Informal settlements are often missing from the geographic and statistical representation of countries. Nairobi’s informal settlements are no exception. Very little information is available on the quality and quantity of public institutions and amenities, public services, or on the population itself living in the areas. They are often not even represented on official maps.
This invisibility became even more pronounced with the onset of Covid-19 crisis when movement in and around Nairobi, and Kenya, was significantly limited. This lack of free movement introduced yet another problem: due to the travel restrictions, the information flow from these areas also got restricted to an extent.
Social media, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter filled in the gap of missing information but, while these tools do a great job of enabling easier public sharing, the information itself remains scattered through the interest groups. If you’re not a part of the group, you simply miss out.
In order to understand what our friends and co-workers, their families, and communities are going through, we needed to consolidate all the information in one spot in an easy, accessible way.
Mtaa is an application we developed to conduct a quick scan of the area where we plan to work. Users send texts, together with a location and an “emotion” attached to the location. Everyone is free to send whatever message they wish. The messages are open, without censorship or rules of what should be posted. We keep it this way because at the moment we rely on trusted sources for information and we don’t see the need to censor anything. We love such qualitative data because we love stories and stories of what is going on in informal settlements are often lacking.
Then, the pandemic hit.
As a company focused on community data collection, we had to find a way to support our colleagues, enable safe data collection, and still center community experiences.
Mtaa enabled us to do so.
Our friends utilize the platform to send messages – safely from their homes – about experiences they and their communities are facing. These friends are trusted reporters, many of whom have worked with or been trained by us before, sharing experiences of the neighborhoods that are otherwise often missing from representation.
Currently, they’ve sent about 500 messages from Mathare, Kibera, Kariobangi, Kawangware, City Centre, Ngong Road, Mukuru, and Umoja neighborhoods in Nairobi. The messages range from day-to-day interactions, reports of extreme kindness and sacrifice, small acts of daily life like painting graffiti and making of music videos, to talking about crime and lack of essential services, such as access to water and food.
Water situation is very dire here. We have gone so long without water services and where one gets some, the community scrambles and struggles with high cost and long queues in order to access the commodity.
Thievery activities taking place due to lack of finaces and very limited job opportunities. Especially now it is really bad along the roads.
We must emphasize that no one is asked to, nor needs to, go and collect data outside the safety of their homes. The only rule is that they send whatever they want whenever they want it: rumors, feelings, and other relevant messages as and when they see fit.
Woke up, all good! Good morning Mlango! Hii Covid imekuja sana waaaaah!!!
We are now working on various analyses and visualizations of data to identify hot-spots, priority areas, and main issues in each community based on this incoming information. One of the visualizations – an interactive map of messages received and their locations – can be seen below. Now, our job is to analyze and share the information with relevant actors providing services on the ground. In the end, the goal is to make this information useful.