IGP Stories

“Maisha bora - living a good life”

KNOW Prosperity Index

Tim Ndezi, Festo Makoba and Dr Saffron Woodcraft

How research methods and ethics produce pathways to prosperity

What does it mean to be prosperous and live well in an informal settlement in Dar es Salaam? What can community-led research bring to knowledge, action and policymaking on urban prosperity? These are some of the questions addressed in a workshop in July co-hosted by the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) and the Centre for Community Initiatives(CCI) in Dar es Salaam. This workshop explored how research methods and ethics can co-produce pathways to prosperity with people living in Vingunguti-Mji Mpya, a densely populated informal settlement in the south-west of the city. The work is part of the Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality (KNOW) project: an ambitious four-year global programme to deliver transformative research and capacity-building for innovation in policy and planning to promote urban equality, for which IGP is a partner.

Our work in Dar Es Salaam

The July workshop marked the start of a new, collaborative project run by CCI and the IGP in Dar es Salaam linked to KNOW’s work on comparative inquiry. This aspect of KNOW’s work investigates how urban equality is understood and acted on in different cities - and in different contexts within cities. It does this relation to three development challenges: tackling extreme poverty, building resilience, and delivering prosperity. The new project in Dar es Salaam will involve a community-based research team working with residents from Vingunguti-Mji Mpya to co-design a localised Prosperity Index as a tool for conceptualising and measuring pathways to prosperity and equality.

Image credit: David Heymann

Why prosperity?

While equality, poverty and resilience are recognised in research and policymaking as multi-dimensional and inter-related concepts, a similarly nuanced approach to conceptualising and measuring prosperity is lacking. Throughout the 20th century prosperity has been narrowly defined in policy and development practice as material wealth, with economic growth seen as the dominant mechanism for wealth generation. This framing of prosperity has driven a global development agenda based on the assumption that increased economic growth, measured by rising levels of GDP and per capita household income, would ‘trickle-down’ in the form of job opportunities, wage rises, improved public services, and higher living standards for all. ‘Trickle-down’ theory has been widely critiqued over the past 30 years as high rates of economic growth have not translated into consistent reductions in poverty and inequality. Yet in spite of numerous efforts to conceptualise and measure the ‘goods’ that economic activity should return to societies – such as indices of human development, social progress, wellbeing and happiness – prosperity remains under-researched and under-theorised.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call on governments to develop and implement new policies that identify prosperity as a shared and inclusive condition to be balanced alongside reducing inequalities and protecting planetary resources. IGP argues this requires a new research and practice agenda: one that investigates prosperity as a lived experience - as well as a policy goal – and explores what it means to prosper and live well in different contexts. This shift from understanding prosperity in economic terms, to conceptualising prosperity as the opportunity to live a good life, opens up new lines of inquiry about how local visions and aspirations for living well intersect with a wide range of inequalities from material conditions to democratic voice.

Since 2015, IGP has been working with citizen scientists and communities in Lebanon and London to pilot the Prosperity Index: a new approach to conceptualising and measuring prosperity that is based on qualitative research examining local needs and priorities, and engages communities and policymakers in developing pathways to prosperity. The new KNOW project in Dar es Salaam will develop a Prosperity Index for Vingunguti-Mji Mpya.

Working with the community

Knowledge co-production is a critical element of both CCI’s work with communities and IGP’s work on understanding prosperity in context and supporting local collaborations for action. CCI, in partnership with Tanzania’s Urban Poor Federation (TUPF), has worked with residents in Vingunguti-Mji Mpya for a number of years to support collective action on community mapping and enumeration, to community savings initiatives, and infrastructure programmes to improve sanitation, sewerage, and housing.

Our joint, week-long workshop brought together researchers from IGP, KNOW and CCI’s local research team including residents from Vingunguti-Mji Mpya, local Federation members, community leaders, ward and municipal government officers, and recent graduates from universities in Dar es Salaam. An ambitious programme of collective dialogues and group work was set for the week starting with an open discussion about what “maisha bora” - to prosper and live a good life - means to the research team. This provided an opportunity for the research team to discuss a wide range of factors that constitute a good life including physical conditions like housing, sanitation and infrastructure, health, economic opportunities, social networks, cultural and spiritual practices, and the importance of personal and collective agency to take control of improving living standards. Through a series of group discussions and exercises, the research team debated concepts, developed research questions and co-designed a programme of research to examine what people living in Vingunguti-Mji Mpya need to prosper and live a good life.

In November, CCI, IGP and KNOW will facilitate another workshop with the research team to collectively review the research findings and develop a prosperity ‘model’ for Vingunguti-Mji Mpya, which in the second stage of the project in 2020 will be translated into indicators for measuring prosperity.

Alongside CCI’s research about prosperity in Vingunguti-Mji Mpya, IGP is sharing insights about developing a localised Prosperity Index with Polytechnic José Antonio Echeverría (CUJAE), KNOW’s city partner in Havana. The opportunity to examine prosperity in two very different cities will generate rich contextual data from which to explore questions of co-production for transformative action on prosperity and provide the basis for comparative analysis about the intersections between prosperity and equality.

Image Credit: David Heymann

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