Case Study

Mapping water sources in Kenya

What problem were they solving? 

The Tana River County is one of Kenya’s most important wetlands, providing farmland and dry season pastures for local communities. In the Tana River basin, the frequency of severe floods and droughts has increased, resulting in devastating impacts on the local communities who rely on the river for drinking water, irrigation and fishing. The droughts also trigger livestock migration as the cattle move in search of water and new pastures. This in turn causes friction between cattle herders and farmers. Sustainable water governance and resource management require multi-stakeholder engagement as the issues are highly complex, urgent and contested. There are significant data gaps around water levels, use and access to water points. Plugging these gaps could enable decision makers in government and the private sector to anticipate, monitor and adapt to water scarcity. The data could also help herding communities to advocate for allocation of water infrastructure projects. Ensuring that herders have access to the data, can also support better planning of migratory routes and more efficient management of the resources during extreme weather events. When water is scarce this could enable herders to take their cattle to water points where tensions with farming communities are less likely.  

What did they do? 

The UNDP Accelerator Lab in Kenya worked with Tana River County and national government officials to develop a collaborative community mapping platform. The platform combines data on the water infrastructure in Tana River County collected by “water scouts” from herder communities with other existing datasets. Forty-three scouts were recruited and trained as community data stewards to collect the data using the Open Data Kit (ODK) mobile app. The data is imported from the mobile app to the KoboToolbox platform where it can be analyzed by officials from the county government. This data collection process was co-designed with 100 people from the Kipini West Ward and Wayu Ward, including representatives from herder communities, farmers, government officials and the private sector.  

In the long term, data will be accessible through a public dashboard managed by the County Chief Officer for Water and Energy so it can be used by decision makers at national and county levels and by citizens to advocate for water infrastructure projects. The Lab is also planning to scale the approach to other counties.  

What was the benefit of using collective intelligence for this issue?  

During the pilot, the scouts mapped 1,243 existing water sources and 684 social amenities in fifteen different wards across the county. They also collected rich qualitative data about community perceptions on climate change from villages in the area, including insights into the effects of water scarcity on relationships between herders, farmers and the government.  Involving the water scout network from the outset and co-designing the data collection process helped overcome some of the existing tensions over resources. The prototype was successful in the way it mobilized tacit knowledge of the area’s water points to plug a pervasive data gap. For example, when looking at water quality, this initiative unearthed local practices whereby households treat it with plant extracts from indigenous trees. The Kenya Water Institute is now validating the efficacy of this method as a sustainable non-toxic alternative to chemical coagulants.  

Working with local scouts led to faster data collection because of their good knowledge of the local area. This in turn, has generated the interest of county governments in mobilizing community networks to collect data on issues beyond water infrastructure; for example, supporting a planned livestock census.  

Public data on the location and status of water sources will also support herders and farmers to make better decisions during droughts and floods, thereby reducing the doing gap. For example, the data could help scouts select new locations for the herd that require shorter migratory routes to boost the survival rates of weaker livestock.   

What does this experience tell us about collective intelligence for climate action? 

This is a story of climate change problems that affect communities differently, exacerbate trust levels in a context of diminishing resources and point to the potential of collective intelligence to identify synergies instead of trade-offs. Two key challenges emerged early on – varying data literacy levels amongst local communities and a historical lack of trust in institutions. To address these challenges, the UNDP Kenya Lab developed a protocol that could be easily deployed using the most appropriate technologies for the local context, including several free, open-source tools. For example, ODK allows for offline data collection, so the scouts could map water points in regions with poor connectivity. The Lab recruited and maintained engagement of the water scouts by tapping into existing communication channels on WhatsApp. Bringing together herders, farmers and county government officials at several points during the design and prototyping process has allowed groups to openly discuss differences where dialogue and data might reduce tensions related to scarcity and climate adaptation in the future.  

COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE USE CASE Anticipating, Monitoring And Adapting To Systemic Risks
IPCC CATEGORYAdaptation, Disaster Risk Management 
COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE METHODSParticipatory Mapping, Combining Datasets, Co-Design
PEOPLEYoung People, Farmers, Herders, Tana River County Government, National Drought Management Authority, Pwani University, Kenya Water Institute, Kenya Community Support Centre And Vox Radio
DATAGeospatial Data, Satellite Data, Crowdsourced Observations, Ethnographic Data
TECHNOLOGYOpen Data Kit (ODK), KoboToolbox, WhatsApp, Mobile Phones, Dashboard