The Chennai experience – Right to (digital) information: working towards digital inclusion of the urban poor

In March 2023, the Urban Development team, Alice Menya and Beatrice Hati, participated in a co-creation workshop themed ‘Working towards Digital Inclusion of the Urban Poor in India, Indonesia and Kenya” held in Chennai, India. The team was accompanied by representatives from the ICT Authority (Kenya), Ghetto Foundation (Mathare) and Kamukunji Constituency Innovation Hub, Nairobi. The 5-days workshop was hosted by Anna University, and co-organized by IHS, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (Netherlands), the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus (LDE) research network (Netherlands), Nuvoni Centre for Innovation Research (Kenya), and Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta (Indonesia). Knowledge was co-produced with communities in the Perumbakkam Resettlement Site in Chennai.

The workshop provided an avenue for cross-pollination and inter-city learning through presentations and participatory design sessions.  The Nuvoni-ICFI Urban team presented the ongoing project on Digital platforms and household resilience in Mathare, which examines variances in access to and use of digital platforms among households and how such disparities relate with differences in the level of resilience among households. Case studies of community experiences with digital inclusion were presented by Yogyakarta and Nairobi teams, who discussed their process in establishing the community-based Kampoeng Cyber center and the California (Kamukunji) Digital Innovation Hub respectively.

Photo by Kejar Mimpi-CIMB Niaga

Kamukunji Constituency Innovation Hub. Photo by Nuvoni Centre for Innovation Research


Centering on the case of Perumbakkam, ongoing research and the workshop discussions linked the lack of access to services (mainly health), safety alternatives, and livelihood opportunities to limited community capacity and information to negotiate these services from local governments and other actors. The discussions highlighted the need for digital and non-digital solutions that may augment access to information, pointing to the need for:

  1. New knowledge and reliable data to shape digital inclusion.
  2. Co-creating new visions for digitally inclusive cities of the future that is different from cities of the past
  3. Following a staggered, incremental process to pilot (non)digital information access. This may involve training and capacity building for digital inclusion, later technical co-design of community-level (digital) information enters, followed by scaling out and/or up, and with well-structures learning processes.
  4. Continual Risk mapping and planning.
  5. Localization of ICT policies such as the Kenya Digital Master plan
  6. Involvement of the local government.
  7. Need to plan strategically about informing the (inter)national policy on digital inclusion

Towards the end of the workshop, the Nairobi team’s reflections provided an avenue to build up towards the next steps of the project which entails co-designing a model digital information hub for vulnerable communities in Nairobi’s informal settlements. A pilot is in the pipeline for Mathare, as an accelerator for digital inclusion of the urban poor in Nairobi.


From left to right: Alice Menya and Beatrice Hati presenting at the workshop

Access to information is critical in shaping and sustaining resilient pathways in urban communities. A widespread digital divide among marginalized urban poor communities constrains their capacity to access information requisite to build resilience, improve livelihoods, and negotiate their ‘right to the city. With an apparent global digital transition accelerated by the COVID19 pandemic, it becomes critical to question what kind of information the most vulnerable urban groups need to acquire adaptive capacities, and how digital solutions may facilitate access to information. 

The event thus offered valuable insights and lessons on digital inclusion, which the Urban Programme team will leverage on in progressing towards production of policy-related and scholarly outputs. It also provided a platform for interacting with policy makers, other researchers, and community members, which is essential in building strong networks and fostering knowledge co-production in the realm of urban development.



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