The work and mumblings of Mark Iliffe

Posts tagged “Community Mapping

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


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)


Dictator/Benevolent: Janus, Dichotomy?

Taarifa is one of the best things I’ve been involved in. In various forms it’s had shout outs in the New York Times to Random Hack Of Kindness. One of my tasks is to help deploy it in Uganda soon. I recently sent this email to the Taarifa development mailing list. I feel that the role of a founder in a project always needs to be considered. I’m wondering what other people think?


Taarifa is a platform that is fix my street for slums. I’m unsure whether this post is a massive shout out to my ego or what. However I want to start a discussion on the role of the founder in community projects, be them open source or not. I do so mindful of a line from ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ ringing loud and clear; “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

At this juncture I should point out my love for another open source project, Open Street Map. I owe a lot to many members of the OSM community, either directly or indirectly. The OSM project and its community has shaped who I am over the years. From an exchange student dragging his local girlfriend mapping because she had local knowledge to going down some deep rabbit warrens elsewhere in the world. I love OSM, I love what it stands for and I love its community to the point where at one stage my health was severely compromised. However things within haven’t been plain sailing with a simple comment of “We are the Board! Shape the project!” effectively a call to arms for the project’s betterment taken as a powergrab by the board -nb I’m not singling people out for this one, the thread is included for reference, good luck if you reach the end!

In my eyes the OSM and its foundation OSMF are making the world better. Viewing it like accounts, they’re contributing more to the black column than the red. In my eyes Taarifa is doing the same, and should continue to do the same until something better comes along, or the project is dead. A lot of people in the skype channel and email have thanked me for organising Taarifa, going to talk to people and the such like. The truth is I’m just a loud, talky person. At times when things are starting maybe that is what’s needed. In future probably not. Taarifa is potentially going to be a foundation, at the very least it needs to do something around it’s identity and outward communications. It’s to be discussed at the coming hackathon and I think we should welcome it! We need to discuss what we want our structure to be, is it anarchy, benevolent dictator, committee? I don’t know, but together we should. Future plans regarding funding, grants, deployments all come under this, at it’s core where do we see this going?

My input now I think is to create the culture or influence it. I want people to love Taarifa as I do. I think the community and what we’ve done and accomplished is phenomenal. As such I’d like to shout a call-to-arms to Taarifans and other developers looking at Taarifa to JFDI if they believe strongly enough into it. Make things better, by consensus. If that isn’t working, fork the project and show why your solution is better. Then pull. Also difference is good. I believe it is ingrained in the Taarifa community’s inception that by defending and debating our positions this makes OUR project better; Remember the whiteboard sesssions! Which as it’s a humanitarian project, enables better usage and happier users which does ‘GOOD’. We’re getting new members who weren’t at the hackathon – hello there! – joining. Every person I speak to, sees how Taarifa can make a big difference, people in Uganda are hopeful, in some small way, the world is watching!

So what about the position of the founder and the quote at the beginning? Is founder the best way description; in some ways you on this list now are founders. I want to be involved in Taarifa for as long as I can, but not at the forefront. People change, they loose their hunger, they get different skills sets. And this is a good thing! One of the most contentious things I have is a business card where I’m purported to be a “Geospatial Innovation Consultant”. Geospatial Consultant fine, using ‘Innovation’ however is esoteric and buzzword bingo. At some stage in my life I innovated, I took a risk and though it cost me very dearly it apparently paid off. Now I don’t really innovate, I research, I just ‘do’. Not necessarily innovation, that baton has been taken up by someone younger, better looking with ‘nicer’ hair than I. My role should be to help them – whoever they are – to innovate bigger and better than before. I guess I’m seen at the forefront of Taarifa at the moment. But as an open note, if you think you can do it better do it. The project is bigger than me, you and the community. At the moment very deep decisions are being made or will have to be made, and they’re made with the information we have now, not 20:20 hindsight. The best team at the time should be guiding and shaping those decisions, not yesterdays team. At the hackathon, I remember drinking some cola, looking at each of the developers hacking and thinking ” I’m the dumbest guy in the room”. Everywhere on our table people created frameworks or made coordinate reference systems. Really smart things and all of you should be damn proud.

