Q. 4. How can participatory approaches be used to trigger necessary institutional changes & planning approaches to transform the lives of informal settlers?

March 24, 2017

This discussion is now closed. Thank you for your participation.


  • Claudio Torres Slum Upgrading Consultant, Housing and Slum Upgrading Branch. UN-Habitat
  • Pireh Otieno Human Settlements Officer, Urban Basic Services Branch - UN-Habitat
  • Kulwant Singh Regional Advisor - UN-Habitat
  • Marcus Mayr Urban Planner, Climate Change Planning Unit, UN-Habitat
  • Edmundo Werna Head of Unit at Sectoral Policies Dept. ILO

Q. 4. How can participatory approaches be used to trigger necessary institutional changes & planning approaches to transform the lives of informal settlers?

Question 4: How do participatory approaches reach beyond the impact of limited projects to become a trigger for necessary institutional changes and planning approaches that will, at scale, transform a billion lives?

Please share your ideas and/or examples below.

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Melissa Permezel – Discussion Moderator Policy and tool advisor from Kenya
Mon, April 4, 2016 at 04.51 pm

Dear Dialogue Participants.

Thanks to you all for your comments and contributions to this dialogue question. I am sure if we had more time, we could discuss this in further detail however we must wrap up. I would like to note some of the key issues identified. 

-Lack of recognition of slum dwellers, especially by various levels of government who often adopt only a negative view of slums and the people living there.

-Many professionals are perhaps lacking in certain skills and knowledge to impliment a more inclusive approach to improving the lives of slum dwellers.

-The impact of slum life on the different groups living there remains limited. Many experiences are defined by gender, disability, age and ethnicity and these should be understood to inform upgrading and prevention approaches.

Some of the very useful recommendatiions on a way forward included:

-All stakeholders but especially governments have to recognize people living in slums and see their positive dimensions. There is a lot of effort and energy to be harnessed and supported.

Participatory and community-led organization that work across whole countries and regions can have more weight and wider impacts on legislation and policy decisions. This is particuilalry so if they join together to achieve improvements to the lives of slum dwellers.

-the important role micro-financing can play in promoting local change for slum dwellers.

-the role of Political as a backdrop to actions, inclusive processes and procedures. This includes the acceptance of civil society and other such local implementing agents.

-Recognition that slums contain many positive features around mixed use etc that should be preserved whilst at the same time addressing the very serious deprivations occuring there.

-Recognise the energy efficiency that is operating in slums as people re-use and recycle.

-Recognise the sigificant role that women play in involve women as heads of households and through the very dynamic informal economy activities that they are involved with. These roles and skills should be harnessed both in the slum upgrading process and for the prevention of new slums.

– Explore the role that professionals can play to share their skills and knowledge to a broader stakeholder group as part of skill sharing. 

Once again, thank you all for your efforts. They are appreciated and lets keep the discussions and engagements happening again in other forums.

Participatory Development Action Program (PDAP)
Tue, April 5, 2016 at 01.03 pm

From my experiences, I can mention the to contact with local government department, policy maker and local influential persons are the key actors for necessary institutional chnage.

Mariangela Veronesi Programme Manager, Building and Social Housing Foundation from United Kingdom
Sun, April 3, 2016 at 02.45 pm

Participatory and community-led organization that work across whole countries and regions can have more weight and wider impacts on legislation and policy decisions. A good example is that of the  Centre for Community Organisation and Developmentand the Federation of the Rural and Urban Poor in Malawi. Amongst other things, they advocate for solutions that would create positive structural changes to policies, funding streams and other regulations that affect the lives of informal settlers in the country ( for example, they advocated for funding for community-led housing initiatives, which led to the government of Malawi providing MK 16 million (US$33,800) towards Federation housing in Salima district. They have also managed to adjust building restrictions so that these could translate into more accessible and affordable housing for low income groups).

(More information: https://worldhabitatawards.org/winners-and-finalists/project-details.cfm?…)

Organisations working to solve similar objectives can also create alliances in order to have more bargaining power and weight – as is the case for the Urban Poor Alliance in the Philippines. This organisation reunites different groups working on community-led initiatives and pro-poor projects, and they together advocate for legislation that positively affect the life of informal settlers. They have, for example, been challenging resettlement protocols but national agencies.

Other organisations, such as FUCVAM, have created a strong movement of affiliated cooperatives that fought for the establishment and spreading of their mutual aid cooperative housing model. This national and wide spread movement managed, through activism and demonstrations of the efficiency of their model, to move from a situation of resistance on behalf of the government, to eventually obatining a national rotating fund set up to fund land and construction of cooperatives. Once again, the strength of a national movement, and the clear evidence of the affordability and realability of their model, managed to create a significant  shift – by which authorities recognised that in order to provide enough affordable housing and reduce informal settlements it was more effective to provide funds to cooperatives then to focus on government provision of public housing themselves. This people-led model of housing then spread across Latin America.

