Well, sweet is the fragrance of successful completion. Community proposals feedback marked completion of Kitui Learning Studio, laying solid foundations to pave way for community-driven implementation phase. Whilst the conventional planning processes are characterized by vertical hierarchical exchange of ideas and engagement in plan decision making, the Kitui Learning studio was anchored on integration and inclusivity:
It provided a rare opportunity to community members, students, young graduates and professionals to engage in tackling local problems, drive regeneration and to improve coordination, planning and delivery of workable solutions. Having successfully undertaken data generation, verification of generated socioeconomic data, visioning, and community rapid plan formulation sessions. The final community engagement as per the studio schedule entailed verification of the proposals by the community. Kitui Learning studio targeted to improve the connection between all the tiers of Kitui County Government, academia and wider society work through partnership working to jointly deliver better outcomes for everyone. The generated community strategy plans identified from immediate to long-term priorities for improving the social, economic and environmental well-being of Kitui town, settlements and the people who live there.
A plan once drafted and visualized it becomes a reality along with other realisms. The entire community proposal verification workshop was interactive and community driven. Volunteer community members presented the strategies and plan drawings to larger community forum in attendance. Afterwards, the community vowed to take-up the studio outcomes: data and proposals, and engage the county government and town management to ensure successful Implementation. The seriousness of this matter was noted when a community member revealed that, being motivated by Kitui Learning Studio processes, they have been having community development meetings and as a result formed a group dubbed ‘Kitui Township Development Forum’, which is headed by an appointed chairperson and selected representative from each settlement. These representatives meet on weekly basis to find a way forward on project implementation. As an implementation measure, the community suggested during the forum that first, the studio volunteer participants would present the project to larger Kitui Town community to create a sense of ownership; sensitize all affected stakeholders within the settlements, send their representatives for introduction of their intentions to the relevant county authorities, then proceed to present plan to the County government of Kitui as a large group as they believed there is power in numbers. It’s the hope that with support from NGOs like SDI-Kenya, and the Local Urban Forum in Kitui, and political goodwill from the county, such community network can be instrumental in the transformation of Kitui’s urban development landscape.
The climax of the learning studio was culminated by the issuance of certificates of participation to all the community planning team, students and the graduate assistants who had actively taken part in the entire planning process: Rashid Mutua, The National Chairperson – ‘Muungano wa Wanavijijii’presented the certificates. Truly, the gesture was fulfilling to as expressed by the Kitui community as they acknowledged the studio to be educative, most comprehensive, well-coordinated and proposals possessing high implementation probability than previous planning attempts within the settlements. While giving the vote of thanks, bwana Hassan, the appointment Kitui town development chairman, stated that the certificates issued would go a long way in helping the community members secure employment in various places, and that it had revived their energy to follow up the studio proposals for implementation. It is therefore crucial that the planning team and relevant stakeholders assist the community by guiding them on the implementation process, offering them with strategies on how to approach the county government, and continue motivating and impacting them on the benefits of urban planning and an inclusive urban society.
Indeed, the implementation of the studio is another exemplary success story. Critical data and information was generated, which can be used to step-up efforts towards enhancing inclusive and sustainable urban development in Kitui. Whereas the studio was set-up mainly as a learning activity for planning and design students, and young graduate planners/designers, it was also designed to create awareness among community members on the benefits of urban planning and constructive engagement with government. It is therefore important for the partners involved to develop further on the achievements/the positive impacts of the studio by harnessing the opportunities presented by the collaborative environment emerging from the studio (academia, civil society (NGO), community and government).
Studio Assistant, CURI.