The time will come where I will need to step aside as being shouty. This is a natural process, not requiring politicking or a ‘nasty’ process. So I rally “You are the founders, shape the project, own it”. Personally I’ve only ever been able to see as far because I stood on the shoulders of giants. Your shoulders. Thank you my friends.

Will see YOU at the hackathon!


Tanzanian Flooding/Start Of The Response

On the 22nd of December heavy rains and flooding hit Dar Es Salaam. Around 20 (that we know have died), leaving many thousands more homeless. This is clearly an issue. Over the short term there are issues with businesses, consumable goods and buildings destroyed. Over a longer term food shortages and public health issues like cholera and typhoid (caused by lack of access to water and clean sanitation) could become apparent.

As such gaining a view of what is going on ‘now’ is important, as this will help organisations like GFDRR and the World Bank among many other institutions make better decisions for the response. Common in disasters and crises has been the Ushahidi tool, however Tanzania has unique qualities which can be exploited in this situation. Step forward Envaya.

Envaya is a non-profit organisation based in the USA and in Tanzania developing and deploying software to aid community based organisations and civil society organisations in developing countries. For the past week or so I’ve been working with Envaya on various projects, importantly a questionnaire which will go out to Envaya’s network of CBO/CSOs to gain situational awareness many factors, including damage and access to water. From this information and data about the damage should then filter from the bottom to the agencies and organisations at the top to aid in their response.

Involvement of Community Organisations

Community Based Organisations Learning About Our Project

Community Based Organisations Learning About Our Project

The first community forum went well. It was deal breaker for the project in the sense that if we didn’t get the community to share our ideals and objectives, making them their own, then the project would fail. Now the map is basically complete for first draft. We have enough of a basemap so we can now support platforms like Ushahidi and enable blogs to be geolocated.

Collecting the data and producing the map, as I’ve previously mentioned is only a first step. The same can be said for involving the students and community members. By creating a small nucleus of highly engaged people, proficient in mapping and storytelling techniques understand the project, they can evangelise the project to others in their community. This ‘infects’ the community from the inside allowing for more people to interact and share the project without ‘outside’ involvement. This will in time hopefully reach a plateau where the entire process of updating the map, reporting and blogging becomes self-sustaining using only the initial equipment and investment.

With this in mind, in the build up to the final community forum of the project (where presentations will be made to the community as a whole ie. interested citizens, civil servants and politicians) we gave a ‘pre-release’ talk to ten community based organisations. The format for this was quite simple, the students introduced the map with it’s features and intended functionality and the community members introduced the storytelling elements.

Within this process I spent most of it being a photographer and an observer. It wasn’t quite seeing the monster you created evolve but when presenting both students and the community are owning the process. The community organisations engaged in a Q&A session then participated in reporting using Ushahidi.

During the Q&A many questions dropped out regarding the future of the project and how the map can be used further. Because we are still formulating the future strategy it is difficult to say what the next step will be, but it will be along the lines of franchising to other areas overseen by community, NGO/CBO and Ground Truth, constructing this framework will be taking place for much of the coming week.

We are also printing the map and distributing it. This is key; in using Open Street Map, the collected data is freely available for viewing and data analysis without restrictions like a prohibitive licence. However accessibility to computers and internet understandably is a problem in communities like Tandale. To enable the community to view their map we will be printing A2 maps for placement in the sub-ward offices and printing A4 sub-ward handouts.

By placing it in a communal areas for each of the communities, we aim to reduce the barrier of people using the map by making it accessible. This process has started with our small nucleus of students and community, expanded by involving community based organisations and will be expanded further by integrating the map into governmental offices at the sub-ward level. Having the map built into the fabric of the community from the beginning of the project should make further incremental additions easier.

