Building a Background Through Research

Before beginning our work on site, the team spent seven weeks building a background in this field through research. We studied the nature of informal settlements, the challenges that we might encounter throughout our project and the strategies that we could use to tackle these challenges.  This research allowed the team to reach a better understanding of our future work, what role we would play, and what realistic goals we could set as well as how to accomplish those goals. During this preparatory time in which we focused on the social development and infrastructure of informal settlements, we discovered that finding published data of these communities can be a complex task.
Through this research period, we encountered GIS, global information systems, a software with a more technical and higher resolution bird’s-eye-view imaging system than most GPS sites like Google Maps. This software can be used to visually analyse the topography of the area, as well as identify the existing special layout, road widths for emergency vehicle access, and major utility identification such as electricity poles, and man holes.  Images may be out of date.  News articles were  also  a helpful tool in researching weather statistics, storm damages, and measuring social concerns such as fires, relocation, and demographics.  Demographics can also be identified through enumeration data that groups such as ISN and CORC have gathered on upcoming projects, but is not publicized for privacy purposes and may only be accessible once on site.  Networking with local organizations such as churches, Salvation Army sites, Libraries, Soup Kitchens, or other local resource centres can be helpful in identifying social limitations.  Networking is most successful on site, but organizations can be identified and meetings organized via email prior.
Also by looking into past projects, we came across the importance of developing a trustworthy working relationship with the community, especially with its leaders. The team explored several methods to develop those relationships and researched the key components of leadership in informal settlements. At the end of the seven week research period, we organized a “first week” plan to serve as a guide for our first days of work on site to establish our role as facilitators.

In Flamingo Crescent, this was our mission:

This project intended to aid the City of Cape Town in continuing the reblocking efforts in the Flamingo Crescent informal settlement while collaborating with the community and other stakeholders to implement sustainable initiatives.

We identified eight key objectives in order to successfully accomplish our mission.  These include,

  1. Relate: Develop effective working relationships with community leaders, sponsors, and other partners
  2. Respect: Recognize the community’s voice at all points in the process in order to maintain our role in support of partners
  3. Integrate: Gather and document stakeholders’ insights and opinions to inform project decisions
  4. Design: Develop a formal spatial layout that takes into account infrastructural and social needs as well as the community members’ preferences
  5. Reinvest: Engage and reinvest the community in the upgrading process through collaboration in sustainable social initiatives
  6. Network: Assist the community in networking with the government, NGOs, and other potential stakeholders
  7. Implement: Secure funding and community involvement in the development of a crèche in the public space made available through reblocking
  8. Record and Reflect: Provide an example for future reblocking efforts by recording insights gained during the course of the project


  • Social Development Strategies Proposal
    • In preparation for our on-site project work, the team investigated relevant history, strategies, and concepts to acquire knowledge of the field. We researched the history of informal settlements, the current conditions at our future work site, upgrading strategies, and communication strategies. We compiled this research in a proposal and with the background knowledge we gained, we developed our project mission statement, objectives and plan for the first week on site.
  • A Guide to Infrastructure Upgrading in Informal Settlements
    • In preparation to working on site, a reference manual was developed to organize the major infrastructural themes in informal settlement upgrading.  The process begins with mobilizing the community- identifying leadership, and creating working relationships- then improving the current infrastructure of road, water and sanitation, stormwater management, reblocking, electricity, and organizing social initiatives such as a community centre. These themes were organized linearly for the purpose of a guidebook, but many processes occur in conjunction with one another.