mandate when gathering programmtic level data (about children benefiting from Plan’s sponsorship programme for example). The concern raised during the meeting was about an organization collecting public information in an area where government should be providing this information – this includes the base level information on roads, schools, and other public infrastructure.

One of the major challenges of using POImapper however is the lack of base maps upon which to overlay the Points of Interest (POI). Without good base layer data, it is difficult to discuss the implications of the information being collected. Pajat and Plan Kenya made the decision to switch from Google Maps to OpenStreetMap because of this challenge (through our work with Plan Kenya, we also hope we played a part in this decision). With OpenStreetMap, the organizations are free to improve the base layer information as necessary and use the data in their (for-profit) portal. But this brings up the question of mandate? Should a non-governmental organization (NGO) really be doing this work?

The question about mandate got me thinking about how government, citizens and organizations collect and share (or don’t share) information.

The question “whose mandate” gets at the question “whose information is this that we are collecting?”

One point of view (shared by some at the meeting) is that information is the property of the government. The government is mandated to collect and disseminate information for the public good. Others should not interfere. There is validity in this point of view.

Access to information is in the Bill of Rights of the newly adopted Kenyan constitution.  “Right and fundamental freedom” number 35 in Chapter Four, Part 2 states that:

35.       (1)  Every citizen has the right of access to—

(a)        information held by the State; and

(b)        information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or                                                    fundamental freedom.

(2) Every person has the right to the correction or deletion of untrue or misleading information that affects                                 the person.

(3)  The State shall publish and publicise any important information affecting the nation.

The government is constitutionally mandated to grant any citizen access to “information held by the State.” The government is mandated to go even further and not only publish “important information affecting the nation” but must also publicise this information (theoretically improving accessibility).

But the reality of the situation is the governments don’t always do what they are mandated to do. Sometimes governments need a push in the right direction – a reminder of their role and their responsibility to the citizens of their country. The government may also need a “proof of concept” – a demonstration that there is an easier, more cost effective and efficient way of delivering information and services to citizens.

One example would of a “proof of concept” is the use of ICT in universal birth registration in Kenya, being piloted by Plan Kenya in Kwale.

On the Plan Kenya country website for this campaign it states

“It is government policy that every child should be registered at birth, and this is covered by the Births and Deaths Registration Act. However, there is a huge gap between law and practice. Birth registration is not fully decentralised, and so families have to travel long distances, particularly in rural areas, to access registration services. The birth notification process – through which parents complete a notification form at the chief’s office when a child is born, which are then submitted to the district registrar of births – can take more than a year or even two. Any registration after six months of birth is considered late registration, when the process is more complex and lengthy, and there is also a penalty – which act as deterrents to the registration of children. Parents also do not see the need to register their children and so do not actively seek out registration services. The government is reviewing this Act, which we hope will ensure greater access to registration services for Kenyans.”

Instead of waiting for the government to improve its birth registration system, Plan Kenya is working together with local government to digitize the birth registration system.

This is a success story of a local government partnering with an NGO to achieve results. It is also why we have advocates – advocates for access to essential medicines, for improved service provision, for freedom of the press, and the list goes on.

In this case of improving access to information generally, we need information advocates – those citizens and/or organizations who advise individuals and organizations on the importance of information, where it can be accessed and how it can be utilized. Information advocacy is similar to info-activism, but does not specifically target activists or advocates. Information advocates raise awareness about the importance of information more generally.

Should international, national or local NGOs information replace the need for government information? No, indeed NGOs should not. Organizations and advocates should work closely with government to advise and improve systems for collecting and disseminating information. It is government policy, in many countries to provide access to information. Governments and NGOs need to work together to open up information and make it accessible for local populations

I must admit that the Map Kibera team is biased toward open knowledge and/or open data. We have a commitment to open data. We create, share, and advocate for open information, in all sectors (NGO, government, citizen). The disclaimer is of course that not all data should be made public – for example private data that may endanger individuals or invade privacy should not be made public (such as precise locations of individual vulnerable children or families, individual level health information, etc). Aggregate information of this kind may however be useful for planning and advocacy purposes.

