Guest post on Ramani Huria site by Mercedes Hoffay, Master of Public Administration Candidate – Columbia University. All images sourced from original article.
All policy students are obsessed with the effectiveness and feasibility of policies and programs that governments implement. So when we find a tool that allows significant efficiency gains in government planning, we are thrilled. That is how we felt when we embarked on our Graduate Capstone Project to evaluate the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team’s work in Tanzania and their role in Dar Ramani Huria.
Let me introduce ourselves: we are six Masters students from Columbia University, studying Public Administration, International Affairs and Public Health, all of us from different backgrounds and countries but with a focus on development. As part of our graduate degree, we need to conduct a consultancy project with a client, and that’s how we met HOT and their amazing team. They were interested in having us evaluate the implementation of community mapping in Dar es Salaam, how those maps are being used by the different stakeholders and to assess the sustainability of the project. With this in mind, we decided we needed to talk to those who were the main target users of the maps by the project: the ward officers, which are the local authorities for the neighborhoods or wards.
When we arrived in Dar es Salaam we clearly understood what the lack of maps meant. It was hard for us to know how to go from point A to point B, and to find where the places that we should go were located. In a city that is 70% unplanned and changing fast, this translates into inappropriate infrastructure, insufficient services, and spillover problems like floods and spread of diseases.
During our visit we got to interview three ward officers, Mr. Osiligi from Tandale, Mr. Nunga from Mabibo and Mr. Mishekh from Buguruni, and an Mtaa or sub-ward officer, Mr. Mwisongo from Ndugumbi. Our first meeting was with Mr. Osiligi from Tandale, who is one of the champions of Dar Ramani Huria. As soon as we stepped into his office we saw the maps proudly displayed on his wall. He kicked off our conversation by saying: “the maps are a place to start. Without the maps, it’s like being blind”. He went on to explain how he was going to use the maps for presenting projects to the municipality, to plan roads and drainage investments. And he also told us how he used them to respond to a cholera outbreak by clearly pointing out to the health authorities where the foci of infection were located.
Using the maps for planning was a recurrent theme in all our interviews. Since planning is a very general term, when we asked for clarification the answers revolved around infrastructure projects such as roads, drainages, water and sanitation, but also planning for better provision of public services such as health centers and schools. One ward officer even said that with a clear map of the residential and public buildings, he could also easily identify good spots for recreational areas and request funding accordingly. The maps can also be used for disaster response after floodings occur. One of our interviewees explained how the maps could help him estimate the number of people potentially affected during the next flooding season and what are the best roads to access those flood-prone areas with aid.
You are probably asking yourself, but didn’t the ward officers know this information before having the maps? After all, they probably know the place they are working at even without a map, right? Well, yes and no. We found out that new ward officers were being appointed and they were not necessarily from the ward. And the maps are the only piece of information that has every single road and passageway of the neighborhood. This allows for significant efficiency gains by giving the newcomers a better sense of direction and the details of the terrain where they are working. In fact, one of the officers we interviewed was new, and was very happy about how he could actually know where things are located and how to move from point A to point B.
Overall, the ward officers seemed to understand how this practical tool can help them improve their daily operations and, at the same time, allow them to plan in advance. However, as one of the ward officers put it, it’s still too early to measure results and how effective the maps are in allowing for better planning. We would love to see how all these cases fare down the road after a few years of existence of the maps. We have faith that all ward officers will embrace the maps and continue to put them to good use.