Crowdmapping for Social Change

In 1854,John Snow plotted cholera deaths on a map of London’s Soho district to determine the cause of a deadly epidemic sweeping the community.  By mapping the geography of the outbreak,Snow was able to successfully pinpoint the cause;argue for public action to disengage the source,and stop the epidemic.

Today,nearly 160 years later,  communities don’t need to wait for the external intervention of an expert like John Snow.  Social media,mobile technology,and free and open source tools such as CrowdMap,Ushahidi Platform,and Open Street Map have made it possible for anyone to map the issues they most care about and produce evidence to support their calls for action.

Maps are not just analytical tools.  They are visual arguments that provide graphic evidence to spotlight issues and collect evidence of the need for social change.

Crowdmapping is the aggregation of crowd-generated inputs such as texts and social media feeds with geographic data to provide real-time,interactive information on events such as wars,humanitarian crises,crime,elections,social issues,or natural disasters.  If properly implemented,crowdmapping can bring a level of transparency to fast-moving events that are difficult for traditional media to adequately cover in real-time,or to longer-term trends that may be difficult to identify through the reporting of individual events.

I recently heard a NPR story on Women Under Siege,  a project that uses crowdmapping to gather real time data on rape and other forms of sexualized violence in Syria.  Women Under Siege collects reports from survivors,witnesses,and first-responders via a web form,email,SMS,and Twitter (#RapeinSyria).  The data are then analyzed by public health researchers and reports are plotted on a crowdmap using the open source Ushahidi Platform.  By plotting each story on a map,voice is being given to the voiceless and valuable data is being gathered on the rate of sexual assault that can quickly,  quantitatively,and objectively be used to pinpoint where and when survivor services need to be offered,  from internally displaced persons camps to the conflict area itself.

Another crowdmapping project is being implemented by Slate Magazine to track gun-related deaths.  This project uses interactive,crowdsourced data to track and map the name,  age,  gender,  date and location of every person who’s died from gun-related violence since the Newtown shooting.  They’re also publishing the data via a Twitter feed,  @GunDeaths.  By plotting where the gun-related deaths have occurred,  the map makes it clear that the issue isn’t just an urban or mass shooting one,  but rather something that spans across the nation in communities of all sizes and demographic compositions.

Crowdmaps are a great way to engage communities around local or regional issues —as a way to encourage participation and sharing,  as a visually powerful,location-aware storytelling tool,  and by creating a compelling call for action.

If you’re planning a crowdmapping project be sure to:

  • Identify the right question. What is the issue you want to bring to light? What problem do you want to solve?
  • Choose your platform:CrowdMap,Ushahidi Platform,and Open Street Map are three open-sourced tools to try.
  • Create an outreach and engagement strategy. Be sure to include Twitter Hashtags,and other ways for people interact on social media.
  • Develop an information page on your website that clearly explains what you are trying to do and how people can get involved.
  • Promote your crowdmapping project via traditional and social media channels.

By,Shannon Mcgarry
Project Specialist

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Shannon McGarry

Shannon McGarry is Project Specialist at Campaign Consultation,Inc. and an advocate for systemic,holistic approaches to building the capacity of nonprofits and community organizations. She has worked with nonprofits to strengthen and diversify their funding streams,expand and mobilize their membership base,and build sustainable programs. Read more.