Youth and Local Government develop Urban Real-time Innovations and Solutions

‘One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man’. –Elbert Hubbard

Elbert Hubbard died in 1915 but the quote still rings true in 2015, exactly a century later. And in light of this statement, UN-Habitat, Ericsson and Strathmore University came together in a pilot project dubbed ‘The Innovation Marketplace’ seeking to incorporate youth in developing and implementing technological solutions to solve urban challenges facing the counties. A key phase in the project was the hosting of a hackday at @iLabAfrica, a Research and Innovation Centre at Strathmore University that took place from Friday, 25 September 2015, 8AM through to Saturday the 26th, 1 PM.

The hackday sought to bring together youth passionate about technology, social change and cities through the development of ICT solutions that can be used to improve our counties and by extension, our cities. We received over a hundred applications for the hackday but we had to select the 30 most extraordinary of them.

Dr. Sevilla, Director of @iLabAFrica Research Centre gave the welcoming remarks. Marcus Nyberg, Senior Researcher at User Experience Lab, Ericsson Research gave a macro view of how ICT solutions have been used to address various urban challenges while Pontus Westerberg, the Transparency Affairs and Digital Projects Officer at UN-Habitat gave an overview of the project and introduced the participants to the challenge statements (grouped into four thematic areas) on which they would be hacking on. These were:

  • Urban basic services: How can ICT be used to enhance collaboration between county governments and youth, and utilize local capabilities to effectively provide water and sanitation services to those who lack it?
  • City Planning: How can ICT bridge these gaps, stimulate a continuous and structured interaction between county and youth, and enable more participatory planning? How can an ICT based solution be used to aid in the dissemination of spatial and urban planning information to avoid land being grabbed?
  • Local Economy: How can ICT be used as a tool to provide the youth with this information? How can ICT provide a platform to synergize collaboration between government, the private sector and youth?
  • Local Governance: How can ICT be used to help address these barriers? What kind of solution can create awareness about available opportunities and requirements necessary to meet selection criteria, while at the same time increasing transparency and reducing bureaucracy to make service delivery faster and more efficient?

In addition to the youth, five county representatives from Kiambu (the county selected to participate in the pilot project) and four mentors who used the specialty skills to guide the hackers as they developed their solutions. These were, Frank Tamre – Co founder Moringa School and UX is his expertise; Theo Dolan – Director, Peacemedia and Peacetech Lab Africa, specializing in Media and Technology; Robert Yawe, MD, Kay System Technologies with product and business strategy as his areas of expertise; and Marcus Nyberg, Senior Reseacher at User Experience Lab, Ericsson Research having UX, mobile services, research and innovation as his expertise.

After the participants were introduced to the challenge statements, they were given time to quickly think of solution ideas and pitch them. The hackers then group themselves around the ideas they believed were viable to work on. Frank Tamre took the hackers through a session of UX – problem definition and user profiling. Hackers were then taken through customer validation by Robert Yawe through the use of the Javelin Experiment Board with the hackers presenting on their finding after each session.

‘One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men’

With the hackers now having fully comprehended the context of the solutions they would be developing, hacking proper began. This went on through the night and into early Saturday morning where they were taken through developing a business model using the Lean Canvas by Robert Yawe and had a dry run of their final presentations to the mentors.

The judges: Dr. Joseph Sevilla, Robert Yawe, Judith Owigar – co-founder and Operations Director at Akirachix, Douglas Ragan – Unit Leader for Youth and Employment at the UN- Habitat, Kate Kiguru – CEO of Ukall, George Rabar – Customer Project Manager for Sub-Sahara Africa at Ericsson and a county representative from Kiambu; arrived at Strathmore ready to listen, advice, and evaluate the outcomes.

There were 8 teams which developed prototypes in the area of provision of land information. Solving the challenge of lack of dissemination of land information, mobile application that aids in data collection with analytics and visualization and Smart Reporting by citizens for Local Governance.

The winning app was Mat Q which was a web and mobile application for automating management at matatu (local bus) terminals which would both improve efficiency for the drivers and improve revenue collection. This app would solve the pen, paper and board rudimentary way of matatu management that faces many challenge of efficiency and transparency.

The winning team, MatQ
The winning team, MatQ

The last phase of this project will be incubation of Mat Q for them to further develop the solutions for the rest of the year and to be able to pilot it in Kiambu County. Concurrently, county representatives will also benefit from trainings that will increase their understanding of urban issues and acquire digital and other skills that will enable them to fully integrate the solution to their processes.

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