Everyone appreciates a good mapping application—just look at what happened to Apple when it failed to provide one. Maps save us from getting lost, ensure that we get to locations on time, and guide us through complicated public transportation systems. And in some places, they can save lives. Just ask World Vision, a humanitarian organization focused on poverty and justice.
World Vision works in 100 countries around the world providing health care, teaching families to improve nutrition, offering disaster relief—essentially, trying to do everything they can to make life better for communities. Maps help with these efforts—a lot.
About a year and a half ago, World Vision signed a licensing agreement with mapping company Esri to use its software and online cloud portal. "It’s about how we better manage data that we collect. We’re trying to improve our ability to manage data more broadly and build more transparency with public donors," says Josh Folkema, the Program Manager and Environment and Climate Change Technical Specialist at World Vision Canada.
Here’s how that is manifested on the ground: in Sierra Leone, World Vision mapped public health clinics, collecting data by GPS, camera phone, and questionnaire and then uploading the information to its Geographic Information System (GIS) in the cloud. The GIS revealed patterns, showed areas in need of better health clinic services, and offered up new questions for policy makers (i.e., why do public health centers with more cash and a large nearby population have less staff than centers that serve a smaller population?).
In Tanzania, World Vision builds maps overlaid with a number of data points, including health, economic, and social indicators. A partnership with a service called iForms, which lets users build electronic forms, allowed on-the-ground workers to collect data on these indicators out in the field with electronic tablets before uploading them to the GIS. "Once I left the field, I was getting daily updates on the data being collected. I didn’t have to wait six months for the paper transfer to data entry, a database," says Folkema.
So far, World Vision hasn’t made any big policy changes based on its maps, "but we do recognize the power," says Folkema.