The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


COiNVITE: Activating Learning for Slum Upgrading through Transmedia Storytelling

COiNVITE explores the power of transmedia storytelling for trans-local urban learning anchoring on the slum upgrading experiences in Medellin, Colombia.


24 March 2021

COiNVITE brings together methodological and pedagogical tools for advocating for shifting narratives about the intervention in self-managed neighbourhoods while experimenting avenues for localising SDG 11 and 17, the New Urban Agenda and the Right to the City Agenda.  Launched in 2019, COiNVITE is the first prototype of a platform experimenting with multiple partners the intersection of transmedia storytelling, urban learning, and co-design. 

We use the notion of ‘Sentipensante’ as guiding theoretical inspiration.  This notion is understood to think and feel within the territory using ancestral knowledges, collective affection, and people’s economies (Botero, 2018: 302). We explore how framing storytelling as a modality of ‘Sentipensar’ offers a decolonial approach to urban learning. We argue that ‘Sentipensante’ allows us to trace the urban inscriptions of stories and the multiple ways of syncing territory, body, mind, and heart. This approach urges us to engage in critical urban pedagogies that leverage visual, digital, performative storytelling to recentre the role of urban stories as bridges with epistemic justice (Ortiz, 2020). 

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Urban learning is vital for cultivating more just cities. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially the 11 and 17 as well as the UN Habitat New Urban Agenda highlight the need for people-centred approaches and peer learning platforms as crucial preconditions to engage actors across cities to implement international agendas locally, particularly pertaining to Slum Upgrading Strategies (SUS). Global ‘slum’ dwellers have grown on average six million a year since 2000, and by 2030, about 3 billion people will be in need of proper housing. Leilani Farha, former UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, expressed to the UN Assembly that “the living conditions in informal settlements are one of the most pervasive violations of human rights globally and yet this is being ignored by most and exacerbated by many”. That is why world leaders have committed to ensure, by 2030, ‘access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums’ and ‘strengthen global partnerships to support and achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda’ (UN Habitat, 2016). Even though learning about SUS across cities is imperative for urban governance and planning, the ways in which such learning occurs and the types of knowledge that are valued, documented and circulated have been less scrutinised and understood.

A key challenge for effective urban learning is the ability to bring together multiple actors operating at different scales and times and who often have confrontational perspectives. Building on this, COiNVITE’s methodological approach was to first established a learning alliance with multilateral agencies and global coalitions –UN-Habitat, Cities Alliance, UCLG, the Global Platform for the Right to the City and the HIC–, along with the Municipality of Medellin, National University of Colombia, Los Andes University, University of Colorado Boulder and several grassroots organisations linked to the social movement ‘Movimiento de Pobladores’ in Medellín, to shape the content of the Transmedia Storytelling Platform and provide their knowledge and expertise in a collaborative way (Ortiz & Millan, 2019).


COiNVITE proposes a methodology based on the co-design of a transmedia narrative platform to galvanise the diversity of learning about Slum Upgrading Strategies (SUS), which are often scattered and fragmented. The research is guided by the question: how can cities across regions learn from SUS using transmedia storytelling? COiNVITE seeks to highlight the SUS that emerge from Medellin to identify actors in time and space, to map their learning platforms and to collectively find common ground among the plurality of urban narratives. The project has delivered the beta prototype of a pedagogical, visual and digital tool that can be part of the current ecosystem of narratives recalibrating the debate about the politics of SUS in Medellin and other cities interested in the role of urban leaning to achieve more inclusive and equitable cities. 

The COiNVITE platform has been co-created by different types of urban actors, working at different levels, with different interests and agendas. to co-design a transmedia narrative prototype.  The content of the platform is an attempt to wave together the often dispersed efforts of promoting slum upgrading strategies by introducing the practice of transmedia storytelling. The project uses Medellin as a pilot case since this has been considered a benchmark in addressing ‘Slum Upgrading Strategies’.

The platform concept is a CONVITE, what does it mean?

CONVITE is the celebration of collective actions that result from solidarity and empathy networks among urban dwellers. In Medellín, CONVITE has been a social, cultural and technological tool to build urban infrastructure at the neighbourhood level with a city scale impact. During a CONVITE, learning and knowledge exchange is essential to achieve common goals. In a CONVITE everyone has knowledge and expertise that can be shared and transferred through storytelling and collective practice, something like "doing while telling". Medellín is a city transformed significantly by URBAN CONVITES.

Welcome to the Urban Storytellers' CONVITE!


