A New Kind of Collaboration: Using Community-Generated Data to Build Urban Resilience

Resilience is an invaluable lens for orienting urban planning and policy toward a more holistic and actionable approach to a city’s challenges. It’s also an applicable framework for efforts taken at the grassroots level to address a community’s particular challenges. We see many examples of this in informal settlements, which by definition grow outside of city frameworks and yet which represent an increasingly visible sign of urbanization in the Global South.

Often operating at a small scale and separate from municipal efforts, the learnings and contributions of community-led resilience work can too easily be lost at the city level. To bridge that gap, through the Community of Practice for Resilience Measurement (CoP), we teamed up with the M&E firm Itad and the global Slum Dwellers International (SDI) network, whose Know Your City (KYC) campaign supports slum dwellers around the world to collect city-wide data and information on informal settlements. In Accra and Cape Town, two cities characterized by informality, we set out to document key lessons on the integration of KYC data into 100RC’s Resilience Strategy development process.

With the project on collaborative urban resilience building coming to a close, preliminary evidence from the last year shows that the partnership has begun to strengthen connections between slum dwellers and city processes for resilience and development planning. With its emphasis on inclusivity, the City Resilience Strategy offers a definitive forum for facilitating collaboration and engagement. For example, the project enabled representatives of slum dweller networks to not only participate in stakeholder working groups in Accra and Cape Town, but also ensure that topics related to informal settlements sustained a high priority throughout. With the Resilience Strategies in both cities under development, it has additionally served as a tangible deliverable open to co-creation by city officials and affiliates of the SDI network. And in consideration of the Strategy’s design toward implementation, we furthermore see it as a roadmap for future collaboration.

The Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), the city’s point person for resilience building, proved to be an effective leader throughout the collaborations, stepping up to initiate partnership, regular engagement, and ongoing dialogue with each city’s slum dweller communities. On top of that, the CRO served a pivotal role in facilitating greater recognition at the city level of slum dweller capacities and priorities. In the words of Gareth Morgan, Cape Town Deputy CRO: “I would encourage my fellow resilience officers around the world to make use of the insights and the convening power of SDI affiliates.”

Early evidence also demonstrates an increased understanding and value placed on community-gathered data. Cape Town, although a data-driven city, nevertheless would benefit from (jointly managed) Know Your City data on informal settlements to further the resilience work. As part of the its strategy development, the Resilient Cape Town team is looking to explore: 1) how the KYC data can help the city improve its understanding of hazards and risks at the neighbourhood level, and 2) how the data can be used to improve household resilience, especially in informal settlements. In Accra, the People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements, the local SDI affiliate, would formerly send their data to the city, however this collaborative project opened a wider line of communication between the two. Now People’s Dialogue is able to meet with the city’s resilience team in person to go over findings and articulate challenges. Access to the KYC data has given the city a deeper understanding of informality – leading to a dedicated pillar in Accra’s forthcoming Resilience Strategy.

Overall, the project has demonstrated that urban resilience is a practical framework for building collaboration between cities and informal communities. For us at 100RC, urban resilience is about making a city better in both good times and bad, for the benefit of all residents, particularly its most vulnerable. This partnership is a step forward to achieving real change for the world’s slum and informal communities.

Learnings from the pilot will feed into the Resilience Measurement, Evidence and Learning Community of Practice. Read more about the partnership from SDI and Itad: