Attracting storytellers in Kibera through a Facebook offer

Update for Saturday, March 27, 2010 from Kenya:

I’m in Kenya trying to gather stories from people about one specific event where someone tried to make a difference in the community. But instead of a rehearsed speech from a staff person, we’re getting actual stories from everyone. It has been a bit confusing for them, and this method adds 5 minutes of explanation to every interview. But to gather stories instead of NGO advertisements makes it all worthwhile.

I ask something like, Tell me a story about an community effort you’ve seen. Think of one specific moment. Explain the effort? What happened? Explain it as if your friend was considered doing the same effort and wanted your advice.

That story breaks down into:
1. Define the effort
2. What happened
3. What would you advise?

These stories are turning out to be about many esoteric things, but the openness also allows us to capture a fuller picture community values, attitudes, and knowledge about what has already happened. If we just asked about specific projects from an organization, we’d end up with a narrower slice of the world – mostly ideas that sound attractive and practical, and ultimately grant-worthy.

Instead, what I’m getting back are stories about efforts individuals make – all kinds of community efforts. Trash cleanup for cash, hauling soil into a slum to plant kale, tales of one girl and her struggle to overcome problems with a “sugar daddy,” and complaints about flying toilets. If community organizations tend to describe their carefully planned projects, these stories about all the other stuff going on.

This stories collected in this project may open up new possibilities for ways to achieve community transformation. Imagine if NGOs could browse and search these stories (and summaries of themes in stories) to gain insights on whether the next idea would align with something that had already been tried? Suddenly there’s a pubmed for development. It doesn’t offer clear answers, but does offer evidence about many little things people have heard others try before.

Crazy, right?

Sometimes crazy makes a lot more sense. Kibera – a giant slum in Nairobi – is known as the epicenter of poverty and crime, but if you look around, you’ll see outliers to this view. TV antennas on most houses and electronics for sale on mud paths that pass for streets. Safaricom minutes are for sale everywhere. And though there are few computers, it turns out a lot of Kibera residents are eager to get on Facebook. In fact, Erica at the Map Kibera Project called them “obsessed” with signing up.

And since we face two questions when we talk to people in Kibera, this may be the crazy solution that overcomes a big barrier to collecting more stories.

When you approach someone, most ask versions of “what’s in it for me?” or “why bother?” Too many efforts here have amounted to nothing. But as Erica suggested, we could offer to help people sign up for Facebook (which they use on their web-enabled phones), and take their picture for the page, as long as they agree to join the storytelling project. Doesn’t it seem paradoxical that people in a giant poor slum would be more approachable by offering them access to a rather frivolous internet toy?

Only one way to find out.

Stay tuned.

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