UrbanWatch: Your Map to Phnom Penh

UrbanWatch: Your Map to Phnom Penh

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

UrbanWatch will fill a void in the Cambodian urban space dialogue by creating an online map featuring information about developments within the capital Phnom Penh. The focus will be on mapping issues affecting the urban poor, but other information will also feature. The site's simple set up allows it to be used by anyone - communities, organisations, government bodies, donors and researchers.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Information about developments in Phnom Penh is currently not readily available and easily accessible. As people involved in the urban sector and land/housing rights work come and go, information about past issues and projects gets lost. The lack of institutional memory reduces the efficiency of interventions in support of the urban poor in particular. In rapidly changing Phnom Penh, it’s easy to forget that where a luxury hotel sits today used to be home to families with legitimate possession rights. Over the past five years, STT has created and gathered a vast amount of information and data. Partner NGOs, researchers and journalists approach STT on a regular basis for this information about urban poor communities, and developments in the urban space. STT aspires to share this information. Maps can visualise developments in the urban space, while software such as Ushahidi’s crowdmaps allow for information to be easily accessible online.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

UrbanWatch is a completely new concept in Cambodia that uses the latest information technology to benefit not only the wider urban population but most critically, the urban poor. The latter currently face an ever growing issue of development-induced resettlement and in some cases forced eviction. Their recourse to justice is almost zero. By mapping information and developments, UrbanWatch provides a small window in which the problems facing these marginalised communities can be made public not only within the wider national population but also internationally. It will also create a valuable and easily accessible resource within a general debate on urban development about which there currently very little discussion or dialogue. The site's feature of allowing anyone to report developments and incidents further promotes civic engagement and participation, a phenomenon slowly on the rise particularly among students in Cambodia. A 'dummy-run' of the site can already be accessed at urbanwatch.crowdmap.com, though it should be emphasised STT does not expect to make the site public until at least January 2011 (once more information has been uploaded etc.)
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Civil society, students, journalists, researchers, and the media will be able to use UrbanWatch to access reliable information about changes in the urban space (Phnom penh has around 1.4 million residents of whom around 350,000 will be able to access this information). The site may also lead to actual movement on the ground for urban poor communities facing housing issues – this is obviously very hard to measure but UrbanWatch will certainly widen the window of dialogue and transparency for Phnom Penh’s 150,000 urban poor residents. Also, the map-based representation of information especially about marginalised communities under threat of eviction will help civil society actors visualise changes in the urban space, see patterns, and develop more effective responses. Just the basic activity of locating communities under threat of eviction and providing basic information about these can contribute to strengthening their tenure security. But UrbanWatch can do more: an interactive map providing an institutional memory of urban developments, and a real-time tracker of events such as evictions, floods and demonstrations. We also hope to tap into the growing number of students who use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to comment on developments in the urban space, and encourage them to contribute to UrbanWatch which will log their observations more systematically and on a permanent basis. By combining the crowdmap with FrontlineSMS software, STT can further alert human rights defenders to any violations.
About You
Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, PP

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Organization Name

Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)

Organization Phone
Organization Address

PO Box 174, Phnom Penh

Organization Country

, PP

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, PP

Do you have a patent for this idea?


STT has spent 5 years gathering data and contacts and over recent months has set up a ‘dummy run’ of the site to see how the Ushahidi platform works best.

Over next year, STT will train staff, partners, students, and community activists in how UrbanWatch can be used. Existing information will be plotted, and time real-time events will be added. Researchers will be invited to map results of their research onto the site, and STT will explore developing partnerships with other groups to ensure systematic mapping of developments.

STT aims to promote civic engagement and for UrbanWatch to be considered as a common tool among a variety of groups, not an "STT project".

The main risk relates to limited freedom of expression in Cambodia. Sharing of information is becoming a problem and the Government is clamping down on NGOs’ activities seen to be ‘against’ Government policy.


In 2011 we hope to be able to establish the site fully and have a strong handle on what information can go on the site and what it can be used for – this will include uploading of relevant maps, reports, documents, updates, alerts and images.

By 2012 we hope to see a heightened increase in the external use of the site and external uploading and downloading of material beginning to outstrip the uploading by STT staff. This would also see the beginning of the Frontline SMS element and direct community use of the site by texting in information. We also anticipate a much wider accessing of the site by students and researchers and as part of a generally widening debate on urban development.

By 2013 we anticipate the site as being a major resource in the urban dialogue being used by a wide range of interested bodies from overseas researchers to local community members texting in information and updates. The site will still be in the process of formation and evolving but it will be a recognized source of information and an increasingly valuable access point for the urban poor.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


If so, how?

We very much hope that UrbanWatch will play an important role in policy change on development-induced resettlement and eviction and in evolving the wider debate on urban development. The site will not be a frontline advocate but will be provide a critical resource of information for those who are willing and able to articulate these concerns and who can effectively lobby the relevant Government and international bodies by providing accurate and up to date information – without such a resource it is notoriously difficult to make a sound case for change.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with businesses?

Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation.

