Research informs policy on slums

Some of her findings might not be so popular among policymakers. Nevertheless, Hilde Refstie looks forward to the upcoming workshop in Malawi where results from her studies are going to be discussed by a broad range of stakeholders.

“The project I am part of shows that communities in slum areas are able to organise small projects using their own resources.  However, since they have no influence on the city budget they face difficulties with larger projects”, says Hilde Refstie, who is a PhD Scholarship Holder at NAI, from the Department of Geography at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

One of her case studies is from the informal settlement of Senti outside Lilongwe. The residents gathered local funds to hire unemployed to work with road maintenance and garbage collection.  However, in another case study from Blantyre, people felt they were not listened to even though the city council invited them.

Between academia and practice
Hilde Refstie has documented small scale projects in her PhD research.
“I started out quite open with a broad project description. The projects were formulated together with the people involved and aimed at concrete situations and action. I like to move between academia and practice”.

The workshop in Lilongwe in May will bring together people from slum areas, university staff, NGO’s, Members of Parliament and representatives from the newly elected local governments, all to discuss the case studies and come up with recommendations.

Malawi is still very little urbanised, but has some of the fastest growing cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Hilde Refstie, inclusive urban planning can have a decisive impact on the new national landscape.

“This project will hopefully contribute to a discussion between grassroots and policymakers on how to manage this development”

Could do it forever
Hilde Refstie had three reasons to apply for the scholarship at NAI: time to concentrate on writing, the library, and the opportunity to discuss with NAI senior researcher Marianne Millstein.

“I love my PhD work, and could do it forever. It’s a privilege to be able to choose your research project and focus on it for years”.

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