Accepted paper:

Informal Infrastructures and IoT: Exploring the role and development of the Internet of Things on Nairobi's energy and water networks


Joseph Chambers (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how IoT technologies are being incorporated within the decentralised water and energy infrastructures of Nairobi. The results identify that whilst IoT can positively reconfigure infrastructural engagement and management, they also present new political challenges within the city.

Paper long abstract:

Like many cities, Nairobi faces a myriad of infrastructural challenges. Recently, greater hope and efforts are being placed in ICT innovations in helping solve these problems. One particular, growing element of these innovations has been that of IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. Whilst research has explored the development of IoT within cities of the global North, often under the smart narrative, and their incorporation within urban infrastructure, African cities are under-researched. This paper examines how IoT has been developed within Nairobi's urban energy and water infrastructure, with a focus on decentralised constructions and away from a purely technical perspective. By focussing on the everyday experiences associated with IoT (Lawhon et al., 2014), the paper examines these data exchanging devices in terms of their identifiable impacts and the consequences of data representation. Focussing on four main projects (Water ATMs, water tank sensors, ethanol and LPG IoT-networks), the research engaged a variety of key stakeholders across Nairobi, especially those usually left out of the IoT conversation. The findings from the research highlight the lessons learnt by home-grown IoT developers, the need to engage and train local populations and the benefits of making IoT technologies adaptable. Secondly, the research identified the everyday impacts of these IoT technologies including; clearer financial planning and greater time-management in water/fuel collection. The final finding opens up discussion on how data representation within urban infrastructure, through IoT, ties into both local and municipal politics, as well as the negative consequences of this representation for future infrastructure investment.

panel D01
Digital inequalities and development (Paper)