The work and mumblings of Mark Iliffe


Data Driven Governance

Starting Ramani Huria – Mapping The Flood Prone Areas In Dar es Salaam

Four years ago, in August 2011 I was fortunate to manage the community mapping of Tandale. It was an experience that irrevocably changed my professional direction and interests. Over a month I trained and worked alongside brilliant students and community members, who were all focused on getting an open map of Tandale, something that had never been accomplished previously. When it was done, the reception across civil society and government was positive and intentions on scaling the pilot to the city were mooted but for one reason or another it never quite made it. Then in December, floods hit the city. In dense informal urban environments such as Tandale these floods are fatal and dramatically change the landscape as well as causing mass damage to survivor’s livelihoods and assets. Mitigating these floods are hard – where do you start in the fastest growing city in Africa? The population as of the 2012 census currently stands of 5 million, with projections showing it could grow to 10 million by 2030.

This rapid and unplanned urbanisation is in part the cause of flooding: the infrastructure with which to cope with high rainfall, such as drains and culverts, were not built alongside residential dwellings. This is especially acute in the unplanned, informal urban settlements where a majority of Dar es Salaam’s residents reside. The theory here is quite simple: If that if you can identify where it floods, you can either install or upgrade infrastructure to ameliorate the situation for residents. Unpacking this, the crux of the issue falls to two main points, governance and data.

Ramani Huria – Swahili for “Open Mapping” – is a operationalization of this theory of change. In March 2015, a coalition from across Tanzanian society, composed of the City Council of Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH – under the Ministry of Science, Communication and Technology), the University of Dar es Salaam, Ardhi University, Buni Innovation Hub supported by the Red Cross and World Bank supported the inception of Ramani Huria, with the goal of mapping flood prone areas in Dar es Salaam, making this data openly available and supporting the use of this data into government where decisions can be made to mitigate flooding.

Mapping Phases

Mapping Phases

It is a far cry from 2011 where just mapping the ward of Tandale was a large task. Ramani Huria consists of a pilot phase and four subsequent phases. To pilot, the wards Ndugumbi, Tandale and Mchikichini, with a combined population of over 100,000 residents were mapped in series. This process combined 15 students matched with community members, leading to maps of all features within that community. This information, focusing on drainage and water ways, is critically needed to help understand and locate flood prone areas; this is high priority in Dar es Salaam due to the damage that annual floods wreak upon the city and its residents. In this piloting phase, conducted from March to the end of June these three wards were mapped, in part to generate the data that will generate flood inundation models and exposure layers but also to pilot the data model and gel the team, prior to Phase One.

Phase one on paper is quite simple. Take 150 students from the University of Dar es Salaam’s Department of Geography and Ardhi University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning on industrial training, hold an inception workshop, deploy this contingent across six wards and work with community members to replicate the pilots, but running in parallel. At the time of writing, mapping is ongoing in six communities: Msasani, Keko, Makumbusho, Mabibo, Makurumla and Mburahati. According to the 2012 NBS census, these wards have a combined population of over 280,000 residents. Phase one was kicked off on the 6th of July and will run until the 14th of August.

Phases Two and Three, will integrate community volunteers from the Red Cross, these volunteers are committed to creating community level resilience plans. These plans will use the data produced by the mapping to create resident evacuation routes and aid Ward Exective Officers with planning decisions among many other uses. Additionally, with embedded long term volunteers monitoring change in their wards, this will hopefully result in detailed up-to-date maps in rapidly changing urban areas.

Phase Four unfortunately sees the students depart from the project, due to their graduation. With a remaining contingent of around 30 mappers, mapping will continue until February 2016. These phases cover the data component, consequently alongside these phases are dedicated training events aimed at building capacity to use and deploy this data in real world situations. On the 20th July the first such workshop series took place, with representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office for Disaster Management Department being trained in spatial analysis in QGIS and risk modelling using the QGIS plugin InaSAFE. A series of these workshops will take place, placing the data into the hands of those responsible for the city.

