Conditions in informal settlements are complex, at times violent, and continually changing. Managing these settlements in a way that will result in a functional, healthy urban environment constitutes a major challenge. Effective upgrading strategies require accurate, up-to-date social, economic and spatial information. This is especially so when the information is used for adjudication and titling. Moreover the information should be regarded as legitimate by settlement residents themselves.
Thus, residents participating in collecting data can contribute to an upgrade project succeeding. We describe two pilot studies where residents, with moderate levels of literacy, volunteered as field workers to collect data. They used a palm computer linked to a GPS and, using the Cybertracker system, collected socio-economic and spatial information. These studies were in an informal settlement in Cape Town, South Africa, and a rural land reform project close by. To simplify the process, icons were developed to represent questions or items of data to be recorded. After some initial difficulties, the field workers proved to be competent in using the hardware and software and the data that they collected were accurate. However, using icons to represent data items was found to be impractical. Instead, short text phrases were found to be appropriate and practical.