Using technology to map data and information for development efforts

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Maps have emerged as an important asset in publicly revealing data and information needed for development efforts at the community, national, regional and international level. They have become a useful way of providing and finding information on what exists and where.   Private companies like Google for instance have been collaborating with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to help unveil the power of statistics in the region. They have been working with UNECA to provide train the trainer events throughout the African continent, which can aid the development of collection and use of statistics using not only mobile applications but Google Map Maker, Google Earth Google Maps, Google fusion tables, and Public Data Explorer.  This is also proving useful for mapping of the vast African landscape is in the face of lack of street names and route numbers for instance. Local knowledge is key to this type of mapping for development effort.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are also utilising maps to help aid development efforts. Global Map Aid is one nonprofit that provides specialist maps to help those that need information for aid and environmental relief efforts. InterAction is also developing a web-based mapping platform and database that will eventually map all of its members’ work worldwide. Haiti Aid Map is one example of their work in this area. There is also Ushahadi, a crowdsourced mapping platform, which provides real time information needed to help with issues related to things like disasters, voting, xenophobic attacks and the environment to name a few.  Taking into consideration that geo-data is not free in some parts of the world Open Street Map is also another useful and free service, which allows anyone with the necessary skills to utilise and edit information on their map, and in turn ‘the data and software is owned by the contributors’ and the general public. According to Steve Chilton, “The OpenStreet Map project is the leading global example of the effectiveness of crowdsourcing of geodata”.

Maps are also being used by governments, for example councils in the United Kingdom and in this new e-volution of government data, e-data is becoming more and more important. As Michael Batty, Bartlett Professor of Planning at UCL puts it “The advent of map services from Google Maps and Microsoft Bing Maps, as well as more specialist archives of photographic data constructed from the bottom-up systems such as Flickr, are forcing new kinds of applications in data processing that are no longer the prerogative of specialist users but are widely available to anyone who has access to the web”. Intergovernmental organisations have also started providing mapped data and information on their development finance projects. The World Bank for instance have launched a Data Visualiser, which maps a subset of the United Nation Statistical Division (UNSD) Commodity Trade (COMTRADE) database and the AidData mapping for results project has proved a useful and successful way of geo-referencing development work. Additionally, Aidflows launched in October is another tool developed collaboratively by the OECD and the World Bank (also working on to map the flow of the development aid they provide.

These are some of the mapping tools and projects currently available and as their availability increases hopefully so will the public’s ability to utilise them effectively. CSOs, governments, the private sector and technologists will no doubt increasingly utilise these types of mapping services to inform their work. Hopefully mapping for development and results continues to develop in a way which is useful not only to them, but also inclusive and useful to the ordinary citizen.

by Keisha Taylor, Communications Manager, GuideStar International