We do focus on public information – that is information about services that are open and available to the public – such as water access points, sanitation facilities (toilets mainly), schools, health clinics, shops, kiosks, restaurants, bars, and many more. The teams in Kibera and in Mathare are working hard to integrate information into local government channels.

Demand for open government data is increasing around the world. Kenya is not unique in terms of challenges in opening up government data. In Kenya there is however very little data available at the local level. Through visits to City Council and local authorities in Kibera and Mathare, we’ve learned that the local area counselors, chiefs, District Officers, District Commissioners, and other officials do not have access to maps of their areas. The local government authorities may need some support in terms of generating baseline information (including maps) of their constituencies.  This is not a criticism of the government, but a call for NGOs, citizens and government to work together to generate and share information for better planning and development. This is a major challenge, but our teams are consciously working hard to open dialogue with local government to create sustainable systems of information creation and dissemination. Plan Kenya has been an invaluable partner in terms of advising and supporting this process. Keep your eyes out for updates on the work in Kibera and Mathare.

[Cross posted on my blog]

“Participatory methodology (PM): A combination of approach and methods through which people do things themselves interactively. What they do may be appraisal, analysis, planning, action, learning, changing, monitoring, evaluation or other activities”

Robert Chambers. Paradigms, Poverty and Adaptive Pluralism. IDS Working Paper 344. July 2010

Map Kibera did not begin as a participatory development project. The initial project was an attempt to introduce open source technology – namely, OpenStreetMap – into a community that had previously not had a publicly accessible map (for all intents and purposes it was “unmapped”). Initial mapping of Kibera was done quickly (in 3 weeks) and local leaders, including administration were consulted but not necessarily engaged in the process. Interest from the international community and the innovative nature of the project fueled its expansion and the local community was left behind.  The entire Map Kibera team has been reflecting on these experiences, individually and as a group, over the last couple of months (read Mikel’s reflection here).

In November 2010, Map Kibera became a research subject. Our initial thoughts were that the research would take away from our work because we would need to give a significant amount of time to focus groups and workshops during a busy time of the year. We were however pleasantly surprised – being subjects of the participatory research process was an invaluable learning experience. We were all able to take time to reflect on the work we had done and consider where the strengths and weaknesses lie. The evaluation of the project – recently shared with us by Samuel Musyoki of Plan Kenya (formerly of Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at University of Sussex) and Mark Skipper of Aptivate – is an important read for anybody interested in ICT4D. Our experience in community engagement has evolved since the early days of the project, particularly because of the team we’ve been working with at IDS.

Map Mathare: employing a participatory approach

Map Mathare is a 4 month training programme in Mathare led by the Map Kibera team. Building on the experiences in Kibera, we hoped to improve the process of community engagement and enhance our skills in participatory storytelling. With advice and leadership from staff at Plan Kenya, we embarked on a journey of community participation in mapping and media. By employing an explicitly participatory methodology, we hope to improve community awareness and impact and reach our main target audience – the people of Mathare.

Our first step was to cross the city (not as easy as it sounds with the Nairobi traffic!) and meet with local youth groups in Mathare. Why? To see if the concept of Map Mathare was of interest to them. Without any interest from the community, we wouldn’t and couldn’t move forward. We had an inclination that there would be support for the concept because we had received a number of invitations to visit Mathare and perhaps start some work there. COOPI, Rebel Film board and Community Cleaning Services all extended invitations separately and we met with their members, who were all excited about the work. We also met with Onserio, the District Officer of Mathare. He was also enthusiastic about the project and began brainstorming ways in which his office could use the information. We continually received calls from Mathare residents who we had met (our first trip there was July) until the day we started on December 1st, 2010. As a colleague recently pointed out, the first important difference between the work in Mathare and Kibera is that Mathare was demand driven, while in Kibera the work was supply driven.

