Citywide Data Collection and "Knowing Your City"

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


SDI launched the Know Your City campaign at the 7th World Urban Forum in April 2014. The Know Your City campaign is a global campaign for grassroots data collection and inclusive partnerships with local government for citywide community networks of urban poor communities. The campaign urges affiliates to scale up data collection processes and outputs and demonstrate that SDI’s arguments for community-driven data collection are about more than just information and data; they are aimed at building inclusion of the urban poor into city policy.

Know Your City speaks to active awareness, engagement, and understanding of the urban space that you occupy. It encourages citizens and local governments to move beyond the shelter you call home to the level of your street, neighborhood, and ultimately, the city as a whole. To gain a sense of familiarity through information and experience that can inform both theoretical and practical understanding of space and the relationships various inhabitants have to it. When information moves to knowledge and understanding it comes to stand in opposition to narrow opinion. It then becomes a powerful tool in the hands of those who own it. Slum dwellers have come to learn the power and value of information that moves to knowledge and understanding as they engage their city officials or those others who own the land which they occupy. A large and growing number of urban dwellers live in poverty because most city development plans exclude informal settlement. This is in spite of the precedents set by organisations of citizens such as SDI’s urban poor federations; in spite of evidence that conventional city planning is unable to meet the demands of rapid urbanisation and only exacerbates urban informality and poverty.

In practice, the core of SDI’s Know Your City campaign is a standardisation of our settlement profiling data collection methodology for informal settlements. Settlement profiles are different from household enumerations in that they allow a whole settlement to look at itself as a collective rather than as households in isolation. Whole communities then have the possibility to build relationships with their local governments or land owning authority for the improvement of the physical conditions of their settlements and lives as a collective.

The settlement profile gives settlement leadership and city authorities a glimpse of the big picture at the settlement level. The standardised profile allows for an aggregated view of the types of land occupied by informal settlements in a given city, as well as the physical conditions of the spaces in terms of and in relation to infrastructure.

SDI has developed a standardised settlement profile questionnaire based on the questionnaires developed and used by federations across the network. This questionnaire forms the new baseline for all historic and future data collected for settlement profiles within the network. Both quantitative and qualitative in nature, the profile affords possibilities to compare and aggregate settlement level data across a city and, where federations work in multiple cities, across the region. In maintaining an emphasis on the nuances of local contexts, federations have the opportunity to supplement the standard questionnaire to improve the qualitative descriptions of individual settlements.

Both the process and the resulting data become tools of communication, dialogue, and building relationships. Drawing on SDI’s guiding premise to make ‘visible’ the invisible communities of the urban poor, the data communicates quantifiable facts about the physical conditions and scale of informality and urban poverty on a citywide scale while at the same time adding nuance to the particular conditions of poverty and exclusion as experienced in the daily lives of slum dwellers inhabiting these spaces.

The Know Your City campaign also aims to emphasise the spatial, social, economic, and political relations between slum dwellers and their cities over time. To date, we have a total number of 6,343 historic data sets in standardized format available. This data forms the baseline for conditions of informal settlements from 2009 – 12 across cities like Mumbai, Nairobi, Kampala, Johannesburg, Harare, and Freetown. As these datasets were collected via an array of forms they remain in various states of ‘completeness’ in terms of the standardised form. On a federation-by-federation basis, the SDI network will ‘complete’ these as far as possible over the next year. The importance of this data is twofold. It constitutes the first point for developing longitudinal comparative data of informal settlements at the city level, as well as an opportunity to monitor and evaluate SDI federations’ work and engagements within these cities. It offers the foundation from which informal communities can develop citywide arguments at scale and over time.

Seven national federations in Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, and Ghana) have committed to field test and further improve the rigour of both the new standardised profile form and the data collection process. At present, 377 new settlement profiles have been uploaded to the central web based data platform. These are the beginnings of SDI’s learning around citywide profiling with a standardised tool to take the SDI methodology and process of data collection to scale at a citywide level in slums/informal settlements and enhance the rigor and verifiability of our data. 

