IDEAMAPS: Data mapping in deprived areas

Lynda Keeru reports back on the third of a series of webinars hosted by the IDEAMAPS network. Speakers explored gaps in our knowledge of how to map deprived areas, how to exchange data and knowledge between stakeholders and what is missing in urban deprivation data.

IDEAMAPS are keen to overcome siloed approaches to slum mapping and ensure that deprived areas are mapped at scale and outputs are used to facilitate change. They have developed a data ecosystem that facilitates fair exchange of information and provides new opportunities for collaboration among diverse stakeholders.

The speakers were from different settings which gave the attendees a rich variety of experiences from different countries and contexts. Vinod Rao, from SPARC India is part of the ARISE consortium on health and accountability which is being implemented in four countries. Their focus is participatory action research which focusses on the health and wellbeing of slum dwellers and people living in slum relocated colonies. In ARISE data is analysed and used as a negotiation tool with state institutions.

SPARC works promoting and supporting area resource centres – which are small centres in slums and slum relocation areas across India. These centres are run by the slum dwellers themselves. The data collected helps to identify the contribution that the slum and pavement dwellers make to the city. The slum dwellers experience many challenges especially the fact that they have no access to basic resources like sanitation.

Selvi Devendra, who is part of the ARISE network and a women’s leader who works with one of the federations relayed her personal story of her life as a slum dweller and data collector and how she acts as a bridge between her community and the local government.  She revealed the informal workers’ living and working conditions, as well as the multiple risks that are involved in their day to day lives. Selvi explained that life in the slums on the railway was hard because they were exposed to the sight of accidents very often and were often accused of throwing stones at people traveling on the trains. Selvi now lives in a relocation colony, a few kilometres away from her former residence. Her move was necessitated by events of a random day in which her fellow railway slum dwellers were informed of the looming demolition of their homes and their relocation. This was not only a stressful experience but an unsettling one. Much as the conditions were still dire, they had found some solace in the little security that they now knew in their previous home. Just as they were beginning to experience very basic forms of comfort, such as improved sanitation, they could no longer call this place home. SPARC however stepped in and reassured them that the new location would provide them with better security and they would help them through the transition.

Using the difficult and novel times we are living in because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Selvi explained how pivotal her role has been in building a relationship between the community and the local government. She narrated how they as a team created responsive mechanisms by using the existing community networks. With India going into a very short notice and stringent lockdown in March with absolutely no movement, the country experienced numerous challenges. This was made worse because Mumbai is home to numerous migrants from other cities in India who depend on daily labour wages for a living. The city experienced major problems related to food security. During this time, Selvi and her team were very instrumental in the mobilization and distribution of food and other essentials like medicine to the most vulnerable in the community. She was mobilizing about 1500 packets of food every day for a huge number of about 4500 families in the area in which she lives. This exercise was carried out in partnership with local leaders and government structures which promotes accountability in governance; a major pillar for the ARISE team.

Elsa Rousset and Adesola Adelani Dada, from JEI and SDI Federation (Nigeria) gave participants insights into how they successfully implemented a participatory approach and overcame perennial city-wide challenges with a household energy survey implemented across hundreds of slums and informal settlements in Lagos. They explained that they have managed to do this by embracing the concept of ‘nothing about us without us’. They apply community led approaches in their data collection processes by empowering residents of informal settlements to lead the processes of data collection. They stimulate community empowerment by ensuring that the community understand the purpose of the survey and encouraging them to take up key roles in the data collection processes. Most importantly, the participatory approach requires that the data collected is returned to the community and used to advocate for change.

A key pillar in this approach is ensuring gender inclusion and diversity in the processes by securing a representation of people from varying ethnic groups and also having on board people living with disabilities. They advised that this should also be the case for respondent selection in order to ascertain that the survey captures the true diversity of community realities. To overcome existing challenges, they make an effort to reach out to previously underrepresented local government associations.

The last presenter, Flavia Feitosa gave a presentation on how they had developed a methodology for identifying and characterizing precarious settlements in Sao Paulo. When updating and enhancing the housing plan 2011-2023 for the state of Sao Paulo; they realized that precarious settlements are one of the most relevant housing problems in the city. The MAPPA Project worked closely with a local government and a housing agency to integrate diverse spatial datasets to model the location and type of precarious settlements (favelas and informal settlements). She also described an iterative modelling-fieldwork process that enabled identification of previously unidentified precarious settlements, and multiple rounds of essential field validation data collection. This process included the improvement of information on precarious settlements and assessing housing deficit/ inadequacies both inside and outside precarious settlements. This was achieved by using models of identification and classification of typologies of precarious settlements, quantifying the total number of households in precarious settlements as well as multidimensional assessment of the housing deficit

All the presenters reiterated that research and mapping in urban informal settlements depends on the development and maintenance of  trust with the communities involved. It is impossible to achieve any progress without goodwill from the community and one must involve the community every step of the way. The organizations must be willing to get around the challenges together with the community and clarify any misconceptions the community members may have and most importantly, have an understanding of the fact that the data belongs to the community and must therefore be given back to them to act upon once the collection has been completed.


Vinod Rao and Selvi Devendran, ARISE Consortium (India), Elsa Rousset and Adesola Adelani Dada, JEI and SDI Federation (Nigeria) and Flavia Feitosa, Federal University of ABC (Brazil).

If you would like to stay updated about the latest urban deprivation mapping methods, views, and experiences please join the IDEAMAPS network