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July 6, 2010

When I first heard about Transparent Chennai, I was interested by the incredible potential it had to create a sense of community engagement and ownership. I then happened to come across a website for a Kenya based project, with a theme similar to that of Transparent Chennai, and started wondering whether lessons learned in a slum in Nairobi could be used in Chennai.

The project I came across is called the Voice of Kibera (VoK) which shares some of the same goals as Transparent Chennai, and which uses effective tools to promote community participation. Essentially, the VoK project (www.mapkibera.org) aims to map various issues that are taking place in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Kenya. These issues, all of which are mapped through citizen reports, include new developments in infrastructure, news events such as ongoing medical camps, and emergency alerts such as updates on protests or riots. Community members have the option of either submitting reports via the VoK website or through SMSes. This information, whether in the form of photos, videos or text, is then uploaded to the map on the website.

The VoK team used a number of creative ways to keep the community engaged in this project. Some of these are mentioned below.

1. Engaging with and receiving feedback from the target audience early on in the planning process: NGOs and CBOs whose agenda and vision were aligned with those of the VoK teams were invited to be part of a focus group meeting in order to provide their feedback on the map. This could have been beneficial for the VoK team in multiple ways:

a. Listening to the voices of their target audience was essential for the VoK team to create a map that would cater to the needs of its diverse range of stakeholders, thus increasing the probability that the map would be used by its intended audience.
b. Participative discussions like this would ensure that focus group members stayed tuned in to the progress of the map and helped publicize it once it was up and running,
c. In return, the participating organizations could be featured on the map’s website thus providing them with publicity
The agenda, presentation and learnings related to the focus group workshop can be found here: http://mapkibera.org/wiki/index.php?title=Voice_of_Kibera.

2. Using internet cafes to publicise the online map: The VoK team spoke to owners of local internet cafes to allow them to set their website as the home page on all their computers. This was quite a unique idea to create publicity and also provide information to internet café customers.

3. Selecting and rewarding volunteers: VoK selects community members to serve as citizen photographers and messengers for the project. I feel that being selected to be part of the project could foster a sense of ownership and responsibility in the minds of the volunteers, which is something that just visiting the site may not be able to achieve. In order to encourage citizen reporting, VoK gives out incentives in the form of small monthly cash prizes to those reporters who have contributed the most info to the map,

It would be interesting to explore whether any of these ideas would be applicable in the context of creating publicity around the Transparent Chennai map and expanding the site’s base of users and contributors. Taking VoK as an example, the Transparent Chennai team may also want to consider sharing its learnings online in order to offer ideas to and connect with NGOs around the globe that are about to initiate similar projects.

Contributed by Namrata Asthana, Centre for Development Finance, IFMR, Chennai

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