The Urban Development programme undertakes impact-driven research on how residents in urban informal settlements can better anticipate, cope with, adapt to, and transform through change and disruptions. Working in acutely resource-scarce contexts, we explore how (frugal) innovation processes can be optimized to generate creative fixes that stimulate community resilience of the urban poor.  

Current research activities of the Nairobi hub are positioned at the intersection of governance, frugality, resilience and inclusion in informal settlements. We conduct empirical research, capacity building, and networking with local governments, non-governmental organizations and community actors. Among other conventional approaches, we apply citizens science as a research strategy which aims to generate more impact and leave research knowledge within communities. Our work so far has focused on Mathare, Korogocho and Dandora, which are large informal neighbourhoods in Nairobi. 

More resilience for a better future

We believe that resilience contributes to future-proofing informal organisations and neighbourhoods. Empirical research on informal settlements provides insight into how communities deal with crises, optimise scarce resources through frugal innovations, how connections are forged, and links made, and whether such processes and systems achieve inclusiveness or exclusiveness. A resilient community is ultimately a product of cooperation between formal organisations, such as NGO’s and governments, and the informal organisations that have arisen among residents.  

Conducting research together with residents 

Because the residents play a significant role in making informal settlements more resilient, the researchers use citizen science as a research strategy. This way, we can make a more substantial impact and retain the research outputs and knowledge within the communities. Experience with this has already been gained in Nairobi. By working with community researchers, the researchers benefit from local knowledge and enable communities to learn and integrate research into development processes. Through co-creation and co-design, the approach includes methodologies that encourage or support citizen science in informal neighbourhoods, for example, to implement, scale up or transfer local practices to improve resilience. 

Sharing knowledge

We share the knowledge and experience gained internationally, especially among researchers, policymakers and communities in Nairobi, Rotterdam, The Hague, and New Delhi. The programme is structured to host cross-city dialogues where the subject themes are explored through international comparisons between researchers, policy makers and communities in these cities. The programme has started with cities where connections are already established and scales out progressively.  

Expected Impact of the Urban Programme


Resilience knowledge hub

Urbanization, climate change and now the Covid-19 pandemic put resilience of informal settlements on a high political and research agenda, both locally and internationally. The programme supports resilience building efforts by first generating multidisciplinary knowledge and experiences on governance, frugality and resilience practices in informal settlements. This is done collaboratively to generate not only scientifically reliable but also context-appropriate, socially robust and actionable knowledge, useful to local communities, scholars, practitioners, policy-makers, humanitarian and development agencies.   

Local policy relevance

The programme is timely, established at a time when local authorities in Nairobi are actively rethinking pro-poor development, evidenced by the declaration of Special Planning Areas in 2 large informal settlements. This SPA approach concedes that the conventional upgrading tool kit is insufficient to address slum realities and seeks for innovative ways to initiate better, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable slum improvement. The programme is responsive to this agenda as it embeds adaptive governance, frugality and inclusivity to resilience building practices by governments and/or other actors. Preparation of an Urban Resilience Strategy for Nairobi City (and other 4 cities i.e. Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret) is also underway and may benefit significantly from the works within this programme.   

Towards multi-level/adaptive resilience governance

In this programme, community resilience is reckoned an outcome of good governance. The research herein builds an understanding of how formal and informal governance systems at different levels (can) cooperate to foster proactive collective response against risk. Presently, resilience initiatives by local communities in informal settlements are unsupported and often disconnected from formal development arrangements by governments. The programme explores and defines processes, structures and practices through which resilience and risk reduction can be addressed as a shared responsibility across scales, societies, disciplines, and actors whilst empowering local community action.

Articulating frugality

This programme uses empirical evidence to illustrate how improvisation and modification using limited resources can generate creative fixes that meets the social and developmental needs of the urban poor (during crises). Exploring how every day is earned in an informal settlement through the lens of frugality widens the scope of frugal innovations and grounds the concept better, both theoretically and empirically. With this, frugal innovations find policy and practical relevance in informal settlements. 


Research activities are co-financed by VCC, ISS and ICFI, while development projects are financed by Stichting DAIDA and Wilde Ganzen.

Launch of the Urban Programme on Resilience in Kenya’s informal settlements


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