An increasing body of evidence suggests that the major cities of the Global South are overwhelmingly “slum cities,” in which a majority of residents live in neighbourhoods understood as “slums.” The objective of our work is to bring slums into relation with the ‘formal city’ and into the centre, rather than confined to the margins, of policy and development debates. The aim is not for inclusion by emphasis on the subaltern identity of slums and their dwellers in the city, but rather a shift to the recognition of the role and part of slums and their dwellers in the complexity of the city.

As We, the Invisible: a census of pavement dwellers in Mumbai asserted in 1985, “a society which permits and in fact depends on a large mass of unskilled and underpaid labour must also live with slums and pavement dwellers” (SPARC, 1985). Since then numerous other community-led profiles and enumerations of SDI federations, ranging from Joe Slovo in Cape Town to Old Fadama in Accra, have shown that slum/informal settlement dwellers are part and parcel of the dynamic of the city. These settlements and their residents contribute to the history and sociality of cities and fuel their economies, not just with their labour, but also with their own consumption. The data SDI federations collect about their lives and living conditions in the world’s informal settlements and slums concretises and legitimises what is at the core a political argument for both social and material change and a voice for the urban poor in the policies that affect their lives and living conditions.

Why This Matters

From a number of federations we are beginning the see and understand the power of standardised and aggregated data at the city level. The Uganda Federation has completed and verified settlement profiling for 62 identified slum settlements in the city of Kampala. A map of Kampala has been produced from data collected by the federations. The Kampala map shows the location and extent of the slums in the city. These areas cover an estimated 11,000 acres across the city and are home to a total estimated population of 2.5 million people. In Kampala, federation members using GPS devices mapped the settlement boundaries on the ground. Later these boundaries were verified by means of high-resolution maps and the settlement identification landmarks collected via the profile. As more often than not, a number of households, on average 5 but up to 10, may share a structure, the federation estimates the population based on the number of households multiplied by the average household size. Based on the federation data, the approximate population density of slum/informal settlement areas in Kampala would be 227 people/acre. The total area of Kampala city is 46,702 acres of which 43,490 acres are land and the remainder taken up by surface water bodies. This means that slum settlements, based on federation data may take up to 1/4 of available land in the city. The most recent census of Uganda was conducted in 2002. Accepted statistics estimate the city’s population at fewer than 1.7 million people and thus an estimated people to land ratio of 39 people/acre. According to a discussion paper delivered at the 2014 Annual World Bank Land and Poverty Conference, the National Slum Dwellers

Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) and support NGO ACTogether reports that “data cited in the Kampala Physical Development Plan […] claims there are only 500,000 people living in Kampala’s slums [and it] identifies 31 slums in Kampala – half the number identified by the NSDFU and ACTogether.”

In Zimbabwe, the Federation, alongside their local authority, “profiled the entire city of Harare, settlement by settlement” to identify peoples’ needs on the ground. This led to the transfer of land by the city to the communities for the construction of upgraded houses in Dzivaresekwa Extension, one of Harare’s largest slums.

The profiles completed by the Kenyan Federation thus far indicate that the central concerns for slum communities in Kenyan cities are access to land and access to adequate and safe sanitation. As most of the land occupied by slums in Kenya is privatized, and under high threat of eviction from developers looking to take back the land as land values in Kenya’s cities continue to rise, living space for the poor becomes increasingly precarious with little hope of engagement around upgrading and security of tenure. Interventions around sanitation, especially, have been nearly impossible and continue to threaten health and security of slum residents, especially women.

The Know Your City campaign marks a historic shift in data collection activities across the federation network. While maintaining a settlement-by-settlement approach, we are scaling up our arguments to encompass citywide scales of poverty and informality. We are putting renewed emphasis on the right of urban poor communities to collect and own the information and data about their lives and livelihoods and leverage these as powerful assets to claim inclusion in the cities in which they work and live. Moving from the local, based on our data, we are developing comprehensive and composite indicators to illuminate both the general and particular conditions of poverty and inequality in cities to challenge and simultaneously inform global sustainable development indicators proposed for the post-2015 development agenda.


