The author of this blog entry, Ilona Mäkinen, is working with Development Gateway while doing research for her Master’s thesis at the Aalto University School of Science. She focuses on ways to make development assistance by NGOs and foundations more effective through the novel use of technology.
I always admire projects that challenge conventional ways of thinking by proposing something completely new.
“We were told this is impossible. But we thought let’s just try it,” explained Soren Gigler, a Sr. Governance Specialist at the World Bank Institute, about the Mapping for Results project to the audience of a couple hundred that gathered at the World Bank yesterday. Mapping for Results, a joint project of the World Bank and AidData, focuses on geocoding the locations of World Bank projects so that they can be rendered in interactive maps and used for other visualizations and analysis. It was one of several showcased initiatives aiming to make aid more effective through new technologies and geographical information.
The presentations in Washington and the panel discussants video-conferenced in from Kenya demonstrated how mapping helps to track resources, aids in planning of projects, assists coordination, and enables increased accountability. Given the fierce debate around aid effectiveness, that’s a set of goals worth striving for.
The common cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” captures what the fuss about mapping is all about. “Placing the World Bank projects on a map promotes understanding of the projects quickly. When there are so many projects in one area, the people on the ground need some way to have a snapshot of the situation,” explains Kelsey Ranta, who was one of the geocoders who read through thousands of World Bank project documents to extract the location information and translate it into a standardized format.
Simple ideas are often the most powerful. Seeing development projects on a map makes it easier for stakeholders to get a broad understanding of the activities in their area. So what makes it so ground-breaking? “If we get all donors on board, and if the data is publicized on a local level allowing interaction with private citizens, geocoding will be revolutionary for the development assistance field,” envisions Mike Findley, principal researcher for AidData. The many benefits include facilitated coordination among donors and thus better-directed aid. But while the coordination and division of labor among donors have been topics for a long time, the two-way connection to the grassroots level and local citizens is something that the latest technologies would enable to an extent we haven’t seen before. These people would not only be able to gather a vast amount of data easily, but we could finally provide them with information about the multitude of initiatives that ostensibly benefit them. Even local leaders are often not aware of all the projects in their communities!
While the idea of pinpointing development projects on a map might seem like an easy task, looking at the tremendous work Kelsey and her colleagues did on coding World Bank project locations makes it clear that a great amount of hard work is still required. However, the potential to mainstream mapping into World Bank project management, and the innovative means of submitting information via mobile phones and harnessing crowdsourcing (e.g. Ushahidi) reassure me that once the foundations for collecting these data are established, the scaling up will bring great benefits not only for those operating at the grassroots level, but also for recipient governments, final beneficiaries, and people like me, concerned citizens from industrialized countries who would like to understand how our tax money is helping the world become a more equitable place.
The World Bank “Mapping for Results” seminar took place on Oct. 28 in Washington, DC. A video of the full event is available here. The featured initiatives included Mapping for Results, Map Kibera, Ushahidi, Action Atlas, and the Haiti Aid Map.