While this is ongoing in Dar es Saalam, you could get involved wherever you are in the world, through the Missing Maps project. Missing Maps is a collaboration between the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, aimed at digitising “the most vulnerable places in the developing world”, but primarily do so by crowdsourcing the digitisation of aerial imagery. At the moment, there are three tasks for Dar es Salaam:

By helping digitise the buildings and roads, using the recent drone and aerial imagery, the process of mapping is faster, allowing the community mappers to focus on the detail of flood data. Additionally, the data from Ramani Huria is all placed into OpenStreetMap, its code is on Github and content available from Flickr and Facebook, all with an open licence. Please get involved!


Written on a plane somewhere between Tanzania and the United Kingdom

Putting Crowdsourcing In Action

Crowdsourcing is increasing in popularity as a form of distributed problem solving enabled by digital technologies. “The crowd” is invited to contribute towards projects, this contribution potentially being in the form of knowledge or design skills. On June the 3rd this year an interdisciplinary workshop investigating crowdsourcing and citizen science convened. It brought together experts and practitioners from many disciplines that apply a crowdsourcing approach, presenting outputs and how crowdsourcing aids projects from GalaxyZoo (an interactive project for volunteer classification of galaxies), Artmaps (an application for crowdsourcing information on Tate digital artworks) and Taarifa (a platform and community supporting the crowdsourcing of public service issues in the developing and developed world).

My personal presentation was on Taarifa, a project I started in 2011 to support community based public service delivery. Since then I’ve worked in collaboration with the World Bank in Uganda to support the Education and Local Government Ministries with reporting across the country; what started as a pilot was rolled out quickly to cover 111 districts, over a year of an at-scale pilot 14,000 reports were received and acted upon. This resulted into wider research into the wider use of public participatory service delivery in developing countries (FOSS4G Taarifa paper). The uniqueness of Taarifa is that it has been developed and maintained by wholly volunteer contributors, creating free and open source software. The contributors to Taarifa are as diverse as the problems which Taarifa addresses, ranging from PhD Candidates like myself to Physicists, Bankers and Community Organisers. Consequently, Taarifa doesn’t just look after a platform of software; it acts as a forum to share knowledge, experimentations and innovation.

Taarifa was conceived at the London Water Hackathon, as an innovation around water access and quality in Tanzania. Access to water in Tanzania currently covers less than 50% of the country’s population and with 38% of the water infrastructure, like taps, are graded as non-functional. Currently the Ministry of Water has a WPMS (Water Point Mapping System) developed after a countrywide survey. However, the system has is no functionality to update the status of the water point or view a history of service problems. This is combined with poor performance of repairs nationally if water points are repaired; citizens are disenfranchised with current methods of reporting water faults, if they can report at all. The ecosystem around supporting the repair of water points is non-existent; consequently millions of Tanzanians have no access to publicly delivered water.

It is important to stress that there isn’t ‘one’ solution to the problem of water access nor is there ‘one’ platform or software to ‘fix’ the problem. There is no one discipline that can resolve the issue of water access, there has to be a multidisciplinary approach, to a multidisciplinary problem. Cartography, Economics, Engineering, not one discipline can wholly resolve the issue of water access, nor it is an issue which can be researched and resolved through the lens of one discipline. The societal side of technology needs to not be just taken into account, but integrated into the core of the design with the people who face the issue and who will use the technology to resolve it. It is imperialistic and deterministic to assume that technology can just ‘fix’ the kind of complex issue of water access, especially as the technology is, in effect, imposed broadly by outsiders to the community in which it is intended to take root. Hence, an understanding of the community is needed; who the users are, how water access is dealt with currently and the general state of affairs. From this we have created two streams of Taarifa, one that is currently implemented and one that is currently being designed, incorporating lessons learned from initial deployments.

