Looking Back with Making All Voices Count

I’ve recently had the opportunity to spend some time learning and thinking about Map Kibera’s work, thanks to a practitioner research grant from Making All Voices Count.

Those who work in the NGO and nonprofit sphere like me might not be surprised to learn that we’ve had precious little opportunity to do evaluation on our work over the past 8 years. So, I welcomed this chance to look into some of the impacts and possibly unintended directions that our work has taken during this time.

While I’ve written about Map Kibera a number of times from the reflective standpoint, I hadn’t had the chance to try to track down some of the specific results. Especially when it comes to who’s using our maps and data, and for what. We have a strong commitment to open data, meaning that you can easily access our information and maps either directly through our website, or through OSM itself. That means it’s hard for us to know who has used them (and if you have, but haven’t been in touch with us to let us about it, please help me out by emailing me!).

I haven’t yet fully analyzed everything I’ve gathered through a series of interviews, focus group discussions, and by reviewing our social media and visitors logs over the years, but a few things have stood out so far. Here is just a sampling:

  1. There were a number of cases we were able to track down of data being used without our knowing about it. For open data, that’s a success, right? It means that there have been changes in actual programming for Kibera, especially in targeting interventions to specific geographical areas, finding local partners, and directing donor resources. Information by itself may not produce systemic changes, but could redirect resources in an uncoordinated way to places that most need it. In other words, it can make aid more effective. With some coordination this might be a stronger effect.

  2. With some support by intermediaries such as Map Kibera, information like maps can help produce larger systemic shifts. But the level of support required is a question – given that this isn’t typically well resourced. We had some impacts particularly within the education system which were large considering the amount of funding we had, but we couldn’t sustain intensive support. A larger question about the appropriate role of such an intermediary came up again and again.

  3. Trust among stakeholders is one major outcome, which has little to do with technology and a lot to do with relationship building. In this sense, information and maps are a kind of tool for getting on the same page, perhaps, or removing some of the bias on either side. There is a lot of mistrust in informal settlements (between citizens and government, citizens and NGOs or CBOs, schools and education officials, etc). This needs to be overcome for improvements in key sectors like education and water/sanitation, two areas I looked into.

  4. The value of “being recognized” or being made visible was something that came up repeatedly. A perceived legitimization through transparency. I think there are two things here: being able to speak out or have “voice” in the sense of self-representation; and becoming legible – that is, transparent – which may have more to do with knowing the facts than giving voice to opinions and perspectives.

  5. Keeping data up-to-date is a huge challenge. And it can hinder scaling up and expansion because of the effort required.

  6. Technology is still a challenge, in that most people don’t use the internet OR may have smartphones but still don’t use them to their full capacity. Offline outreach and printed materials are key, still.

  7. Those taking part in our projects over the years have seen a lot of personal benefit, and some of this has been unexpected (on my part). For instance, the value of contests and credentials – winning an online contest for a news story, even an obscure one without any prize, was a huge highlight, as was gaining press credentials or even a simple ID badge to be identified as a member of the organization.

Clearly there is a lot to unpack in each of the points above, and there are many more topics to explore as well! If this is of interest to you, stay tuned for the publication.