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Communities and Human Settlements

#7: Kibera: Making the Invisible Suddenly Visible

Sabina Panth's picture


Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011

Originally published on February 3, 2011

The Map Kibera project is a pioneering enterprise that has applied a combination of modern technologies that local residents can use to uncover information about their locality and use that information for needed awareness and reform.  The project has trained the local youth of Kibera (Kenya) to use the hand-held global position system (GPS) and open source software  (OpenStreetMap) to illustrate a map of the physical landscape and resources encompassing the region and apply digital media and mobile technologies (photographs, video-clips, SMS reporting) to tell stories behind the imprinted information on the map.  The goal of the project is to reinstate the often non-transparent nature of data collection and reporting conducted by external agencies into the hands of local residents, who not only become repository of information about their communities but can also scrutinize the information “to influence democratic debate, access resources and plan development on their own" (Project Concept Paper).

Action Groups Move…on Water

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Access to safe and reliable drinking water is not only problematic in rural areas but is becoming a growing concern in rapidly urbanizing cities in developing countries. Often, utilities do not get extended in low income areas and, even if they do, they are generally of poor quality.  As a result, the poor are impacted the most. In recognition to this, The UN General Assembly recently passed a regulation (2010) that declared access to safe drinking water and sanitation a human right.  However, to enable proper implementation of this declaration, meaningful participation is required from citizens to secure service delivery that meets their needs.   Here is a case experiment in Kenya that sheds some light on the advantages and challenges involved in promoting citizen participation in water service delivery.

U-Report

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Yet another performance monitoring tool has been introduced that directly engages citizens in the decision-making process regarding public services.  The project, called U-Report, solicits citizen feedback via SMS polls and broadcasts the results through radio, press, face-to-face meetings and websites.  The method of using both modern and traditional media devices to inform and solicit feedback from the public is expected to enable both the donor and the citizens to identify priority areas for development interventions and get an overall picture about how services work in a given community. 

Is Online Video-Sharing a Double-edged Sword?

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As much advantage as there is to the world of the internet, there are disadvantages too, the main inconvenience being securing privacy.  This has become a particular issue of concern when visual images against political reprisal are exposed.  Granted, this very exposure can draw world-wide attention and support for a cause or struggle, but often it leaves advocates involved in demonstrations vulnerable to political targeting and exploitation. 

Meaningful Citizen Participation in Decentralization and Local Governance

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We expect decentralization to bring decision-making governance closer to the people/citizens.  Donors use this rationale to push governments, mainly in developing countries, to devolve central power and authority towards strengthening civic engagement in local governance processes.  But according to Dany Ayida, a governance expert who shared his field experience in Central and West Africa at a recent presentation at the World Bank, meaningful civic participation in a decentralization setting depends on various factors, including:  a) vitality of the public sphere or political environment; b) the culture and political history of the country; and c) the capacity and incentives of both civil society organization and local governments to interact and interface meaningfully with one another.

Are Citizen Service Centers Viable?

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In my earlier blog post, I had conceived the idea of 'fee-based service centers' that can be run through public-private partnership with the goal of improving citizens’ access to, and delivery of, government services.  The concept was considered in the context of sustainability of demand for good governance practices in relation to the aid dependency culture of civil society organizations.   Recently, I became aware that such ‘fee-based service centers’ do prevail and, in fact, have caught the attention of policymakers and development experts.

Combating Systemic Corruption in Education

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Studies have revealed a strong correlation between quality of education and increased corruption in a country.  According to a Transparency International report, data collected to track progress in education in 42 countries showed that the practice of paying bribes is associated with a lower literacy rate among adolescents. Corruption is also linked with increased inequality in the quality of education between the rich and the poor.  When resources allocated for public education is inadequate or do not reach the schools, it is the poor who bear the brunt.  Unlike the rich, who can afford private tuition for their children, the poor have to depend on the government.

Women and ICTs: Different Strokes?

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Mainstreaming a gender perspective is considered essential in assessing the implication of any development program, project or policy on men and women. This holds true of the modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as well, as research studies are showing a significant gap between men and women in their access to and understanding of ICT opportunities.

Fascinating FreedomFone

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As I explore innovative approaches in civilian-led movements, I become increasingly knowledgeable about the latest technological gadgets and devices that have become powerful tools in demand for good governance and democratic reform processes.   Don’t worry, I won’t go on about the Arab Revolution and the role of social media yet again.  Instead, I will talk about a latest invention that does not even require the end users to have a web access, something that can be exploited by just anyone, even the illiterates.  FreedomFone is an ICT invention that has been specifically designed to cater to those that are in most need of information, bearing in mind the barriers they face in accessing information and the opportunities it provides to improve their conditions.

What Role Does Civil Society Play in Economic Development?

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I recently came across a fascinating initiative where civil society organizations have played a lead role in building public-private partnerships in economic development activities.  The USAID-sponsored Education for Income Generation (EIG) program has brought together local, national and international partners in galvanizing disadvantaged youth to partake in income generating activities toward increasing economic activities and peace building process in post-conflict Nepal. 

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