Open Data and Mapping for Disasters and Development

This post is a summary of one that appeared on the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Site and was originally authored by Christina Irene.

“Openness is critical for inclusive development and a thriving civil society”

The above words from Suzanne Kindervatter of InterAction underscored the theme running through a unique gathering at World Bank headquarters in Washington on May 3, 2012. Almost 200 people from more than 70 organizations met for a half-day workshop on free and open source geographic information system―better known as GIS―mapping tools. Mapping experts and development professionals came together under the newly launched “GFDRR Innovation Series” –that brings together individuals and organizations that work on similar issues.

Opening the World’s Data

A key message throughout the day was the need to open data.   Suzanne Kindervatter, Vice President, Strategic Impact, InterAction;(pictured right) stated, At its heart, mapping is about openness. Openness is critical for inclusive development and a thriving civil society. In order for citizens to shape their own development, they need information on development activities, and spending by donors, as well as what their own governments are doing”.

The Value of Participation

In addition to ensuring that data is open, it is also critical that citizens be given the opportunity to participate in its creation. Presenters discussed the tools and engagement strategies from a number of community mapping projects taking place in Haiti, Tanzania, Kenya, and Indonesia. Abby Baca of the World Bank described how, as part of GFDRR’s Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI), the World Bank has partnered;with the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction (AIFDR), the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) , to include citizen-created data in the disaster risk management process. The project has worked with communities to collect valuable structural information on nearly 200,000 buildings in Indonesia ― information that will be used in contingency planning and risk assessment to make the city safer from floods and other natural hazards.

Kate Chapman of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team led a practical workshop on the use of OpenStreetMap, teaching attendees how they themselves could add data to the map and then download it for use in their own projects.  The importance of involving communities in the process of collecting map data was a consistent theme throughout the day.

The Power of Maps

Speaker after speaker made it clear that mapping has the power to protect and save lives. Perhaps nowhere has this become more apparent than in assessing and managing risk. “The disaster risk management (DRM) community and the mapping communityhave a very special relationship,” pointed out Francis  Ghesquiere, Manager DRM Practice Group and Head of the GFDRR Secretariat. “A lot of the advances we’ve made in DRM come from a better understanding of risk, using a number of innovative techniques.  The mapping community has played an important role in helping us to identify and  visualize risk.”

Maps are one of the key ingredients to smart decision-making and like InterAction’s NGO Aid Mapdata visualization in map form promotes transparency, resource allocation, informs advocacy and influences policy, as well as facilitates partnerships and improves coordination (which was presented by Laia Grino, InterAction – pictured left).   “Maps have the ability to tell a story that becomes very compelling and hard to argue with”, said Aleem Walji, Innovation Practice Manager from the World Bank Institute (WBI).

Way Forward

Considering the enormity of the data that could actually be mapped globally, Suzanne Kindervatter, of InterAction; stressed that “ It is essential to work together to scale up our efforts.” Looking around the room and summing up the day,  Ghesquiere of GFDRR concurred “If there is one thing we have learned, it is that we can’t do it alone. Crowd-sourcing and partnerships with local communities have proven to be two of the most effective ways to create and maintain useful geospatial information to support disaster risk management.

You can watch a replay of the entire event below.

Original post submitted by Tariq Khokhar

Open Data banner image by Descrier ( licensed under CC BY 2.0