When you use Google Maps, you can see streets, buildings, vegetation, and elevation. But how is this data captured? This data is captured by a computer system called a geographic information system (GIS).
This program is a tool used to comprehend the world geography. GIS is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data. This allows people to easily visualize, analyze, and understand patterns and create relationships between different data sets.
Over the past five decades, GIS has evolved from a concept to a science. There are several organizations utilizing this technology and one of the popular tools is called ArcGIS. It is a landmark software developed by the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (Esri) and has become the go-to software for organizations worldwide to better analyze data.
Today on November 18th, organizations globally celebrate GIS day. Every year on this date, ESRI facilitates opportunities for speakers to gather to share how they are incorporating GIS into their work.
You might be wondering; how do development organizations utilize GIS in their work? How is MEDA utilizing this software? Why is it important to our work?
In the past, it was difficult for international organizations and funders to gather consistent baseline data across countries, but with recent technological developments, many institutional donors like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have expanded their mapping and data collection in recent years. Small businesses in GIS have also started launching in Africa to help provide the valuable data for organizations like MEDA to use to respond better to global crises, mitigate contextual challenges, and adapt programming effectively based on our client’s needs. We are now in the midst of a geographical data revolution that is poised for explosive growth. Mobile data collection has made it easier to georeferenced survey data in addition to accessing new data sources that open pathways to existing information, computing hardware and software.
With the exponential amount of data now readily available and software with the ability to conduct analyses we are able to tailor and adapt our work more effectively to local contexts.
The question arises – how do organizations begin to incorporate this data into our work? How do we use the information serve our clients and partners better?
The most effective way is to start slowly with storymaps. StoryMaps help tell remarkable stories with custom maps to visualize data that informs and inspires. Visualizing data can tell a story – one that can effect change, influence opinion, and create awareness. StoryMaps can give an organization’s story a stronger sense of place, illustrate spatial relationships, and add visual appeal and credibility to your ideas.
MEDA has started creating storymaps to help visualize our work. Our Improving Market Opportunities for Women or IMOW project in Myanmar is one of the first projects that implemented storymaps (several more are on the way!). The IMOW project has beautiful photos that we wanted to highlight within the storymap but more importantly, the amount of GIS data (coordinates, weather data, maps) available made it the perfect choice for our pilot. The storymap that was developed for this project also presents a new way to provide an overview of the project activities during its lifespan and where we see it moving forward in the coming years.
For MEDA, the use of this of technology ensures that we can be at the forefront of the data revolution that is coming from the Global South. We can utilize tools such as storymap and in the future, we can begin to use spatial analysis to better understand the unique predicament our clients find themselves in and ways we can positively improve their livelihoods. MEDA currently has several staff members across the world that are experts with GIS and we continue to be committed to building their knowledge capacity so MEDA can continue to be innovative.