Cities across sub-Saharan Africa are facing dangerous and expensive hazard events. Kampala, Uganda has seen a rapid influx of internal migrants into exposed flood plains of Lake Victoria; meanwhile, precipitation runoff causes regular flooding in low-lying neighborhoods of Kinshasa, DRC. In the Liberian capital of Monrovia, coastal erosion threatens the lives and livelihoods of families in unplanned coastal settlements.
In August, teams of African policy-makers and geoscience experts met to conceptualize tools to better communicate and mitigate these risks. The convention of 45 delegates marks the second regional meeting of Open Cities Africa, a program engaging local government, civil society, and the private sector to develop the information infrastructures necessary to meet 21st century urban resilience challenges. Consortia of local government and innovation teams from 11 cities across the continent came to Tanzania to learn from each other and attend a packed 7 days of open source software and urban governance conferences in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
After a summer of stakeholder meetings and data collection in their respective urban areas, a running theme of the August meeting was user-focused data products; how can Open Cities teams learn from their stakeholders to develop information tools that are relevant, accessible, and useful for governments and vulnerable communities?
The Open Cities Africa meeting featured a series of intensive workshops on user-centered design to help answer this question. In these workshops, teams were tasked with designing a user-informed prototype of a risk data communication tool for their cities. Through development of user “personas” and rapid ideation exercises, city teams came out of these workshops with innovative new open data prototypes: from atlases of exposure and risk to city-wide early warning mobile phone applications. Teams continued to engage with these topics at the Free and Open Source for Geospatial (FOSS4G) and Understanding Risk Tanzania (URTZ) conferences through sessions on geospatial governance, inclusion, diversity, capacity building and civic engagement.
City teams have begun extensive data collection and mapping of vulnerable sites since the first regional meeting, so data processing was another timely topic for Tanzania. In the Open Cities technical clinics, delegates met with experts from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), Mapillary, and OpenDRI to gain advanced training and instruction in validation, quality assessment and quality control, drones and other UAVs, and data collection tools. At FOSS4G and the HOT Summit (blog), delegates attended sessions on innovative open source tools, advanced OpenStreetMap tools training, and machine learning in open mapping.
The jam-packed week was bookended with a final workshop for developers from each of the Open Cities teams. In Zanzibar City, Mapbox hosted an extended weekend web mapping training for Open Cities Africa and the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative (ZMI), led by Marena Brinkhurst and Jinal Foflia (blog).
As Open Cities Africa teams progress in their projects, the trainings in Tanzania will serve to advance the development of user-centered open source tools to communicate and reduce urban risk across cities of Africa. Stay tuned with city teams’ progress on www.opencitiesproject.org.
Open Cities Africa is financed by the EU-funded ACP-EU Africa Disaster Risk Financing Program, managed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.