Concept Paper

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Ground Truth Initiative

A Community Information Development Project 

"Freedom begins the moment you realize someone else has been writing your story and it's time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it yourself." -- Bill Moyers.


Rationale and Vision

In developing countries, external agencies extract data from, write reports about, and conduct studies on local communities without sharing the results or soliciting local input. Rarely are communities themselves empowered to create and use that information in order to tell their own stories, among themselves and to the world. This project puts digital mapping and storytelling tools in the hands of local people so that they become the main repository of information about their communities, allowing them to better influence democratic debate, access resources, and plan development. Mappers create their own map from start to finish, while citizen journalists and monitors report local stories and communicate ongoing needs. The process helps humanize technology and also allows for its adaptation in unexpected ways. 

Our vision is to create a corps of citizens in the developing world who are versed in a variety of new technologies and empowered to report on, tell stories about, and generate data and map information about themselves and their community, and to use that information for action. We call this process community information development.

Background: Mapping Kibera

"Kibera's people deserve to know the facts about their lives." - Robert Neuwirth, Shadow Cities.

Until recently, Kibera, a massive slum in Nairobi, Kenya, was a blank spot on any public map. The Nairobi City Council considers it a forest, and it was absent from online maps by Google and OpenStreetMap, despite an estimated one million people living in this informal area smaller in size than New York's Central Park. Although many non-governmental organizations, government offices, and academic institutions have been involved in data collection in Kibera, and even mapping, none of the results were publicly shared or available at a local level. Map Kibera was created to address this gap, based on the premise that without basic knowledge of geography and available resources, it is impossible for residents and other stakeholders in any community to have an informed discussion on how to improve the lives of citizens.

So, in November 2009, Map Kibera trained 13 youth, one from each village of Kibera, in the tools and techniques of OpenStreetMap. Over three weeks, assisted by local GIS professionals, the youth collected data with GPS units and edited their map using open source software. Since we were newcomers to Kibera, this was made possible through strong local partnerships with Kenyan organizations Carolina for Kibera, KCODA and SODNET (Social Development Network). We also engaged widely with the technical and international development communities in Nairobi, building relationships for the project and involving participants from the wider society. The maps and project itself have been documented online at

Data without a story has little life. At the same time, we engaged community media groups in Kibera (the newspaper Kibera Journal, radio station Pamoja FM, and online video group Kibera Worldwide), showing how they could tell more effective stories using digital media and map information. Using the Ushahidi platform, we began development of a community media aggregator which publishes reports with geographic context on Realizing that community journalists needed extra support in order to broadcast their stories, we trained Kibera Worldwide's Flip video program in digital reporting and editing, and they accompanied mappers in the field.

The result is one of the densest maps ever created in the commons, poised for use in many applications, and an empowered nascent community of data users and storytellers in Kibera. Current projects emerging in Kibera based on this pilot include: a community journalism partnership among media groups within Kibera for improved reporting and online presence; mapping of the locations of CDF projects; merging map data with other research on Kibera from other organizations to create a shared knowledge base; a joint SMS reporting platform for local news and urgent needs.

Project Model

Based on the Map Kibera pilot project, we have developed a model that we intend to implement in other areas, based on needs and particularities of each community. We will also institutionalize and expand the Kibera project.  

There are three components to the project model:

1) Selecting and training a local group in mapping techniques based on the OpenStreetMap platform, and producing a detailed local map which can be changed as conditions shift. This group can also survey for additional data to add to the map (such as clinic services offered, ages of children at schools).

2) Working with local media and community news outlets, providing training in new media storytelling and citizen journalism, and developing online tools intended to communicate stories around the community and to the outside world.

3) Building platforms for collecting information and reporting back via SMS, and presenting this information to policymakers and the community itself to help them advocate for better service delivery and transparency.

