I was looking at past blog posts that I’ve written and there was one specific blog that I wanted to share with all of you. I wrote this blog post called ‘Mapping for Transparency‘in September for Smart Solutions. I wrote this post because I believe that the use of GIS technology is going to play a major role in creating transparency and holding ‘development’ stakeholders accountable.Smart Solutions is a great organization that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of for the last couple of years. As an organization they raise awareness, promotes discussions, and provide opportunities for students relating to long-term issues in the developing world. Smart Solutions has done a great job in engaging students and getting them to use their creativity and innovation when addressing global issues. You can check out student blogs at their website: http://www.developingsmart.com
Ten years ago, few believed that the mapping of development projects could significantly increase transparency and create aid effectiveness. Today, that mentality has changed; we are starting to utilize the potential, creativity and innovation of mapping data to visually provide us with information regarding development projects that are taking place around the globe. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this topic, mapping development projects means using geocoding to assign latitudes and longitudes to project locations with the objective of pinpointing various projects according to their area, sector and magnitude. The recent boom of social networks has made NGO’s, non-profits, and development agencies think of new ways to engage the public on development initiatives. In my opinion, the GIS (Geographic Information System) and mapping community deserves a thumbs-up for an attempt to increase transparency, provide accountability, and collectively engage NGO’s, donors, civil society, and the public.
Displaying an organization’s work on a map is becoming a popular technique for organizations to showcase their initiatives and allow the public to visually understand what work is being done, where it is taking place, and by whom. Through the use of geocoding, we can strategically understand the efforts that are taking place at the grassroots level. Try to imagine all the NGO’s in the world currently working on their respective projects in their respective field countries; how many of us know the exact types of projects that are currently taking place? How many of us can easily find information about these projects, understand their time frames, the cost to implement these projects, the donors participating in the projects, the planned outcomes, the expected impacts and the actual results? Other than those working directly in the field, very few of us know this information. If we do not have access to this type of information, how are we to know whether the aid is being dispersed and to which community it is reaching? Using geocoding to map development projects creates a visual that can show donors which sectors in development have received the most funding and which sectors need funding the most.
Using Haiti as an example, hundreds of NGOs are presently working in this country and a large amount of foreign assistance has been provided. Since the disastrous earthquake that struck on January 12, 2010, NGOs have gathered to help those affected by the disaster as well as to to help the country with its recovery. Due to a lack of coordination when implementing projects, NGO’s, donors and civil society have not seen the results they initially anticipated. InterAction- the largest alliance of US based NGO’s- created a Haiti Aid Map that can filter an NGO’s work in Haiti according to its sector, region, and organization. A year and a half after the earthquake , data shows that more than 83 organizations are currently working in Haiti and more than 471 projects have taken place. Using this Aid map is a starting point for us to ensure that organizations do not duplicate efforts when planning to achieve similar goals. Making this data available to everyone will allow NGO’s and those involved in relief and development work to make better-informed decisions about where to direct their resources, and thus increase transparency.
One of the five pillars of the Paris Declaration of 2005 was to work towards “eliminating duplication of efforts and rationalizing donor activities to make them as cost-effective as possible.” As a result, in 2010 the World Bank launched its Open Data Initiative -Mapping for Results. Examples of World Bank Health Projects in Kenya show us which regions in Kenya are in severe poverty and whether there is a large concentration of projects in those areas. Looking at this map we can see that donor activity is centralized in specific urban regions such as Nairobi and not sufficient support is being provided to rural regions with larger amounts of poverty in North Eastern Kenya.
Mapping is also important because it does not only show where aid flows but it allows us to identify if hospitals are being built in districts with the worst health indicators, if primary and secondary schools are being built in districts with low literacy rates, if power plants are being constructed in the districts with the lowest levels of electricity, and if water infrastructure is being constructed in districts with least access to clean water.
With credible international development organizations such as InterAction and the World Bank implementing geocoding initiatives, we are now being provided with specific data that enhances transparency. More pressure is being put on other development organizations to follow this trend of transparency through mapping initiatives.
A concern in the international development community has always been if money spent and invested in projects ends up reaching the intended beneficiaries and if they result in positive impacts. Often because of a lack of transparency, we (the public) have been unable to make our governments and organizations accountable for their actions. With an increase in transparency, the opportunity rises for NGO’s, donors, civil societies and government agencies to make aid more effective. An equal opportunity rises for those affected by projects and for the public to engage and become more aware of ongoing projects so that we can hold stakeholders accountable.
In the future, we must continue to be creative in our mapping initiatives. Some possible ideas could be including impacts, outcomes and results of projects in mapping so that we can have a better understanding of best practices and can further increase transparency. Another idea could be to provide the opportunity for people at local levels who are intended to be the beneficiaries of such projects to use their cell phones to report on the progress of projects and allow them to hold governments and donors accountable. In addition, we could integrate blogs written by field workers in certain projects directly with their located project on the map. Mapping projects and providing transparency will not instantaneously reduce poverty, but it will change how projects in the future are implemented. This will have a direct impact on reducing poverty. It is important that we all take the time to explore and learn about the mapping initiatives taking place so that we are more aware of such projects and fully understand initiatives that are occurring at grassroots levels.