Inspiring Enumeration/Mapping Work (Using Paper)!

May 03, 2012 by Andrea Spillmann

Here at Captricity, we think a lot about how data is collected. We’ve recognized for a while that paper is often the cheapest and easiest way to collect data. Recently, we heard about an inspiring network of organizations which has also found that paper is often the best way of including and giving data ownership to even the most underrepresented members of a community.

I first learned about Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) at an ICTD (Information and Communication Technology for Development) Technology Salonand then in a longer interview.  SDI works to empower and give voice to urban poor in almost 3 dozen countries. Their incredible programs are complex and encompasses a number of elements and aspects, but I was particularly struck by their common practice of enumerating every person and dwelling in a given slum area .  The very act of counting themselves gives community members new insights into their own collective needs, and begins to give them the political voice they lacked for so long.

Within SDI’s member federations, community members are the ones who collect, double-check and own the data. They thus think very carefully about which mode of collection is used. The most vulnerable and underrepresented members of a community are often the last to gain access to new technologies, so choosing an electronic means of data collection inaccessible to them could further exclude their voices and increase the already-severe social gaps. Mobile phones and some ICTs do reach many people in certain of SDI’s locations, but in many others, only the use of paper can reasonably include all inhabitants. Community members thus use paper to collect data on every household, tabulate the results onto more paper, and sit with other community members to discuss, dispute and verify the data, thus ensuring high accuracy. SDI eventually digitizes the data from those pieces of paper for easier visualization and access by city officials, politicians, donors and other key stakeholders.

Community planning in Cape Town, photo courtesy of SDI

A copy of the community registers are left behind with the community, and shared with the local government office and the support NGO in the form of digital data which is also printed and available on paper.

It is inspiring to see an organization put such effort into choosing appropriate technology for both data collection and ultimate dispersal. We hope that our work digitizing paper data may make it easier for more organizations to follow SDI’s example, making careful and separate decisions about both the data collection technology employed and ultimate output format desired. Regardless, how amazing to see what SDI has done so far, and I am excited to follow their future work. You can read more about their enumeration and mapping, follow their blog, and check out their annual report.

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