The first iteration of Taarifa’s design story and user action assumed that mobile connectivity wasn’t an issues and that there was an active organisation, be it government or an NGO wanting to resolve water access issues, another predicate was that the water infrastructure was adequately mapped. This led to the following reporting process for a water issue; When a report is made, for example from a Community Water Officer or a concerned citizen, it goes into the Taarifa workflow, which identifies the specific water point from the database. The reporter is then notified, thanked that they have made a report and given an estimation, based on prior time taken to repair broken water points in that district on how long it will take. An engineer is informed what is wrong with the water source. Once an engineer has been selected, a verifier can verify that repair has been completed satisfactorily. Importantly, at each stage the initial reporter is informed about the progress of the repair. This was the version trialled in Uganda.

Subsequently, learning from how Taarifa was deployed and used, the design is now intended to incorporate offline capability and ‘marketplace’ functionality. The offline capability due experiences in Uganda that connectivity wasn’t universal (this was not a surprise, however, improvements to the paradigm should be incremental) the marketplace due to the capacity of local government and organisations. If a district has no capacity to repair a broken water point, the cost could be estimated by a number of engineers receiving information about the problem and they bid using their phones. A micropayment is taken to support the system, providing a surplus, potentially reinvested into creating new capacity. Micropayments are ubiquitous in the developing world, effectively replacing a formal banking infrastructure, hence are familiar to the communities who will use this method. Consequently this should hopefully be viewed as an extension of what already exists, not something completely new.

What does all this mean within the context of the Crowdsourcing in Action workshop? Broadly it allows us, as academic researchers to typify crowdsourcing and understand more. Taarifa acts as a community crowdsourcing code and by extension curating community reporting issues in developing countries. Artmaps develops applications for use on smart phones that will allow people to relate artworks to the places, sites and environments they encounter in daily life. GalaxyZoo leverages the many eyes of the crowd to process space imagery data. Thematically, all the projects presented utilised volunteers to provide information, process it and return it to the user and other interested actors.

After the initial presentations we formed groups, of other experts and practitioners to build a common model of what crowdsourcing means to their projects and work. Then coalescing at periods to feedback practice and information learned from other participants. In doing so, we learn from successes and failures of others, understanding common themes for collaboration.

In identifying these common themes, it hopefully sets an agenda to focus on specific factors and communities under the crowdsourcing agenda. Jeremy Morley and I are planning a future “How to Hackathon” event building “Crowdsourcing in Action”. Hackathons allow volunteers (generally) to co-create ‘hacks’ to problems. In its truest sense you accelerate innovation by combining a random mix of people and skills, providing a set of previously unsolved problems, then observing what happens. As was identified in the Crowdsouring In Action, we can observe the states before crowdsourcing; we can help provide a process for participants; we can observe and process the result. However, an understanding of how participants use the tools to conduct crowdsourcing is scant. By now focusing on hackathons, we hope to discover more on how the design and development of crowdsourcing works.

Prologue to the Sanitation Hackathon

Florian Rathgeber and Fayaz Valli at the World Bank, Washington DC.

Florian Rathgeber (right centre) and Fayaz Valli (left centre) at the World Bank, Washington DC.

Taarifa was announced in various mediums as being a winner of the sanitation hackathon. To this end two Taarifans are currently representing all Taarifans in Washington DC and San Francisco. More will come from this, I’m sure. However, all of the projects of the sanitation hackathon should be given the same pedestal and treatment.

The number of projects and energy that the sanitation hackathon generated should not be lost, and energised by the constant support and coverage;

“The event featured nearly 1000 registered hackers at ten locations worldwide who developed some 62 new prototypes.” – Sanitation Hackathon Site

While this moment is still in the here and now we should all move forward, collaborating, instead of competing. From this solve the technical challenges within the sanitation issues which we face. Undoubtedly, it is a naïve and deterministic proposition to suggest that technology will solve the world’s problems. However, events like the sanitation hackathon have demonstrated that technologists from all walks of life can work together. Building a social side to these systems is a bigger problem than the technological ones, prizes and recognition aren’t replacements and should not be considered replacements for this. The hard work starts now.

