Posted to the Ethnos Project by on June 15th, 2014

The area of Kibera—located in Nairobi, Kenya—is one of the largest slums in Africa. Although multiple civil society and development organizations have been present and active in Kibera for many years, this poor community has often remained a blank spot on public maps. On some, it has even been marked as a forest (Hagen 2011). In October 2009, this dearth of geo-spatial information about the slum led a group of social activists to create Map Kibera—an interactive community map of the area. The development of this map paved the way for many other interactive community-mapping endeavors around the world and created new opportunities for participatory development.

Interactive community mapping (ICM) is a process that engages individuals in creating a map of their community. By developing improved maps of roads, settlements, buildings, local businesses, and other services, the ICM process aims to help community members, governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and development partners to harness the collective wisdom and knowledge of these communities and to become drivers of development. ICM is used to assess the needs and concerns of the mapped communities and to tailor development activities accordingly.

This chapter explores the moving parts of the ICM phenomenon and offers a framework for effective ICM endeavors. It argues that ICM endeavors aim to achieve both process- and results-oriented goals: (a) empower and build the capacity of marginalized groups and (b) generate a map that will be used by political and civil society actors to improve service delivery for the benefit of the community. However, this scenario rarely materializes. More often, ICM initiatives are forced to prioritize and accept trade-offs between these two objectives, prioritizing community empowerment and capacity building over effectiveness or vice versa. In this context, the chapter offers a set of enabling factors that create the conditions for process- or results-oriented interactive community maps: (1) supporting information infrastructure, (2) need for information, (3) civil society capacity; (4) government cooperation; (5) incentives to cooperate; and (6) data quality. The chapter then examines the application of this framework to four innovative case studies of ICM: two general maps to support social development (Map Kibera, Kenya, and Map Tandale, Tanzania) and two maps to mitigate the effects of natural disasters (mapping the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, United States, and improving disaster preparedness in Indonesia). The chapter concludes by discussing the opportunities that ICM presents for participatory development.

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