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Using digital technologies to promote peace, justice and strong institutions

Provide a case study on how digital technology is used to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for all.
Overlooking properties in Kibera
© RMIT 2023

SDG 16 aims to ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

One way of achieving this is through the concept of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a method of obtaining information from a large crowd of people using the potential of new technologies.

Crowdsourcing offers a way for local government to connect with citizens. It can support a grass roots approach that enables authorities to respond to community needs, quickly and effectively.

What is Ushahidi?

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is a crowdsourcing platform that was created in the context of violent incidents in the aftermath of the Kenyan presidential elections. Back then, the idea was to create a crowdsourcing platform that allowed the submission of violence reports and map the events through mobile phone or the Internet. After its launch in Kenya, Ushahidi has been replicated in many different contexts, from geolocation of victims after the Haitian earthquakes (NW, 2010) where it was instrumental in saving many lives, to the management of wild fires in Chile (Chile, 2019) and reporting of rape and violence committed by soldiers in Syria (WuS, 2012).

Though fields of deployments are very diverse, most of them are dealing with election monitoring, crisis and emergency response, activism as well as civic engagement and community building. Crowdsourcing technology such as Ushahidi are web-based tools for collecting, managing, and visualizing data. Data can be collected from anyone, at anytime, anywhere by SMS, email, web, Twitter, and RSS. Crowdsourcing platforms scale up so that very large numbers of people can use the system at the same time. Posts can be managed and sequenced with filters and workflows with an easy to use interface. Data can be viewed in a variety of ways depending on the requirements of the project. For example, it can be mapped, presented in a list or a visualisation (Ushahidi, 2022).

Example of Ushahidi in use in Kibera

Many interesting programs to foster the representation of communities, including marginalized ones, in local decisions have been developed in recent years. “Map Kibera” is one such example. It was started in 2009 and has evolved over the years to what it is today. The project aims at empowering residents of Kibera, one of the most marginalized informal settlements of Nairobi, through the use of digital tools. After releasing the first digital map of Kibera, Map Kibera launched the initiative “Voice of Kibera”, which relies on the Ushahidi crowdsourcing technology and aims at giving residents the opportunity to report any information relevant to them and their communities, allowing their voice to be heard by local authorities.

At the time of the Voice of Kibera starting, there were only about two local media outlets in Kibera, a slum settlement of around 250,000 people. Residents relied heavily on national media, which either overlooked events in the slum or added to the community’s already negative image. By contrast, Voice of Kibera reports on a variety of stories, from the regular outbreaks of fire to news about local artistic talent. This not only informs residents of important matters but also provides a platform for more positive information to be disseminated.

The project helps give a voice to residents, who can send in news via the internet or mobile phones. Once verified, reports are aggregated and mapped using Ushahidi’s crowdsourcing technology. The website displays feeds from other local media initiatives and blogs, as well as from the Kibera News Network, a citizen video journalism programme. Members film, edit and upload local news stories to YouTube, which are then re-posted on Voice of Kibera.

Benefits of Ushahidi in Kibera

The crowdsourcing platform has enabled many citizens to report issues and problems to government authorities. These range from street lighting problems to violent attacks in the district. Through this process, both the local government and the community benefit since the government gets information when problems arise and an appreciation of how the community sees the issue. Now citizens have a well-understood method of interacting with the government to make improvements to their environment. The crowdsourcing platform also communicates local news provided by citizens such as concerts, meetings and sports events. This has been advantageous in raising public perception about the community since prior to the Voice of Kibera reporting in the mainstream press was often negatively focused.

Lessons learned for organisations

  1. Ushahidi shows the importance of making crowdsourcing platforms as accessible as possible for the poor. The technology platform is very basic: the crowd use mobile phones and internet access, the platform is a crowdsourcing tool, it therefore has a wide reach and is not expensive to develop.
  2. The success of the platform suggests that similar tools could be used to obtain grass roots opinions and suggestions from a range of communities for different purposes.
  3. Crowdsourcing has the potential to bring the organisations and communities closer through improved understanding of each other’s needs.
  4. Projects can start with one aim and develop over time as participants begin to see the platform’s potential.
© RMIT 2023
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