As a doctoral research fellow with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Jennifer Leaning and I are pursuing applied research on crisis mapping to identify innovative approaches that can be scaled up to maximize impact. The following initiatives are two projects of potential interest.
Sokwanele follows in the footsteps of Ushahidi in providing a web-based interface to map election-related violence in Zimbabwe. The design is simple and self-explanatory. Each incident is associated with the identity of the perpetrating party, e.g., Zanu youth.
It would be particularly useful to have a time-animation functionality in order to depict any patterns in the spread of the violence as this could reveal tactics of perpetrators. A colleague and I created crisis maps for Colombia and the DRC back in July 2007 using Google Earth (KML). We added the time-bar functionality and visualized the data over time, immediately taking note of distinct patterns. The underlying conflict data was drawn from the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC) in Bogota and from the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) respectively, both of which I have been affiliated with as a researcher. Clicking on the pictures below will provide you with a full-screen shot of the interface.
Another crisis map of Zimbabwe depicts Morgan Tsvangirai’s campaign “with information on campaign stops, detentions by police, vehicle impoundments, and references to all information from on-line news sources.” The Google Earth KML file is regularly updated.
The question that remains for me is what methods can be used to measure the impact these projects are having?
Good question! The more fundamental question for me is what impact are they supposed to have? There seems to be a drive towards visualisation for visualisation’s sake, without sufficient thought given to what purpose the visualisation serves. The situation in Zimbabwe is relatively well-reported – what additional value does Sokwanele provide in that context? Given that these projects all have costs – including opportunity costs that affect other projects, since funding is limited – these questions really need to be asked.