About the partnership:

  • Partners share an interest to promote adequate housing from a rights based approach and frame ‘informality’ as a prevalent mode of urbanization. 
  • Partners agree on the need to shift narratives about slum upgrading and stigmatization of slum dwellers. 
  • In the partnership disensus and each other's stories have an important place.
  • Partners commit to work under respect, transparency, reciprocity and informed consent.
  • The platform co-design is an excuse for an encounter and explore strategic alliances for urban learning.
  • Partners’ priorities and assets will be capitalised in the platform to assure its sustainability. 
  • Partners collaboration needs to be strategic and pragmatic 

About urban learning: 

  • City making is a by-product of a polyphony of actors.
  • Informal settlements are sites of urban planning innovation and collective agency.
  • Everyone’s knowledge matters for shaping Slum Upgrading Strategies.
  • Urban learning is a multifaceted long-term social process embedded in power dynamics 

About transmedia storytelling:

  • Storytelling allows emotional connection.
  • Storytelling brings together other ways of knowing and transmedia amplifies/impacts other ways of learning/doing
  • Stories are told through different means (beyond videos and voices the use of maps, infographics, exiting documents are key)  
  • Stories expose contested meanings and the political use of different discourses (we want to show divergence and convergence about key terms)

About the platform: 

  • The platform mediates learning for different audiences (it becomes a repository and interactive tool).
  • The platform exposes local singularities drawing translatable principles for collective action for local e international audiences (it needs to be bilingual).
  • The platform allows a future expansion to add multiple cases for trans-local learning. 
  • Less is more (the platform’s visual structure needs to be simple, the theme is already too complex).
  • The platform maximizes the use of existing data ‘owned’ by participants (it is a collective curation of existing data more than a generation of new data).
  • The platform needs to be fun and engaging! 

Dr Catalina Ortiz - Principal investigator 

Dr Gynna Millan - PDRA

Sandra Tabares - Producer (Sandelion Productions) 

Eliana Torres - Local urban planning consultant

Ewan Cass-Kavanagh - Creative technologist

Alejandra Congote - Illustration artist and designer 

Cesar Higuita - Graphic and web designer 

Maria Juliana Yepes - Communications Design

Isabel Gonzalez Ramirez - Digital communications 

Zootropico Films


The partners of the learning alliance are: 

Lorena Zarate (Habitat International Coalition)

Ines Magahlares (Cities Alliance) 

Amanda Flety (UCLG)

Elkin Velasquez (Regional Director UN Habitat Latin America)

Jota Samper (University of Colorado at Boulder - Mobility Movilidad) 

Elizabeth Arboleda (Universidad Nacional de Colombia - Medellin) 

Isabel Duque / Carlos Torres (Universidad Nacional de Colombia - Bogota)

Andres Burbano (Universidad de Los Andes)

Hendys Guzman / Ruben Vasquez (Tejearana - Escuela Popular de Autonomias)

Andrea Orozco (La Moradia)

Isela Quintero  (Observatorio Seguridad Humana)

Claudia Zuluaga (Corporación CORNIFU Manantiales de Paz)

Luz Mila Hernandez / Carlos Bedoya  (Moravia Resiste)

Cielo Holguin (Urban Lab Medellin – Berlin)

Sergio Jaramillo / Clara Zapata (Departamento Administrativo de Planeacion-Alcaldia)

Carolina Franco (Agencia de Cooperacion Internacional -ACI)

Camilo Cantor /  Gihomara Aristizabal (Exploratorio)

Olga Duque (Estamos Listas)



COiNVITE platform prototype (beta version) can be accessed here:


Toolkit “How to Use Storytelling for Urban Learning” which can be downloaded here 

Video (Spanish) explaining a community centred approach to how popular neighborhoods in Medellin have been built and how to frame neighbourhood upgrading

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Methodological strategy  (video in Spanish

La Vox Populi - Itinerary Community Radio on ‘Radiando a la deriva con el Convite’ (podcasts in Spanish) 

Centro de Desarrollo Cultural de Moravia publications (Community Magazine on Neighbourhood upgrading

Twitter - @coinvite 

Instagram - @coinvite 

Facebook - @coinvite

Blog “Transmedia Storytelling: Activating Learning for Slum Upgrading” 


This was a 6-month project funded by the Grand Challenges Research Fund for University College London’ Early Career Researchers. 


During the pandemic we propelled an expanded alliance from the COiNVITE partners. We came together within the framework of the "Synergies for Solidarity" initiative to collectively imagine a more just post-pandemic future, building a global network of collaboration and empathy.

We collaborated with some of our partners to map the civil society response in popular neighbourhoods in Latin America and to trace policy response at regional level.  In addition, we championed a call for action on neighbourhood upgrading based on the joint Decalogue for Participatory Slum Upgrading, developed in collaboration with the Global Platform for the Right to the City (GPR2C), UN-Habitat Latin-America, Cities Alliance, Habitat for Humanity, TECHO, Habitat International Coalition (HIC), COiNVITE, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Red de Investigadores de Vivienda y Hábitat de las Américas (RIVHA) and Urban Housing Practitioners Hub (UHPH). 

Decalogue for Participatory Slum Upgrading

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Ortiz, C (2021) Decálogo para el Mejoramiento Integral de Barrios en Tiempos de Pandemia. II Encuentro de la Red de Asentamientos Populares, FAU UNNE, 405-420 p