That’s how I would describe my past 10 days with the UNDP‘s Threat and Risk Mapping Analysis (TRMA) project in the Sudan. The team here is doing some of the most exciting work I’ve seen in the field of crisis mapping. Truly pioneering. I can’t think of a better project to apply the past two years of work I have done with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s (HHI) Crisis Mapping and Early Warning Program.
TRMA combines all the facets of crisis mapping that I’ve been focusing on since 2007. Namely, crisis map sourcing, (CMS), mobile crisis mapping (MCM), crisis mapping visualization (CMV), crisis mapping analytics (CMA) and crisis mapping platforms (CMP). I’ll be blogging about each of these in more detail later but wanted to provide a sneak previous in the meantime.
Crisis Map Sourcing (CMS)
The team facilitates 2-day focus groups using participatory mapping methods. Participants identify and map the most pressing crisis factors in their immediate vicinity. It’s really quite stunning to see just how much conversation a map can generate. Rich local knowledge.
What’s more, TRMA conducts these workshops at two levels for each locality (administrative boundaries within a state): the community-level and at the state-level. They can then compare the perceived threats and risks from both points of view. Makes for very interesting comparisons.
In addition to this consultative approach to crisis map sourcing, TRMA has played a pivotal role in setting up an Information Management Working Group (IMWG) in the Sudan, which includes the UN’s leading field-based agencies.
What is truly extraordinary about this initiative is that each agency has formally signed an information sharing protocol to share their geo-referenced data. TRMA had already been using much of this data but the process until now had always been challenging since it required repeated bilateral efforts. TRMA has also developed a close professional relationship with the Central Bureau of Statistics Office.
Mobile Crisis Mapping (MCM)
The team has just partnered with a multinational communications corporation to introduce the use of mobile phones for information collection. I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks. Needless to say, I’m excited. Hopefully it won’t be too late to bring up FrontlineSMS‘s excellent work in this area, as well as Ushahidi‘s.
Crisis Mapping Visualization (CMV)
The team needs some help in this area, but then again, that’s one of the reasons I’m here. Watching first reactions during focus groups when we show participants the large GIS maps of their state is really very telling. Lots more to write about on this and lots to contribute to TRMA’s work. I don’t yet know which maps can be made public but I’ll do my utmost best to get permission to post one or two in the coming weeks.
Crisis Mapping Analytics (CMA)
The team has produced a rich number of different layers of data which can be superimposed to identify visual correlations and otherwise hidden patterns. Perhaps one of the most exciting examples is when the team started drawing fault lines on the maps based on the data collected and their own local area expertise. The team subsequently realized that these fault lines could potential serve as “early warning” markers since a number of conflict incidents subsequently took place along those lines. Like the other crisis mapping components described above, there’s much more to write on this!
Crisis Mapping Platforms (CMP)
TRMA’s GIS team has used ArcGIS but this has been challenging given the US embargo on the Sudan. They therefore developed their own in-house mapping platforms using open-source software. These platforms include the “Threat Mapper” for data entry during (or shortly after) the focus groups and “4Ws” which stands for Who, What, Where and When. The latter tool is operational and will soon be fully developed. 4Ws will actually be used by members of the IMWG to share and visualize their data.
In addition, TRMA makes it’s many maps and layers available by distributing a customized DVD with ArcReader (which is free). Lots more on this in the coming weeks and hopefully some screenshots as well.
Closing the Feedback Loop
I’d like to add with one quick thought, which I will also expand on in the next few weeks. I’ve been in Blue Nile State over the past three days, visiting a number of different local ministries and civil society groups, including the Blue Nile’s Nomadic Union. We distributed dozens of poster-size maps and had at times hour long discussions while pouring over these maps. As I hinted above, the data visualization can be improved. But the question I want to pose at the moment is: how can we develop a manual GIS platform?
While the maps we distributed were of huge interest to our local partners, they were static, as hard-copy maps are bound to be. This got me thinking about possibly using transparencies to overlap different data/thematic layers over a general hard-copy map. I know transparencies can be printed on. I’m just not sure what size they come in or just how expensive they are, but they could start simulating the interactive functionality of ArcReader.
Even if they’re only available in A4 size, we could distribute binders with literally dozens of transparencies each with a printed layer of data. This would allow community groups to actually start doing some analysis themselves and could be far more compelling than just disseminating poster-size static maps, especially in rural areas. Another idea would be to use transparent folders like those below and hand-draw some of the major layers. Alternatively, there might a type of thin plastic sheet available in the Sudan.
I’m thinking of trying to pilot this at some point. Any thoughts?