Our second task was to meet and plan the Mathare approach. This was only possible by working closely experienced staff and local leaders, such as Simon Kokoyo – a community development worker with 20 years of experience in Mathare – and Plan Kenya with Community Cleaning Service staff (CCS) – CCS is Plan Kenya’s local partner with experience in facilitating participatory community sanitation work. Of course during this step we secured funding for the project, through a contract with Plan Kenya that is supported DFID (Plan UK) and AusAid (Plan Australia). We also met with the local administration in the area, to ensure support for the mapping process.

Our third step was to formally introduce participatory teaching methods to our Kibera teams. For three days in November, we invaded the NaiLab and were guided through some practical examples and theoretical principles behind inquiry lead learning (ILL). The ILL workshop was facilitated by Mark Skipper from Aptivate. Mark’s challenge, which turns out to be our current challenge in Mathare, was to design a participatory learning experience for 30 young people over 3 days. Of course, his first response was “it can’t be done”. To provide a transformative learning experience, he needed a smaller group. This was not possible we decided – as we had invested countless hours in team-building between the three Map Kibera programmes and were not willing to compromise on who could and couldn’t participate. Mark lived up to the challenge and we thoroughly enjoyed the ILL workshop.  As both a part-time active participant and part-time observer over the three days, I learned that previous workshops we have facilitated have indeed provided hands on participatory and inquiry-led learning experiences. This is mainly because you can’t learn how to use a computer or a GPS or the Ushahidi platform or a flip camera without getting your hands on one and doing it yourself! The workshops and the process were not however participatory in terms of attendance. We’ve had mostly youth attend our sessions and involved in mapping and media work.

Our challenge is thus two-fold

1)      To build participation into the process, encouraging involvement from stakeholders at all levels – women, men, elders, youth, local administration, local elders, you name it!

2)      To facilitate inquiry led learning during the training process – to encourage learning-by-doing and let participants in the training ask and answer their own questions

After the IIL workshop, and many more planning meetings, our fourth step was to get out into the community and discuss the idea with everyone! This was done through a community forum, which was held at St. Teresa’s church on December 1st. The turnout was great! 118 people signed the obligatory “sign-in sheet”, while many did not. We estimate the true number to be about 130. Our budget for tea and lunch was shot because there were so many people! The Kibera team presented their work and the Mathare residents discussed the importance of new technology. The group engaged in a “map with your feet” exercise to explore the importance of mapping community resources.

The community forum brought together elders and youth, who identified challenges they are facing including unemployment, tension between local administration and youth, crime, corruption, etc. The general mood of the forum was positive and the attendees were excited to learn from the youth of Kibera.

The week after the community forum we began training. Day 1 – we had 45 attendees.  Maureen (a mapper), Joe (from KNN) and Fred (from Voice of Kibera) presented their programmes and discussed the importance of the work they are doing. Primoz presented the theory and concepts behind geographic data. Day 1 complete.

Day 2 – we started with hands on training in mapping and video with 64 participants – some the same, but some different from Day 1

Day 3 – 59 participants

Day 4 – 59 participants

Day 5 – 14 participants (we only did video training this day so we had a smaller group)

As we move forward, the planning team decided we need to improve the learning experience by making (somewhat smaller) groups. We didn’t (and still don’t) want to turn anyone away, because from the perspective of community participation – the more the merrier! We want to generate and sustain support for this programme from within Mathare. The map needs to be the generated by and for the people of Mathare.

But how do you effectively train 80+ people? We had initially planned and thus budgeted to train 40 people!

The tradeoff to ensure true participation is that perhaps not everyone walks away with as much hands-on experience as we would have liked. We hope however by accepting as many people into the training programme as are interested,  the Mathare residents will answer the question “whose map?” with the response “ours!”

Note: of the 84 participants that came through the training programme in December 2010, the average age was 26.2, with a range of 17 -43 years.

Because I haven’t had time to update my personal blog in quite some time, here are some highlights on what I’ve been working on in July and early August.