More details here: https://worldhabitatawards.org/winners-and-finalists/project-details.cfm?lang=00&theProjectID=9DC73800-15C5-F4C0-99F350F027EC172E

Therefore, creating movements of actors working on people-led initiatives, and learning from one another, really helps further rights and structural change.

Melissa Permezel – Discussion Moderator Policy and tool advisor from Kenya
Tue, March 29, 2016 at 08.33 pm

Dear Dialogue Participants.

Some great comments thus far:

The role of political will in all components of urban planning, particulalry in relation to improving the lives of slum dwellers, is absoutely critical.

I also agree with the comment that community groups and indeed communities need to be empowered so they can play an active role.

The idea of informal settlements and slums as being places of energy efficiency is an important discussion and more research on this is required to explore the various dimensions.

The experiences of slums accorsing to different groups is extremely important. The idea of women having a particular contribution to urban sustainability important, particularly when analysis is done of their role in livelihood generation and informal economy activities.

Changing mind-sets around slum/informal settlement dwellers and slums/infromal settlements is vital. There are many assets, skills, resources there that have something to cotnribute to the sustainable urbanization agenda.

I am curious to know if you all think that participatory appraoches can achieve “at scale change”? Can they achieve substantive improvements to many slum dwellers in an urban context? How can participatory approaches as responsive to particular groups like women within a city-wide approach? Does the Baan Mankong experience in Thailand tell us something?

Keeping on the gender theme, and in relationt o the inclusion of vulnerable groups, how do town planing schemes be sensitive to the needs and aspirations of different groups as city-wide planning instruments? How are they most effective?

Finally I am wondering about the role of micro-financing to facilitate the inclusion of slum and infromal settlements dwellers? Must these be tied to collective and participatory apporaches and why? And again, how do these achieve an “at scale” impact?

Looking forward to some ongoing discussion!

Nwachan Jacob Ngock from
Wed, March 30, 2016 at 05.37 am
Dear moderator,
We need not wonder so much about Micro- financing as this is actually a basic ingredient in the improvement of slump duelers. The Micro Finance Institutions themselves know that that those who contract small loans  are very faithful and are able to to pay back while making some money to improve their lots. We have Situations here In Bamenda – Cameroon where these micro finance houses have encourage Motor -Bike loans, with very minimal collateral s and the individuals have used same bikes as income generating tools (Public Transport). They are able to repay loans on a daily basis and in 06 months completely clear them, start meaningful savings in the same micro finance houses and subsequently obtain medium term loans for Housing improvement. By the time you turn round,   it is seen that the little slump dueling they started life with has changed or they have left from their  squatter status and  can now expand and move from informal business sector to formal business holdings. The  micro finance sector rely on this because the risk is spread over a wider targeted sector where if “:a” does not pay  “b ” will pay as opposed to giving all the money to one big business heavy weight who can default. Research here has shown that  the loan recovery task force of these micro finance institutions  has had little or no headache from these small loans. But rather you see them even in courts with the big business holdings chasing them to come pay. Above all housing improvement in this city is the handiwork of these micro finance institutions

On Tuesday, March 29, 2016 10:36 PM, “notification@unteamworks.org” <notification@unteamworks.org> wrote:
Bamenda City Council
Mon, March 28, 2016 at 01.58 am

Practically I will share the experience of Bamenda. The approach here has been on Genda, Age and Sex. The SiSia supervisory committee took cognisance of all of all thses stake holders. In this regard, The project proposals adopted have come from them and are seen realistec.  When we as planners thought their priority 1 project will be  security of tenure sice we have been treatening them with evictions,  we failed inthis professional diagnoses as their priorities did not include this but rather had as one education and public lighting to ensure a tomorrow for their children and guarantee security in their neighbourhoods. This has eventually changed our institutional approach to solving the planning goal of toal eviction here to carrying out realistic delimitation of planning boundaries and how to ensure they become part of the ovealrll planning neighbourhoods of the city. In a  notshell, the PSUP approach is what should be our policty guide towards menningful instituional changes

Norman Mapela Principal representative Economic and Social Development Practitioner from South Africa
Sat, March 26, 2016 at 08.30 am

Encourage Political will to undertake action, of processes and procedures, by acceptance of civil society, the local implementing Agents, the NPOs, NGOs, FBOs, SMMEs and Cooperatives to setup the Legal Framework Mechanisms, of establishing Community Committees, and allow such committees to practically execute their roles and responsibilities without political hinderance

Kerstin Zillmann senior project manager in urban planning from Germany
Thu, March 24, 2016 at 01.45 pm

I would suggest to consider informal neighbourhoods as a proper type of city or urban agglomeration with specific forms and regulations of urban development – an informal city.

