Following a trend toward spatial thinking and the use of geographic information systems (GIS), mapping is no longer a relic of the past—rather, it is a tool with hefty political force and the potential to empower citizens. GIS has the capacity to parse through rows and rows of large data sets that were previously incomprehensible to the average person. Specifically, the power of GIS and mapping lies in their ability to condense large and complex datasets into smaller, more digestible visualizations that are accessible to a broad audience. The use of mapping dissolves barriers to data accessibility so that even someone without a background in statistics or GIS can leverage big data. This accessibility in turn can promote data literacy by exposing larger audiences to open budget data, health data, climate data, and so on, ultimately equipping ordinary citizens with the means to affect change within their communities.
In order to maximize citizen empowerment, it is also necessary to engage citizens from all sectors of the community by developing a network of cross-sector partnerships to draw upon. The effectiveness of mapping and GIS is rendered moot when communities cannot form synergistic relationships between the public and private, the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Without the benefits of data sharing and unique perspectives from multi-sector collaboration, mapping cannot be used effectively to facilitate more comprehensive service delivery. This can translate to significant lag times in humanitarian assistance during natural disasters, redundancies or gaps in certain datasets (e.g. HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, road infrastructure, etc.), and systemic corruption. By disrupting the current data monopolies—government agencies and private, for-profit organizations are the largest shareholders of the data market—the possibility of civic engagement increases. Citizens can utilize formerly proprietary data to make more informed decisions in electing representatives, increase their participation in the decision-making process, and ensure that their interests are indeed being represented.
Encouraging multi-sector involvement not only promotes collaboration on creative solutions to complex problems, but also fosters stronger data sharing partnerships which can improve efficiency and openness of data use. These partnerships can improve efficiency by eliminating lag times often associated with contacting various agencies—often a hit or miss process—for data requests. With cross-sector collaboration, partners can bypass this step because they will already be familiar enough with the existing data landscape to know where to find the best data. The transition to open data is gaining traction, and leaders such as the UK’s Data.gov.uk platform, the US’s Open Government Initiative, Japan’s Open Data Initiative, and private entities such as the Open Knowledge Foundation and Open Data Institute are spearheading the movement. Additionally, the increased communication from cross-sector partnerships can support map creation by sharing—and, consequently, expanding—the current pool of community accessible data, while also preventing the duplication of existing maps and data sets. These partnerships can contribute to a standardized data collection methodology and regulate data quality standards, improving usability of data for all members of the community.
Without data, there can be no maps. The impact of cross-sector partnerships is largely a result of their efficacy in supporting data sharing between organizations. Data sharing brings to light the importance of open data, and how pivotal it is in the mapping process. For example, last summer we were working as AidData Summer Fellows with the Map the Philippines initiative, conducting research on disaster resilience and leading workshops on GIS for local universities, NGOs, civil society organizations, and businesses. One thing we realized during our time in the Philippines is that it is becoming increasingly important to acknowledge the current state of open data within the Philippines, which remains limited despite national commitments to publicly accessible government data. But if government agencies, private sector stakeholders, international NGOs, civil society organizations, and academia were to form collaborative partnerships, their joint authority would be enough to take the reins of the open data movement in the Philippines. With cross-sector partnerships, these groups could further pave the way for defining transparency initiatives in the country.
From left to right: Daniela Hernandez Salazar, Emily McLenigan, Lu Sevier, Prabesh Basnet, Celina Agaton, and Amy Leung at the Map the Philippines Unconference.
The migration toward open data is inevitable, both as a global movement and as an outcome of increasing pushes for multi-sector engagement. The way actors across all sectors engage and collaborate over the next few years will shape the data landscape of the future. Ultimately, the future use of mapping within the Philippines—and across the globe—as a powerful tool for citizen empowerment is dependent on the progress of the open data movement. The flame of open data has been kindled, and it is now imperative that its proponents carry the torch.
Amy Leung is an alumni of IPD’s Governance and Corruption team. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2015. Daniela Hernandez Salazar is a Graduate Research Fellow and Task Team Leader for IPD’s Governance and Corruption team. She is a first-year master's student seeking a dual degree in Global Policy and Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.