The entire concept depends on the participation of others. STT can upload a range of informations and data but in the end the success of the site depends on participation and partnership – ranging from local residents to students and college professors to NGO data managers and Government officials.

STT hopes to promote civic engagement through the site and encourage particularly students to follow and report on developments in their city.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

From the outset STT has relied on a small group of international donors who recognize STT’s unique and innovative work in this sector and have provided support both financially and with advice. STT has been searching for donors who are able to provide funding on a multi year basis and in 2009 were fortunate to secure an agreement with MISEREOR who will support STT 2010-2012 with a view to further support. STT’s 2 other key donors have provided support since inception but on a year by year basis. STT does not accept funds from sources which are unknown.

For the UrbanWatch project, STT has applied for some basic funds from an existing donor to get the project off the ground. The main initial costs of the project include internet access costs, costs related to workshops and trainings for partners, students, and community activists, as well as project staff costs. If more funds are secured, STT will be able to speed up the process of data gathering and inputting by creating a project-specific team focused on tracking developments in the urban space.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

How many people face eviction? Where are they located? What is the status of the land? These are some of the many questions those working with urban poor communities in Phnom Penh ask when a community receives an eviction order. Often, the answers are not readily available. As a journalist also working in the urban sector in Phnom Penh, I came to realise how important, and powerful, reliable information can be in supporting communities under threat of eviction. Although various community profiles may currently exist in NGOs' and authorities' offices, or indeed in a colleague's head, the information is rarely easily accessible.

But it's not only about evictions. Phnom Penh is changing incredibly fast: what was here today may be gone tomorrow, and the day after a new building has been erected. Is anyone tracking this? No. Heritage buildings disappear without a trace, and areas previously home to thousands of families now house luxury hotels owned by powerful individuals. Few people staying in the hotels know this - if they did, they might opt to stay elsewhere.

Phnom Penh is a beautiful city with so much potential. Yet the city previously known as The Pearl of Asia is undergoing such ferocious and unplanned development it may never regain that title. Perhaps, by monitoring and reporting on changes in Phnom Penh, we can propel at least some of the capital's citizens to stop and think about what kind of city it is that they really want.

When Tactical Tech introduced me to the Ushahidi software, I saw how others have used it for advocacy purposes around the world, and realised that visualising information on an online map would be the ideal solution to make historical and real-time info about urban developments in Phnom Penh easily accessible to a variety of actors. Given that it is online, anyone can access the data, and the site's reporting function allows anyone to report further information. When properly up and running, the UrbanWatch site will make information access and exchange much easier, as well as allow both community members and their supporters to develop more effective advocacy campaigns based on increasingly accessible and reliable information. It's a simple idea, but knowledge is power.

Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.

Nora Lindstrom is a journalist and urban space activist based in Phnom Penh. Since she first came to the Cambodian capital in 2007 she has been fascinated by the fast and constant changes in the city. Through working with STT, she also came to know the dark side of these developments. She quickly realised the mapping work conducted by STT was crucial in locating, often for the first time, urban poor communities, many of whom face eviction. But she wanted more. She learnt that in order to support communities under threat of eviction, reliable information about the communities was needed, yet this was not always easily available even if it did exist "somewhere" in "some file". Once she came across the Ushahidi mapping platform it all fell into place: she would mobilise STT's mapping skills, use already existing information about communities and urban developments, as well as train others to gather more information. The result? UrbanWatch, a unique tool for tracking developments in the urban space, providing an institutional memory of developments, as well as visualising them on a map to allow for the identification of patterns.

STT co-founder Meas Kim Seng was one of the many Cambodians that inspired Nora to start the project. Seng is a trained architect who despite growing up in the tumultuous Khmer Rouge years, has emerged as one of Cambodia’s leading lights in the urban sector in general and the urban poor sector in particular. Seemingly indefatigable, Seng has worked with urban poor communities in Phnom Penh since his graduation in 1999 and has unparalleled knowledge of this group and its history. Despite opportunities to work in more lucrative architectural practices Seng has focused his career on what he loves most – working with people, especially those in vulnerable situations. Ironically while many of the the people Seng has helped over the years now enjoy small but highly valuable homes in the city Seng in fact still rents a flat in Phnom Penh while prices have far outstripped his modest salary. Seng, marked by a dedication to his work, his trademark smile and untiring enthusiasm are without the doubt another major force behind this idea.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Web Search (e.g., Google or Yahoo)

If through another source, please provide the information.

Approximately 50 words left (400 characters).

Which (if any) of the following strategies apply to your organization or company (check as many as apply)

Formalizing and documenting property rights (i.e. titling, leasing or certification), Developing/applying technology for surveying, mapping and documenting property rights.

Please explain how your work furthers one or many of the above strategies (if you selected “other”, please explain your strategy)

STT is involved in direct advocacy with the authorities, development partners, and others, to strengthen tenure security, map and document property rights. STT's Mapping, Infrastructure, and Titling project, which focuses on mapping urban poor communities, provides them with tools to pursue legal titles (if possible) and strengthen their bargaining position vis-a-vis the authorities/company.