Charities are increasingly turning to digital mapping to work together. Their goal is to improve information sharing and target communities that need support the most.
Digital collaborative map charities can respond quickly and effectively to emergencies and tackle emerging trends in local areas, such as isolation and food poverty.
The COVID-19 crisis has intensified the use of digital mapping technology in the UK and it is expected to continue to grow in the years to come as charities aim to improve their effectiveness in supporting communities.
What is digital mapping
Digital mapping involves the collection of a range of data that is formatted into digital and online maps of local areas.
Its origins lie in helping cartographers to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information. This includes mapping the last transport links, construction works and the local environment. Digital maps can be shared between organizations, all of which can provide data to support each other’s work.
Using GPS technology and other data, such as weather and traffic updates, a digital map can provide a real-time image of a local area.
Digital maps are also a very visual way to present data. Whether in a traditional 2D or 3D format, digital maps provide a more interesting look at the data and characteristics of a local area.
The range of data that can be entered into a map is vast, from weather and soil erosion information to social, health and economic information around local people.
Interactivity is a key positive, with often dozens of organizations involved entering data to form the map.
Collaborative benefits of digital mapping for charities
Social, health and economic information of local populations on digital maps can be particularly useful for charities supporting vulnerable people. These help target the areas most in need.
The interactive nature of digital mapping, which uses cloud-based software, also eliminates duplication. This makes the joint response of charities more effective.
Additionally, the availability of digital maps on mobile devices and tablets means that charities can access up-to-date information on the ground, quickly reaching communities.
Respond to emergencies
the Voluntary Sector Emergency Partnership (VCSEP) is a network of 250 organizations, created in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster in London and the London and Manchester terrorist attacks in 2017.
He is among groups of charities already using digital mapping to improve support, most recently around the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
The cloud-based digital mapping technology that VCSEP uses is GIS Esri (Geographic information system). During the pandemic, this technology was used to create maps that allow charities to respond to demands for tests, vaccinations, as well as food and clothing shortages in local communities.
The VCSEP digital mapping also includes an online vulnerability index map, which visualizes multiple datasets on clinical vulnerability, digital exclusion, and disadvantage.
“Previously, local knowledge and relationships were widely used, but now we have the spatial data to spot geographic trends and make more informed decisions to complement vital local knowledge,” said Alexie Schwab, Senior Information Officer of the VCSEP.
“This is just the start – there is a huge appetite within VCSEP to find new ways to visualize and work with data to support a common emergency response.”
The British Red Cross is also involved in the VCSEP. “[We are] proud of [our] role providing global GIS and information management expertise to help people in crisis, ”said Adam Rowlands, chief digital officer of the association.
International aid and disaster relief
International aid and disaster relief charities find digital mapping especially useful for gathering the latest information on inaccessible places, from local road maps to water supplies.
Among the digital mapping tools used is MapSwipe, an open source mobile application used by aid workers and volunteers to help them better support communities in need.
MapSwipe data includes changes in local areas such as new buildings and roads, population size, health, and climate change. Using specific information requested by charities, maps can be created to improve local support. This app also allows the charities involved to track the impact of their work.
Support aid workers in remote areas
Digital mapping can be particularly useful for aid workers in extremely remote areas, to help add buildings and settlements to empty spaces on existing maps. One of these diagrams is Crowd2Map, who mapped rural Tanzania via an open source digital mapping tool OpenStreetMap since 2015.
This initiative was started by the president of the Tanzania Development Trust, Janet Chapman, and has been invaluable in helping the charity respond quickly to reports of girls at risk of FGM. The initiative has helped save 3,000 girls from FGM since its launch.