Exploring the potential for 'networked spaces' to foster communities of practice during the participatory upgrading of informal settlements

Tristan Gorgens, Mirjam van Donk

The participatory upgrading of informal settlements presents officials, professionals and communities with a particularly stark set of challenges around the production and management of knowledge(s), complex processes of priority setting and the negotiation of trade-offs. While much of the literature on participation is focused on either improving existing 'invited' spaces or valorising the innovation occurring outside of the state in 'invented' spaces, this paper argues for the creation of 'networked spaces' to create communities of practice between vested actors in order to explicitly negotiate differences in knowledge systems, power relations and priorities. The processes involved in establishing and maintaining such 'network spaces' are described and illustrated drawing on the experience of the integrated Serviced Land Project. It also proposes a mnemonic device, SQUIRREL, to describe the different characteristics of a successful 'networked space'. Finally, the paper concludes by noting the opportunities created by the re-emphasising of informal settlement upgrading in the targets and discourse of the Department of Human Settlements but warns that these opportunities must be pursued by learning from and building upon past experiences with participatory human settlements development.

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