Written and submitted in the Hotel Kilimanjaro, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (-6.81669, 39.293198)


On the 3rd to the  5th of April I attended GISRUK (Geospatial Information Research in the United Kingdom) to give a paper on Community Mapping as a Socio-Technical Work Domain. In keeping with Christoph Kinkeldey‘s love of 1990s pop stars Vanilla Ice made a second slide appearance, leveraging the fact it’s a very technical academic title. In short I’m using Cognitive Work Analysis (CWA) to create a structural framework to assess the quality (currently defined by ISO 19113:Geographic Quality Principles – well worth a read…) where there is no comparative dataset.

CWA is used to assess the design space in which a system exists, not the system itself. In taking a holistic view and not enforcing constraints on the system you can understand what components and physical objects you would need to achieve the values of the system and vice-versa. In future iterations I’m going to get past first base and look at decision trees and strategic trees to work out how to establish the quality of volunteered geographic data without a comparative dataset. Building quality analysis into day one, as opposed to being an after thought.

Written and submitted from Home (52.962339,-1.173566)


H4D2 April 12th – 14th

The HXL-Team

The HXL-Team

Last year I attended the H4D2 (Humanitarian for Disaster 2.o) organised by (and at) Aston University and Geeks Without Bounds. One of the outputs that I worked on was the HXL Extractor. Basically take data out of  GeoSPARQL, a geospatial semantic database and fire it into a GIS program. One of the team members had already been experimenting with and semantic databases and triplestores (this was most definitely a good thing, allowing us to move quickly) so our ‘mission’ was to create a middle layer to connect to a triplestore, then using the WFS-T standard to fire the extracted data into a GIS program of your choice. Interestingly the ‘project lead’ was communicating with us from Geneva via Skype, this and the prior work bellies the need for clear and concise problem statements prior to the hack. Because some of the team had been able to think about what they had to do we’d been able to work more effectively, even while learning technologies on the fly.

Going to the International Conference for Crisis Mapping Hackathon in Washington a few months later, HXL was still going strong and I got to meet the instigator of the project CJ Hendrix face to face. He’d amassed a team which went on to rightly take first prize at ICCM, now its being used by by UNOCHA with papers forthcoming. The project is growing, as evidenced by the amount of work going on in the team repository. Understandably our small team in Birmingham just did a little bit, but every little bit, helps.

Now H4D2 is coming around again on April 12th – 14th. This will then be followed up by SMERST (Social Media and Semantic Technologies in Emergency Response) a more academic focused conference on April 15th – 16th. Most importantly, you didn’t need to code to contribute, all are welcome from designers, videographers, bloggers, journalists and you! Registration for the H4D2 is open and is again at Aston University in Birmingham. Register here: It’s going to rock.

Written and submitted from the Serena, Dar Es Salaam (6.810617, 39.288284)

5.1 Surround Sound Babies

I recently had a whistle stop tour of Asia, from Hong Kong to Indonesia, finally to Kuala Lumpur. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was great, 12 hours working solidly, had room, great meal, service the works. Cathay Pacific were kind enough to upgrade me to Hong Kong. Drinking champagne into Hong Kong and what followed over the next three days of Chinese New Year will stay will me for the rest of my life. However, this blog post isn’t about that. It’s about my excruciating 14 hours of torture that Malaysian Airlines passed as “Malaysian Hospitality” from Kuala Lumpur to London.

A few hours after online check-in ‘opened’ I tried to reserve my seat. The online system just wouldn’t take me past a screen. No error message, upon clicking ‘next’ nothing would happen. Reload/relogin and the same thing. This resolved itself at 0645, where the √knack all, was available.

After a very speedy trip from downtown KL to Kuala Lumpur International, the first signs at check-in were dire. Using the business check-in desks (Sapphire status from Oneworld Alliance – consequence of flying BA a lot) I got the boarding card for the flight and apparently checked in my bags. Although as I was leaving, I hadn’t received a baggage tag and the airline assistant hadn’t apparently noticed the 20kg of Samsonite I’d lugged onto the conveyor belt.