The informal city often is a compact city and therefore fulfills a mayor criteria of  sustainable urban development. It is developed step by step by generations of inhabitants. I would like to share the results of a longterm study in Caracas, Venezuela.

Just highlighting briefly another aspect of sustainability – the use of energy. In building the informal city very little building material is wasted, on the contrary it is often recycled. Resources as energy and water are consciously used when not lacking. Mostly women as head of households are managers of energy use.
From my point of view the best approach to improve the lives of informal settlers for the attainment of sustainable neighbourhoods, cities and towns is to enable and involve women as head households in the decision making process of settlement planning and improvement. As a professional one has to be sensitive to their triple role and ask for their practical and strategic needs in the improvement process. For an adequate a policy and strategy framework and appropriate tools and techniques see “Gender Planning and Development – Theory, Practice and Training”.

Emmanuel Nkambule Architect & Lecturer in Architectural Design from South Africa
Tue, March 29, 2016 at 09.41 am

A very interesting observation Kerstin.

In my study area, Khutsong Section informal settlment, Ivory Park township, Midrand, South Africa, most of the households are headed by single mothers.

Involving women in the process of informal settlement planning and improvement could make a big impact. In the Kampung Improvement Programme (KIP) in Surubaya, Indonesia, 

I met a group of women (about 8 or so) who were playing a major role in managing and running the improvement of their street ( there is about 75 households per street on avarage). They recycle grey water, plant and maintain plants in the street, make products, like hand bags, from recycled plastic, compost organic waste. I also observed a number of home-improvements activities in the kampung. 

I also observed  how my mother, who is a single-mom, joined a ‘Stokvel’ with many other women and was able to finance my primary and high school education. Recently, she was able to use the ‘Stokvel’ money to partly-fund the construction of her house. This is where I see an opportunity for States to create friendly policies for micro-scale economic and housing initiatives. How can town planning schemes and building plans approval be tailor-made for ‘Informal Cities’, existing social dynamics,gender equality and existing micro-scale socio-economic/socio-spatial activities, without compromising quality of living, safety and services/infrastructure’s capacity?

Kerstin Zillmann senior project manager in urban planning from Germany
Thu, March 24, 2016 at 01.56 pm

Paper on “Gender Planning and Development”

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Thu, March 24, 2016 at 01.03 pm

Informal as these settlements can be, they exist in a visible urban space, zoned for different functions. As such, they form part of urban governance arrangements. Difficult as it might be to reach each household community leaders should find ways of facilitating the participation of informal settlers in policy making processes. Community leaders, bu definition, are community engaging. There are lessons to be learnt from the socialisation of informal dwellers. They are part of stokvels, fellowship in different churches, commute from one point to the other to make a living (legal or illegal). As such, the typology of houses they live in do not detremine their mobility. Recognising and counting informal settlements in the count of surburbs is the first step to recognition. In so doing, a mentality that informal settlements are a hive of criminality should be dealt with. Yes, the environment is conducive to unwelcome behaviours, but criminalising informal settlements limits leaders and urban planners from reaching out to people living in informal settlements.

Juana Sotomayor – Discussion Moderator “””””””Human Rights Officer, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights””””””” from Switzerland
Thu, March 24, 2016 at 12.01 pm

Hello everyone and welcome to the online discussion on Informal Settlements. I share Melissa and Claudio’s point that this is a great opportunity to hear ideas and inputs in preparation for Habitat III. In my view, a human rights perspective in the discussion is essential if we truly want to find ways of addressing the living conditions of the millions of women, men and children whose homes and communities are in informal settlements around the world, including those who are homelessness within settlements.

The vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – “No one left behind” can be a powerful call for equality and non-discrimination as core principles for this discussion. Since Habitat III will provide the unique opportunity to zoom in on what it means to “ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services” (target 11.1), the focus on informal settlements couldn’t be more timely or crucial. 

Following the four thematic areas for this discussion, I would like to propose specific questions to kick start or feed into the overall conversation. When sharing your views and ideas, I encourage you all to consider the various roles that different stakeholders play in informal settlements, from governments at the national, subnational and local levels, to social movements and community organizations, to real estate and business, as well as donors and international organizations.

