This project aims to co-create an inclusive framework and partnership for engaging communities in community-based participatory research (CBPR), particularly vulnerable groups and people living in informal settlements. According to the World Bank report, approximately 60% of Nairobi’s city population live in informal settlements, which face significant sustainability challenges such as poor housing, health, safety, and unemployment.

Top-down, government driven upgrading by public housing programs have been observed to be overly expensive and often fail to reach the poorest, ending up in processes of gentrification whereby the problem relocates. Consequently, participatory slum upgrading has received increasing policy and research attention. Besides, the formalization of Mukuru informal settlements through its declaration as a Special Planning Area (SPA) has spiked the appetite for research, settlement profiling and community mapping in other informal settlements in Nairobi city with the aim of replicating the SPA approach.

While participatory research models have been employed in these undertakings, we observe that research agendas and data requirements are continually framed at institutional level, and minimal linkages are drawn between visibly interdependent studies. Consequently, there is unsystematic research replication, information glut, and general failure in translating research to action, much to the disillusionment of the affected communities, which have expressed displeasure with impact-less research.  

This research therefore critically appraises past and present community-based research practices and their implications on local policy and slum upgrading in Mathare settlement, the third largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. It also explores power-actor relations that permeate research processes. It further advances a catalytic approach to impactful Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and pilots it in an ongoing project in Mathare.

The academic team engaging with community researchers

Project Aim  

This research aims to co-create a framework for partnership and engagement in participatory community research in informal settlements. The study is being piloted in Mathare, Kenya’s third-largest informal settlement. The research has been motivated by the need to formalize Mathare settlements as a Special Planning Area, also forming part of the MSPARC agenda to activate the community’s role in gathering meaningful spatial and non-spatial evidence that would enable an effective upgrading of Mathare slums.  

This project develops a catalytic approach to impactful community-based participatory research (CBPR) and pilots it in an ongoing project in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi with 206,564 residents densely settled in 490 acres of contentious land. It is conducted through partnership with the local Mathare upgrading partners, including the Mathare Special Planning Area Research Collective (MSPARC), International Centre for Frugal Innovation (ICFI), and the LDE (Leiden-Delft-Erasmus) team.

Community youth-research team engagement forum in Mathare


The project adopts a co-creation methodological approach where the academic researchers and the research subjects (community) co-design the research process. The following steps are applied in actualizing this research;  

  • Reviewing all the past academic and action research done in Mathare and determining the covered sectors and the methodological approaches taken to determine the gaps. It also includes reviewing peer-reviewed journals, academic papers, books, reports, online publications, strategy papers, conference papers, theses, government publications, and spatial information.   
  • Conducting interviews and focus group discussions with the community members to explore the impacts of past research done in Mathare slums   
  • Co-creating and crafting a community-based participatory framework that will inform future research and actions. The framework will be discussed through a participatory workshop in Nairobi.  The workshop will also invite partners from other upgrading projects in Nairobi, including partners working in Mukuru, Kibera and Korogocho.  
  • Co-creating a research repository that is easily accessible and enables the community to own research.  The research database will be finalized through a 3-day writeshop in Netherlands. The writeshop will (1) discuss the co-created research repository and research agenda; (2) develop generic guidelines for community-based research in informal settlements, targeting (LDE) researchers; and (3) discuss follow-up and valorization.  



LDE Global

The project is funded by LDE Global Support, that is, Leiden University College, Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), and Erasmus University Rotterdam. 

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