Well-being participatory action research: exploring the potentials of building capabilities of informal dwellers’ groups through participatory video in lagos.

Frediani, Alexandre Apsan (1); Macfarlane, Alexander (1); Maki, Andrew (2) (2018). 'Well-being participatory action research: exploring the potentials of building capabilities of informal dwellers' groups through participatory video in Lagos.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


This paper explores the role that participatory well-being assessments could play in expanding the capabilities of the urban poor to advocate for their rights to the city, drawing on the findings of a participatory video workshop in Lagos with the Federation of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation.

Well-being has been a prominent concept in Nigeria’s key policy documents. The Nigeria Vision 20:2020 states that one of its three pillars aims at “guaranteeing the well-being and productivity of the people” (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2010: 2). Meanwhile the National Urban Policy aims to “promote a dynamic system of urban settlements (…) that ensures an improved standard of living and well-being of all Nigerians” (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2012: 14).   

However, as argued by Rigon et al. (2015), the way in which well-being discourse has been translated into specific policy and planning dynamics in Nigeria has perpetuated a series exclusionary processes. Firstly, instead of expanding the dimensions of development to resonate with a wider set of needs and aspirations, well-being has been applied mostly as an instrumental component affecting economic growth. And secondly, a well-being discourse has been used to legitimise the state’s role in safeguarding social order through rigid master planning and land use regulations that prioritise “orderliness, cleanliness and maximizing the land resources to achieve better living” (Rigon et al., 2015: 30) rather than focusing on the rights and entitlements of urban citizens. 

The urban poor have been particularly affected by such an application of well-being discourses, especially where it is argued that they have been used to legitimise forced evictions, leading to the loss of livelihood opportunities (on scale of reported evictions in Nigeria, see UN-Habitat, 2007). In Lagos an estimated two-thirds of the city’s 23 million inhabitants live in slums, as defined by UN-Habitat, one defining characteristic of which is lack of ‘security of tenure’. Security of tenure refers to legal protection for one’s occupation of a particular land, structure, or premise, and can be ensured through land law, landlord and tenant law, or otherwise. Without security of tenure, inhabitants of informal settlements live in constant fear of eviction. This fear and uncertainty makes long-term investment risky, in turn limiting both public and private efforts to improve structures and upgrade infrastructure in informal settlements.

Across Lagos, in informal settlements which have profiled and mapped by the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (Federation), residents identified security of tenure as their number one priority – above access to water, sanitation, electricity, schools, or health clinics. Accordingly, as has been documented by NGOs working on land and housing rights (such as SERAC, Amnesty International, Space for Change and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, see for example Morka, 2007) numerous communities do what they can, often struggling against powerful government actors and traditional landowning families that intends on taking over valuable and well-located lands occupied by vulnerable informal settlements inhabited by the urban poor.

Within this context, the urban poor have developed a series of coping mechanisms described by LeVan and Olubowale (2014) as ‘strategic repertoire for responding to housing demolitions’. LeVan and Olubowale (2014) describe how organisations of the urban poor supported by civil society groups have been able to establish strategic dialogue with government authorities, achieving some successes in avoiding evictions. Through international support, evoking international human rights agreements and by demonstrating the ways within which the urban poor can be partners in urban development processes, precedents were set that challenge demolitions and open up the possibility for alternative development trajectories (LeVan and Olubowale, 2014). These experiences of ‘strategic dialogue’ are ‘cracks’ within the current context of exclusionary urban development patterns, and this paper responds to the need to explore ways within which these precedents can be supported, replicated and scaled-up.

This paper explores the potential of wellbeing participatory action research in enhancing the capabilities of informal dwellers’ groups to leverage these existing cracks in Lagos to advocate for their rights. The paper reflects on a 5-day participatory well-being workshop that took place with 25 members of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation and was facilitated by researchers from The Bartlett Development Planning Unit of University College London and staff members from the NGO Justice and Empowerment Initiative (JEI). The workshop revolved around the use of participatory video and was embedded in the on-going activities of JEI and the Federation, hoping to contribute to their efforts to resist the threat of evictions of Lagos’ waterfront informal settlements.

The analysis draws on semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions exploring the extent to which this collaborative workshop contributed to the Federation’s participatory capabilities (Frediani, 2015). This research focused on the following five dimensions of participatory capabilities: 1) to build relationships of trust and solidarity; 2) to enable critical collective learning; 3) to foster members capacity to aspire; 4) to enhance members' ability to define and set an agenda; and 5) to influence decision-making processes. Therefore, this paper makes a particular methodological contribution to current debates in the investigation of capabilities through participatory research methods (Boni and Frediani, forthcoming; Clarck et al., 2018), by reflecting about the usefulness of participatory video in implementing participatory well-being assessments. 

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