For TOPIC 4, my questions are:

    1. What type of mechanisms and guarantees are needed in order to ensure that residents of informal settlements have access to information in a timely manner and participate in urban decision-making processes?
    1. What role can accountability play in enhancing participatory approaches and rendering these mechanisms and their outcomes more transparent and fair?
Briseida Architect/Researcher Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona from Spain
Fri, March 25, 2016 at 12.59 pm

Firstable, governments have to recognize people living in slums, because most of the times local authorities hide these setlements, segregate them from the rest of the city and exclude them from policies and investment. 

Social Production of Habitat is a process that organized communities are carrying out to improve their living conditions in slums, but technical advise is needed and many times they do not have access to this. If neutral technical advise could be guaranteed, it would ease the processes and take them further.

On the other hand, many times local authorites do not know and are not prepared to work with this type of processes. They can open a platform to participatory processes but they also need to be trained in participatory methodologies and recognized citizens as important actors in the decision-making process.

Emmanuel Nkambule Architect & Lecturer in Architectural Design from South Africa
Tue, March 29, 2016 at 09.56 am

Good point Briseida.

I see you are an architect-perhaps, the question of availing technical advise and services lies in how we, as architects and other design and technical professionals, create

a platform of engagement with the ‘The other 95%’ who may not afford our services. Do we work with local municipalities and other relevant stakeholders who can subsidise our 

services so as to enable direct professional services with informal settlers? Does involving the public sector as client on behalf of those in need of our services disable the role we can play in providing our services to informal dwellers?

Melissa Permezel – Discussion Moderator / Programme & Tool Development Advisor, Participatory Slum Upgrading Unit, UN Habitat from Kenya
Wed, March 23, 2016 at 05.57 pm

Welcome everyone to the online discussion on Informal Settlements for the Habitat III Thematic Meeting in Pretoria. We are delighted to be moderating this discussion and looking forward to get your inputs and ideas in this critical topic for Habitat III and for the overall sustainable development of humankind. 

In particular, we are keen to know your thoughts and recommendations on how to address the dire challenge of informal settlements in a sustainable, inclusive and integrated manner, aiming at giving a viable response to this problem by 2030. Also, we would like to know your views on how informal settlement and slum upgrading could be effectively incorporated into the New Urban Agenda and help implement it.

To organise this dialogue’s inputs, we will follow the themes covered by the Habitat III Thematic Meeting’s plenary sessions, these being:

  1. From informal settlements to sustainable neighbourhoods – Policy and strategy frameworks for a paradigm shift;
  2. Urban planning and land use – Drivers for integrated, inclusive, safe and resilient sustainable human settlements;
  3. Financing informal settlement/slum upgrading – Contributing to sustainable livelihoods and inclusive economic growth;
  4. Together transforming a billion lives – Participatory approaches in planning, implementing and monitoring informal settlement/slum upgrading.

We will kick-off with a set of four related key questions, hoping to prompt everyone’s creativity and contribution. We invite you therefore to reflect on these topics and contribute with your valuable inputs.

Lastly, we would like to emphasize the need to focus on practical recommendations and feasible strategies that can be endorsed and implemented by all stakeholders involved in the commendable task of transforming the lives of the people living in slums, including slum dwellers themselves. With that, we would like to open the floor to your input on:

TOPIC 4: “Together transforming a billion lives – Participatory approaches in planning, implementing and monitoring informal settlement/slum upgrading”:

  • Q. 4: How do participatory approaches reach beyond the impact of limited projects to become a trigger for necessary institutional changes and planningapproaches that will, at scale, transform a billion lives?
Hilary F. Smith Sustainable land use Urban Planner, Researcher & Environmental Policy Analyst from Jamaica
Wed, April 6, 2016 at 03.51 am

Speaking from the experience of the UN Habitat’s Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme being implemented in the Caribbean, it is at first important to have the necessary and relevant national institutions having a consensus on both what is required and is necessary for the transormation of the lives of those citizens who are affected. It is an imperative to establish these far-reaching interventions as programmes aimed at being entrenched in existing Government efforts.  It is a necessary safeguard to move away from the idea that these are projects…which may be seen as  ‘experiments.’ Thus, when there is this understanding at the onset and consistent communication throughout the implementation, then there will be a simultaneous preparation for scaling up. This is not an easy task as there is always the limitations of capacity and knowledge as well as tight fiscal spaces. However, if the national governments accept the mandate to engage with programmes aimed at ‘transforming lives,’ there is a definite need for commensurate commitment to facilitate and sustain ‘participatory approaches in planning, implementing and monitoring informal settlements/slum upgrading.’