Community organisations being fully involved in the project is the next step, the process has been started and the ball is rolling. However Eid is coming in the next week, so everything is going pole pole, Swahili for slowly slowly. However tangible results are starting to become very clear, on all levels with all stakeholders.

Written and submitted from Slipway, Dar Es Salaam (-6.75174,39.27117)

Water, Sanitation and Geography

I have been surprised with during the Tandale project with how community members are familiar with the geographic boundaries and extent of their community. On touring areas with community members, it was clear how they used geographic features to navigate. Also the administrative boundaries were formed through natural features like rivers, without being imposed upon by an outside force.

Previously when facilitating mapping (essentially “There isn’t anything here, go have a look”) the mappers would have a difficultly in collating the map and their own mental model. Here in Tandale reading of seemed to be a lot easier than when I have previously experienced.

Map reading is a difficult skill, essentially it starts with understanding that the map is an abstract representation of space. As a map is a representation of space; a visualisation of various elements is at the whim of the cartographer (in our case the esteemed people which write the map styles for OSM) and the data that the cartographer/surveyor collects.

The people of Tandale seem to have a spatial awareness down to a very precise art, using landmarks and features with which to demarcate areas. This also relates to official and unofficial landuse within Tandale. Because of the lack of formal solid waste collection, most of the waste is dumped in swampland or wasteland. Unfortunately these waste areas have no buffer with residential homes, further illustrating the potential for disease.

On a tour of the Sokoni sub-ward executive he spoke at length on sanitation and water security. The conversation turned to common diseases and illnesses within Tandale with Malaria and HIV unsurprising common. Also mentioned in the same breath was Typhoid and Cholera, which, according to the officer,  outbreaks are common. Looking at the state of sanitation and drainage this is very believable.

We believe that the first step to solving these problems is to have a map. Hopefully have enough data to give evidence of the problems, to both inside and outside the community. We have also mapped dumping grounds, formal and informal medical facilities, toilets, water points among many other things. Using the map as a basemap in Ushahidi instance allows for the community members to use the map that they have created. Now our focus turns to completing the feedback loop, so there is an interface for the reports. Funnily enough that’s where my PhD comes in…

Written and submitted from the City Style Hotel, Sinza, Dar Es Salaam (-6.47319,39.13199)

Ownership Of Community Reported Problems In Tandale

The Sokoni Sub-Ward Officer (right) and Community Members

The Sokoni Sub-Ward Officer (right) and Community Members

Within the project we have effectively split into two groups along the lines of students and community members. The students are effectively bug hunting, filling in missed tracks and POIs. The community members are focusing on the submission of data into the Ushahidi instance,

Today was quite special in that the Sokoni sub-ward officer joined one of our community teams, reporting the problems within the community. They engaged fully in the process, finally seeing the problems they had found on the map.

I could feel the sense of achievement from the community members and students. The community members were animated at showing their work to the representatives of the local government, especially those who were on friendly terms with the officials.

Initially I feared that the dynamic of student and community would be one that would be difficult. The students are from Ardhi University and are the best and brightest urban planners that East Africa has the offer (the students come from Zambia, Kenya, Rwanda and Congo). They are on average technology literate and have, with some guidance, become power-users of JOSM and other OSM tools. Understandably the community took time getting to grips with the software and methodology.

We ran a Saturday session, now they are quite proficient with computers, GPS’ and cameras. Closing the gulf the community can help the students and vice-versa. Because we wish for the project to be sustainable the drive must come from the community members, and it has. They’ve really taken ownership of the project. Before they would be querying the OSM Tags, or how to pull tracks and waypoints off a GPS. Now they navigate all tasks with ease.

We start each mapping session at 0900 sharp. To be ready for this time, we arrive at 0830 to set the projector, plug laptops etc. Now I set the projector up, once I’ve handed out the laptops. Nearly all members (community and student) are present, ready and waiting. They, and by extension, Tandale, now own the project.

Written and submitted in the World Bank Offices, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (-6.81298, 39.29194)


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