Remember those awesome pinball machines (of the analog kind)? You’d launch the ball and see it bounce all over, reacting wildly to various fun objects as you accumulate bonus points. The picture below hardly does justice so have a look on YouTube for some neat videos. I wish today’s crisis maps were that dynamic. Instead, they’re still largely static and hardly as interactive or user-friendly.
Do we live in an inert, static universe? No, obviously we don’t, and yet the state of our crisis mapping platforms would seem to suggest otherwise; a rather linear and flat world, which reminds me more of this game:
Things are always changing and interacting around us. So we need maps with automated geo-fencing alerts that can trigger kinetic and non-kinetic actions. To this end, dynamic check-in features should be part and parcel of crisis mapping platforms as well. My check-in at a certain location and time of day should trigger relevant messages to certain individuals and things (cue the Internet of Things) both nearby and at a distance based on the weather and latest crime statistics, for example. In addition, crisis mapping platforms need to have more gamification options and “special effects”. Indeed, they should be more game-like in terms of consoles and user-interface design. They also ought to be easier to use and be more rewarding.
This explains why I blogged about the “Fisher Price Theory of Crisis Mapping” back in 2008. We’ve made progress over the past four years, for sure, but the ultimate pinball machine of crisis mapping still seems to be missing from the arcade of humanitarian technology.
I recently gave a guest lecture at the University of Texas, Austin, and finally had the opportunity to catch up with my colleague Josh Busby who has been working on a promising crisis mapping project as part of the university’s Climate Change and African Political Stability Program (CCAPS).
Josh and team just released the pilot version of its dynamic mapping tool, which aims to provide the most comprehensive view yet of climate change and security in Africa. The platform, developed in partnership with AidData, enables users to “visualize data on climate change vulnerability, conflict, and aid, and to analyze how these issues intersect in Africa.” The tool is powered by ESRI technology and allows researchers as well as policymakers to “select and layer any combination of CCAPS data onto one map to assess how myriad climate change impacts and responses intersect. For example, mapping conflict data over climate vulnera-bility data can assess how local conflict patterns could exacerbate climate-induced insecurity in a region. It also shows how conflict dynamics are changing over time and space.”
The platform provides hyper-local data on climate change and aid-funded interventions, which can provide important insights on how development assistance might (or might not) be reducing vulnerability. For example, aid projects funded by 27 donors in Malawi (i.e., aid flows) can be layered on top of the climate change vulnerability data to “discern whether adaptation aid is effectively targeting the regions where climate change poses the most significant risk to the sustainable development and political stability of a country.”
If this weren’t impressive enough, I was positively amazed when I learned from Josh and team that the conflict data they’re using, the Armed Conflict Location Event Data (ACLED), will be updated on a weekly basis as part of this project, which is absolutely stunning. Back in the day, ACLED was specifically coding historical data. A few years ago they closed the gap by updating some conflict data on a yearly basis. Now the temporal lag will just be one week. Note that the mapping tool already draws on the Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD).
This project is an important contribution to the field of crisis mapping and I look forward to following CCAPS’s progress closely over the next few months. I’m hoping that Josh will present this project at the 2012 International Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM 2012) later this year.
Posted in Crisis Mapping, Humanitarian Tech
Tagged Africa, aid, CCAPS, change, climate, Conflict, data, dynamic, GIS, mapping, Vulnerability