I’d requested a seat with leg room or an aisle seat (I’m 6’6″/2 metres tall), however, they told me to speak to ticketing in the terminal. Upon entering security I asked for the same thing. I was informed that it would cost 7500 ringit (about £1500) for a better, business class seat. One of the things I’ve discovered since getting a mortgage, is that paying that sort of money for a seat upgrade isn’t probably not as needed as paying the mortgage. However, I was informed that the gate staff could be able to do something. They passed the buck onto the hosts and hostesses on the plane. Funnily enough they couldn’t do anything either.

The issue with them not being able to do this, was that they were too polite about it. A very nice hostess explained that the seating arrangement and legroom arrangement was designed for ‘asian passengers’. Ok fine. However what about Yao Ming.Potentially people from the Asia may be generally less tall, however Malaysian Airlines, you’re a global airline. Be ready for people over 6 foot to travel with you.

With a seat acquired and legs having slight movement issue, I shrugged them off and went into the normal flight routine; headphones, Economist and music playlists abound. Generally I smile and nod when someone sits next to me, cursory ‘hello’ and try to stay in my ‘zone’. I’d planned to add to the thesis over the flight, so being relaxed was an idea. The plane filled up and the safety announcement started to play. Then the piercing shrieks shattered through my eardrums.

I had two babies either side, two behind, joined a very young infant. As I looked around the mother with baby commented “You’re the unluckiest man on this plane”. Unsure if this was true, but it felt like it. Taking off the bassinets were affixed in front. The legroom became non-existent and it was impossible to move the movie screen. Slightly claustrophobic, it was very hard to move without knocking a baby trying to sleep, or person looking after said baby.

Getting the laptop out to work was difficult, but just possible, with the screen at an oblique angle. I started to tap away. With ‘The Thieves‘ (brilliant film!) on the screen the background noise was about manageable. Towards the end of the film, the sound of gunshots and diamond heist(ing) was broken by a chorus of unhappy baby. One started crying, then the other. Then all of them in succession. This continued for 4 hours. Nothing worked. Rammstein, Beethoven, Top Gear, Shantaram. You name it, I tried it. I asked the attendant if there was anything they could do, apparently there wasn’t. I tried to leave it an hour, fatigue was seriously setting in. Getting four hours sleep doesn’t bode well for a flight. The crying made sleep impossible, watching a film was hard – the noise just stresses, making it near impossible to concentrate.

Impossible to move, impossible to relax, being on your nerves wanting to sleep. It wasn’t a happy place. I requested to see the cabin services director, only to be told that he was resting. I sat on the stairs at the back for 3o minutes. After this shaved and washed, in an attempt to relax. Within 10 minutes of sitting back into the chair, the chorus was back, the situation was untenable. I requested for sleeping tablets, the best they had was Panadol. Was severely feeling let down by Malaysian at this point. Especially when the father of said child had been assigned another seat, from the overheard conversation between him and his partner, at his request, specifically for him to get some rest on the plane. Seriously Malaysian Airways, don’t let this happen again. Don’t inflict other’s spawn on others, inflict it on them.

The Cabin Services Director arrived shortly after. I was informed there was an aisle seat available and I could sit in it, surprisingly it has worse legroom, I didn’t care, it was vaguely quiet. However, this occurred six to seven hours after being on flight. Half way through one of the longest flights in the world. Why did it take so long? Why aren’t families assigned seats together? Why aren’t people with Oneworld status given priority on seats – this raises the question why should I fly with you if you don’t honour your status levels?

These questions have ruminated in my mind since. I hope that Malaysian Airlines can answer them. Otherwise British Airways and Oneworld more generally will need to clarify them. Genuinely I love the experience that BA provides (the reason I’m in Oneworld), code sharing is annoying, fine. However an experience like this has severely shook the sheen that flying with the Oneworld network and the value of the ‘status’ they’ve given me. This based off an earlier experience with American Airlines (another Oneworld partner). I hope they’ll answer them soon. Otherwise, it becomes a toss up between Skyteam and Star Alliance.

Written and submitted from Home.


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