Open source tool maps global humanitarian responses

The State Department marked the recent Open Data Day by touting the one-year anniversary of MapGive, an open data platform that provides its worldwide posts access to open source information and enhanced humanitarian preparedness via mapping and satellite imagery.

Supported by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write “applications, liberate data, create visualizations using open public data to show support for open data policies by the world's local, regional and national governments,” according  to the group’s website.

MapGive helps new volunteers learn to map and get involved in online tasks and contribute to open gov platforms around the world. It is also linked  to OpenStreetMap (OSM), a collaborative project to create a free and editable map of the world.

State called the platform the flagship of its Open Government Plan, serving as a “nexus of expertise” for the Department’s domestic bureaus and diplomatic posts, as well as other agencies.

Those collaborations helped volunteers create base map data for first responders in advance of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013.  The lessons from Typhoon Haiyan also  contributed to greater preparedness for Thyphoon Hagupit one year later.     

The MapGive platform contributes to these operations via its “imagery to the crowd” or IttC methodology, which the Department calls the central pillar of MapGive, enabling high resolution satellite imagery to be published in ways that can be easily mapped into OSM.

IttC methodology allows for easier viewing and mapping for volunteers with varying degrees of expertise.

MapGive was also used as a resource during the recent Ebola outbreak in western Africa.  MapGive tapped imagery to map out regions in Guinea that had previously never been mapped, providing aid workers with logistical support. 

These efforts were  supported by by napathons, in which college students, tech workers  and personnel from the State Department and American Red Cross made over 14 million changes to the map data in the Ebola-affected region of western Africa. 

The Department said would continue development of MapGive as a tool of digital diplomacy with help from local bureaus to create additional collaborative efforts and applications.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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