Research, Design, and Informality in Nairobi

This week a handful of our students from the first Development T4I class will be joining us in Nairobi, Kenya for the next month or so. Each student will be working on a particular project with a different organization or group. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing details, stories and anecdotes from these different projects, as well as the program overall. Many will be contributed by the students themselves.All of the different projects deal with some new and important questions. We will be asking about how the Matatu system is conceptualized across scales; how information about communities is shared with the communities themselves; how tools, especially technology, can have an impact even though it is used differently for different projects; how choosing where to place public services in slums can have complex repercussions; and finally, how we can encourage organizations working in the same geography to be more collaborative.All of these questions deal with different, though fundamental, aspects of informality. We will be investigating the merging of more informal transport with more formal transport decision making and understanding spatial urban planning issues in informal planning systems. We will be looking at how data can be fluid and less formalized and understanding how ad hoc networks and relationships between people and group can be carefully and appropriately shared and accessed. This idea is the essence of our approach. All too often innovation (especially new technology) understands how best to serve individuals, but is not conceived of to work from the group level. The group level is a level of informality, as so many groups of people are informal–friends, social networks, community. These are terms and ideas which, as they are defined, become more static and less dynamic, more formal yet less powerful.Besides the fascinating maglie calcio subtleties of these projects themselves, the approach we will be undertaking should be interesting on its own accord. All five students in Nairobi have been tasked with different questions, but will be working closely together. By understanding each topic as a research and design question, the process has become iterative and collaborative. By taking time to discuss and plot the research approach, and then the subsequent timeline and implementation for the projects that will enter the development phase, we will be able to encourage the iterative and critical approach to international development R+D which is often neglected. Once a week (at least), each project will have its time slot to be pulled to shreds and carefully reassembled–the assumptions and realities separated from each other.

We are very excited to take all of the projects to the next level, and are enthusiastic to be sharing these with a group of interesting partners working in Kenya and equally interesting students who will be joining us. Stay tuned!

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