Community Participation on Dynamic Risk and Vulnerability: Tool review in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Nairobi Kenya

Image: Akala Haron, African Center for Technology Studies
Akala Haron, Joanes Atela, and Asenath Maobe


In August 2017 Mukuru, one of Kenya’s urban slums was declared a Special Planning Area by the Nairobi City County Government. This declaration was a welcome relief to the residents of Mukuru who have historically suffered from infrastructural deficits and other multiple interacting risks arising thereof. The declaration resulted in further developments in the area being halted for two years before an integrated plan was put in place. Top on the list was the safety and health of the residents as well as infrastructure developments, particularly in the form of road construction. To appreciate the perceptions and involvements of the local populations in these new advancements and to introduce a risk and vulnerability assessment tool, the Nairobi Risk Hub (NRH) organized a community engagement with  Mukuru residents. NRH convened a grassroots meeting with at Amusha Youth Organisation, Mukuru Kwa Njenga on the 12th of August, 2021.

The engagement brought together 32 residents of Mukuru, local community leaders, Community Based Organization (CBO) representatives, and local community members to participate and give input for the dynamic risk and vulnerability assessment. The workshop allowed  community members and stakeholders to interact and input into the research methodology and process  to be used for vulnerability assessments by deliberating and reaching a consensus through group activities.

The dynamic risk and vulnerability assessment will help shed light on disaster risk evolution  aused by interventions such as infrastructural developments. In the case of Mukuru, the focus is on the newly constructed road network by assessing the interactions of the infrastructural intervention with the local risk dynamics.

Why Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (RVA)?

Informal settlements face varied and interconnected risks,  some of which are small scale and recurrent in nature. The assessment of these disasters would reveal the underlying causal factors.. Indeed, and following the declaration of Mukuru as a Special Planning Area (SPA), a series of development projects have been  undertaken to upgrade the informal settlement. Such projects include infrastructural and services such as new road/ drainage networks and sewer lines being constructed. The new developments have had both positive and negative impacts on livelihoods, social systems, and more so on the evolution of disaster risks and vulnerabilities that are understudied.

The NRH dialogue  enhanced understanding of the perception and contribution towards the tool to be used for assessment of vulnerability, which will inform the status, understanding the underlying risks, and prevailing vulnerabilities through livelihood and ecosystem-based approach. The NRH aims to undertake a comprehensive and efficient data collection process to promote co-production of knowledge with the local communities - with linkages to the local and international experts and partners. Local and international partners under the Hub have contributed and will continue to support the assessment, design and development of the tool. This helps to understand the vulnerability of the residents of Mukuru in light of  the advent of infrastructural developments and highlight aspects of the SPA that can be  improved in future models. This  engagement was invaluable because residents are in a better position to elaborate on the different risks or hazards they face. It is believed that the RVA exercise would boost the residents’ local capacities for dealing with disasters and strengthen community resilience in the face of disasters.

The objective of the workshop included:

  1. Enhance the understanding of the type of data to be collected in the risk assessment;
  2. Review the assessment tool for data collection to be used and its suitability and create co-ownership of the knowledge with the residents; 
  3. Identify and map out the newly constructed road and its impacts on the residents of Mukuru.

 Community Engagement approach

The engagement took the form of interactive group sessions in various stages and impromptu quizzes to gauge understanding of the RVA tool. The team displayed an understanding of RVA at the end of the training by the ability to conduct a practical assessment to draw the road infrastructure in Mukuru. These skills will be translated during the data collection and further fast-track the development of the RVA.

Why community engagement in this Research?

Communities are key stakeholder in most the research undertakings: they are the initial beneficiary and provide crucial support to research outputs. They hold first-hand knowledge needed in research and their participation not only enlightens their understanding of research but also helps to identify their priority areas that need intervention. Addressing community concerns, values, assets, and activities require engaging the community-based organisations, Non-profit organisations, local leaders and  residents.  Besides, community participation is a show of consideration to the residents’ values and strategies; the partnership helps to identify special interests and requests which  require researchers to mobilize resources to investigate and in negotiating the difference between academic expectations and community settings for mutual benefit. This partnership creates a long-term mutual relationship necessary for building resilience.

Further, integrating the community perception and ideas in disaster research expands the scope of research and builds strong partnerships  and wider acceptance of research outputs at all levels. The pivotal role played by community engagement – in this case Mukuru Kwa Reuben - did re-shape and redefine the areas of interest for the survey and the data collection questions on the Risk and Vulnerability Assessment.

However, the space for community engagement in the research spectrum is still limited on a global scale. Residents in the community dialogue noted the disparity between implementation, research, and participation. It seemed that the implementation of the SPA models especially in the form of roads did not fully factor in the resident's views to cater for their vulnerability. It is evident that the outcomes from the road infrastructure have been mixed. This has led to criticism since most of the findings are not reflective of the actual case on the ground because w executing research at the community level requires careful planning and attention  for mutually satisfying outputs. For instance, some of the roads constructed exposed the residents to forced displacement, floods accumulation, and drainage complications. In one of the exercises, residents were asked to draw out what they would consider as the ideal road structure that would work for them as shown below.




Community road maps












Figure 2: Road networks in Kwa Njenga and Viwandani- Drawn by Resident

(Image: Credit to Betty Makena, Kenya Redcross)


Community engagement in Disaster Risk Management (DRR) should be participatory and an inclusive process. Developing a community engagement model needs to be adopted by the researchers and funders across the globe starting from participatory proposals development and research development by integrating knowledge and skills from the communities. The involvement of all stakeholders in disaster risk reduction is considered key; RVA helped to strengthen the risk vulnerability assessment thus reducing exposure, vulnerability and hazard in a participatory approach. The community participants contributed to the Nairobi Risk Hub assessment tool (RVA) and shared their thoughts on the areas to be included, some of which have been incorporated. The tool content was piloted and the community members were glad to be part of the research planning phase to co-produce solutions that are mutually owned.