Check out SDI's 2013 - 2014 Annual Report for more on the Know Your City campaign. 





SDI Announces 2013 - 2014 Annual Report

Wednesday, 03 September 2014

Annual Report cover

SDI is pleased to announce the 2013 - 2014 SDI Annual Report!

This annual report reviews a set of activities that extend beyond just a year. For SDI, the past year has been the culmination of a multi-year process to achieve citywide scale in all regions where we work. The past three years have enabled SDI to have a unique breadth of international experience in building participatory, developmental institutions at the local government level that is unparalleled across the urban development sector. We are presenting this annual report under the theme Know Your City because it serves as a bridge from where we have been as a network, to where we are heading next. The experiences of the past, and the plans for the future, underpin a very practical vision of building cities that are inclusive of the voices, needs, and aspirations of the poor through the planning knowledge, financial capacities, and political will of those who are often rendered informal, expendable, and invisible. Indeed, it is the fate of the informal majority of urban residents in the South, upon whom our urban future will rise or fall. 

To read the full report, click here



South African Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's Tribute to Patrick Hunsley at the Govan Mbeki Awards Ceremony

Friday, 29 August 2014

Minister Sisulu

Today we also want to recognise an outstanding, humble man who helped us shape our policies and understand how people who live in slum conditions are not victims, that they have the power, together with our support, to take themselves out of their poverty. His name is Patrick Magebhula and he passed away on Monday 4 August 2014. It is a sad loss for us. We will bury him on Saturday with all the dignity that he deserves. Today we honour him as an internationally recognised champion and pioneer of the empowerment of the poor and acknowledge his outstanding contribution. We and his broader family of the Federation of Urban Poor and SDI will have to double our collective effort to further his work to ensure that his life passion was not in vain.

- Minister Sisulu’s heartfelt tribute to Patrick Magebhula, delivered at the annual Govan Mbeki Awards Ceremony, where she honoured him with a posthumous lifetime achievement award




A Paucity of Pictures Tell a Story

Thursday, 28 August 2014

By Joel Bolnick

I have only ever seen two pictures of Patrick and myself – and then only in recent weeks as Patrick’s death has triggered a deluge of eulogies and dredged up old photographs from across the globe.

The first photo was taken in 1995 in Patrick’s settlement of Piesang River, Inanda.

Patrick & Joel

The picture captures a triumphant moment for us. Long before it became politically fashionable we had combined our wits and capacities to get the Minister of Land Affairs, Derek Hanekom to spend a night in a shack – Patrick’s shack. But the strategy did not end with the spectacle of a Minister making media mileage out a night of staged inconvenience. This was all part of what became our trademark – militant negotiations with state institutions. This choreographed event translated into the formation of a joint working committee comprising shack dwellers and Ministerial officials that enabled the transfer of more than 350 hectares of urban land to South Africa’s homeless poor.

The next photo was taken 17 years later, again in Piesang River.

Patrick & Joel 2

Whereas the earlier picture hints at the emotional bond between close friends sharing a common political vision, the later picture gives an insight into our capacity to stage-manage political engagements and to combine the very serious work of economic and political redistribution with pantomime and farce. Patrick, whose life was filled with tragedy and whose heart was filled with pain, was fully aware of the fact that our work was enormously important and overwhelmingly difficult, which is precisely why he always made sure that we never took ourselves seriously.

I read a few comments about Patrick’s life and death today that are worth repeating.

One person, reading about Patrick, writes: “A hero indeed. How did I not know about him before he died? Why was I not taught about him at school or university? Why did the media not discuss his views and actions while he lived?” 