The key is to create a Digital Community around shared community information, and allow many different groups and individuals to make use of and contribute to the new resources. The end result should be a group of engaged citizens and community journalists who are able to represent their own community in multiple ways, as well as platforms and mediums to share the information locally and globally.

Our methodology relies on producing quick high-visibility outputs and building as many connections as possible with the wider society. For example, with Map Kibera, progress on the map was visible each day on our website, and work on was started as soon as the map was complete, while the entire process was thoroughly documented through our blog and wiki. At the same time, we presented the project at a variety of events and met with local and international organizations to develop our network of partners. We are currently continuing to build discussion forums for technology and development issues to help create a culture of openness and reduce entrenched problems of information "silos" and organizational secrecy.

The aim is not to grow a new local organization, but to gradually move from a direct role to an advisory role in the community. By working with and through existing organizations, we can provide new skills and components to existing programs over the longer term.

Specific Activities: planning the next 6-month phase

The next 6-month phase involves further developing the project in Kibera and ensuring sustainability; expanding to other informal settlements in Nairobi and a rural area of Kenya; and technical advising to other organizations interested in community empowerment through mapping and new media.

Kibera: Institutionalization, Connectiong and Sustainability


Establish Mapping Group

We will formalize the Kibera mapping group into a club or organization, so they can continue to edit the map and work on other mapping projects by operating a GPS library. We will also support those who intend to go further with mapping as a career with further training and opportunities in Nairobi.  Continuing to strengthen partnerships with community organizations will support sustainability of the skills and resources of the group.

Media Training and Support

The Kibera media aggregator site ( will be further developed and officially launched in conjunction with Ushahidi and our local partners. A group of partners for online reporting will be formalized including representatives from radio, newspaper, and video. We will continue trainings with the Kibera Worldwide video reporting group and provide technical support to media houses for their own web presence. Finally, we will implement an SMS reporting tool for citizens to access and supply local news and ongoing needs through the reporting group.

Community Meetings and Forums

Mapping, media, and monitoring will be organized around four themes: Health, Education, Water/Sanitation, Security. Following detailed data collection and story telling, the work, paper maps and entire approach will be presented in a series of community meetings in Kibera with key local stakeholders and interested individuals. Discussion around each of the themes will be recorded through all digital tools. The collected results will then be presented to service providers and decision makers for discussion and action in public accountability forums.

Other technical projects with partners in Kibera

Plans for further mapping in Kibera include mapping of health clinics in more detail to supply data to health partners, mapping locations for local vegetable markets with agriculture partners, and support to several partners working on budget tracking and accountability through mapping. Our transparency work involves assisting with an ongoing project to track the locations of projects funded in Kibera through NGOs and the Kenyan government.

Nairobi: Expanding on Map Kibera

With the organization Youth One-Stop, which helps youth locate resources in the city, the Kibera mapper group may help train local youth in another slum, Mathare. This would produce a map of this informal area following the same model as the Kibera pilot, including working with local media and community-based organizations. We hope that the cross-slum partnership will also inspire more cooperation and learning between the two communities. We also plan to create a map of matatu (bus) routes with a local anthropologist. We will continue to engage with partners throughout the city to help mappers and online journalists connect with the wider technology community.

Kenya: Piloting the project in rural communities

With partner SODNET, we will help create a technical training camp in Mwatate, a rural constituency already engaged in participatory planning for community development. Based on the Kibera model, we will provide training in mapping and new media skills, empowering residents to use technology to manage communication and implement an ambitious development agenda. This project takes techniques and lessons learned in Kibera to a rural region, serving as a rural pilot for the Map Kibera concept.

Regionally: Seeking opportunities for scaling up

We are always looking for new ways to work and support others in community information development. Over the next six months, we plan to support UNICEF to create maps during their household survey implementation in Somalia and Swaziland; write curriculum with local universities involved in technology training; and generally advise and establish knowledge resources for other organizations who are interested in participatory technology and community information development in order to support expansion of the concept beyond our own direct implementation.

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