Friday, April 9, 2010

Where Have the Cows Gone?

This week Development Gateway attended the first meeting of the advisory committee for InterAction's Mapping Initiative. InterAction, for those who don't know, is an umbrella organization that represents hundreds of U.S. non-governmental organizations. Together with FortiusOne (the organization behind the incredibly cool Geocommons online mapping tool), InterAction is working with a small group of their member organizations to create a standard output format for NGO development projects so they can be easily compared and, of course, mapped. Although the location of aid projects will likely be aggregated at the provincial level to protect the privacy of the recipients, this tool could in theory create a map that displayed where each cow that Heifer International donated had gone. It could probably even make the points spotted.

The implications for aid transparency are enormous. Thousands of NGOs are involved in international development, and at the moment there is no systematic way for stakeholders to look at where these organizations are operating and what is being funded. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, imagine a map that could overlay the work of 1,000 organizations against indicators like child malnutrition or climate vulnerability to show areas where help is still needed. Knowledge is a powerful tool.

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