Another person responds: “Because that is how it is when a true leader rises. He stands with his people not above them. These are the stories that remain untold. At least this legacy has not left with him. Patrick was also humble …”

And then first person adds: I know. But this makes me sad. I’m sad that I never got to meet him, engage with his writings, consider whether he was right, get persuaded or not, perhaps try to help out. I feel bereft of a wisdom that is now gone. I keep thinking how often does this happen? How often do I as a young person, miss the opportunity to gain from the wisdom of others because they are not rich enough, white enough, male enough, schooled enough?”

For 23 years Patrick and I saw one another at least once a month – often once a week. We spoke at length on the telephone almost every single day. I had the wonderful privilege of knowing this special man as a friend and a brother, a co-conspirator working tirelessly, cleverly, playfully to make this world a better, more just and humane place. I cannot count the shack settlements we visited to meet with informal dwellers, to listen, to share ideas and plan ways to give voice to the voiceless, land to the landless, hope to the hopeless. In every province and every major city in South Africa. In Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Brazil, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand.

And yet there seem to be no other photograph to capture and commemorate this most extraordinary friendship. Why? Because our friendship and our comradeship was it was meant to be – a coming together of two people whose combined capacities opened opportunities infinitely greater than we ever imagined. But we never did it for fame, for the limelight, for the photo opportunity, the financial windfall or the seat in parliament. This disinterest, no this disdain, for power and self-promotion was fundamental to our vision and our practice. I search through literature and through history to find the equivalent to this friendship, and here and there I get glimpses. Sometimes he played Queeqeg to my Ishmael. At other times I played Woods to his Biko.

I am deeply moved by the words of the young man I quote above. We are all bereft of a wisdom that is now gone, but as long as I continue to breath, the lessons to be drawn from the project for transformation that Patrick and I applied every day, and his wisdom and his remarkable achievements, will not disappear.

It is left to me now to be Barney Simon to his Dugmore Boetie; to be Horatio to his Hamlet. A noble heart has cracked and it is left to me to “speak to the yet unknowing world how these things came about.”



12th East African Hub Meeting

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

EA Hub Meeting

The 12th East African Hub Meeting was held from 4-6 August 2014 in Kampala, Uganda. Approximately 85 participants from Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania participated in the meeting. The purpose of the quarterly hub meetings is to bring the three countries in the East African community together to learn from each other and reflect on experiences and challenges of their respective countries to improve and grow the federation in a sustainable way throughout the region. One of the focus points of this hub meeting was the importance of understanding and monitoring the activities and progress of the federation at a regional/hub level. In order to do this, the federations first sat together and scrutinized their country indicators. Each federation was able to breakdown their data to city level to understand where their national data comes from and use this data to help monitor their progress. An interactive session was held to deepen the knowledge and understanding of how federations learn, monitor, and evaluate their progress. The federations agreed that:

Learning: Is “learning by doing,” exchanges, sharing, reflecting on past experience, and documentation

Monitoring: Is visiting, reporting, auditing, country indicators, budgeting and work plans, tracking, and communicating

Evaluating: Is “the WHY?” which includes reflecting, understanding capacity and weaknesses, reviewing challenges, adapting, and looking at the way forward

The conclusion was that this is work that the federations are already doing but there is a need to tighten lose ends to make their systems more practical. It was also noted that concrete data should always be sought for credibility of the federation work. 

Another key discussion being held across the SDI network is the critical importance of growing youth membership and building a second tier of leadership to facilitate the growth, evolution, and sustainability of the slum dweller movement. At this year’s East African Hub three Ugandan federation members, Sumaiya Nalubulwa, Basajjabaka Twaha, and Alan Mawejje became the first youth documenters in the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU). The youth documenters produced a report on the East African Hub, conducted interviews with key stakeholders, learned to upload photographs and video to social media and learned the difference between reports and blogs. We are confident the role of documenter will build their understanding and articulation of federation work and as they teach their peers this learning will spread throughout this powerful demographic.

To read the full report on the hub meeting, click here.




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