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Tailor-Made: How GIS is Powering Innovation for Global Aid

As organizations continue to collect, manage and create more data than ever before, administrators are looking for innovative ways to unlock insights and value from data. In the global aid sector, there is a dire need for improved transparency and program evaluation through data. In many cases, GIS and data is the key to meeting these objectives.

Yet, understanding data is just the start. The organizations that are leading the charge understand how spatial analysis can transform their operations. By thinking spatially, organizations can tell compelling stories, increase donations and transparency efforts, and work towards achieving mission objectives, powered by spatial analysis.

“GIS has transformed the way organizations work. This will only continue to evolve with a mobile society who are comfortable with the concept of location,” said Ryan Lanclos, Emergency Management and Humanitarian Industry Manager, Esri.

Lanclos also shared some of the ways agencies are using GIS in relation to global aid campaigns. He advised that regardless of where an organization provides aid, GIS facilities the ability to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. Leading organizations use geography to target aid, monitor development programs and reduce redundancy of programs. Additional applications Lanlcos noted are:

  • Organizations can communicate their story through the use of maps to help connect with the public and reach donors.
  • Project and program mapping to understand the need, resourcing levels and application of aid.
  • Monitor and evaluate programs for their efficiency to ensure maximum effectiveness of program resources.
  • Collaboration among partner agencies and foundations to share resources.
  • Open data and transparency providing data on need, programs and providing accountability to donors.

The upcoming Esri Federal GIS Conference will feature five immersion tracks. The event is a two-day event, with the third day being the first ever Esri DC Developer Summit. The conference will also feature immersion summits focused on national security, natural resource management, health and human services, and transportation, development and conservation. Be sure to register for the conference here. Additionally, the Federal GIS Conference is free to all federal employees, NPOs, NGOs, and international organizations. The conference will be held February 10-11 in Washington, DC.

The GIS applications Lanclos identified only scratch the surface on how organizations are leveraging GIS. One leading organization is Direct Relief. Last year at the Esri Federal Users Conference, I was able to speak with Andrew Schroeder, Director of Research and Analysis at Direct Relief. Direct Relief was awarded Esri’s President’s Award for outstanding applications of a geographic information system (GIS).

Direct Relief is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that provides medical material assistance to those affected by natural disasters, civil unrest and poverty. Lanclos also noted the great work Direct Relief is doing, “Not only have they [Direct Relief] been able to leverage GIS to identify needs, but to also communicate those needs to the donor community and provide assurance as to the allocation of their donations.”

Schroeder shared his insights as to how Direct Relief has leveraged GIS to fulfill a compelling mission. Schroeder said, “Direct Relief is a humanitarian medical material assistance organization; so we distribute essential medicines, supplies, such as antibiotics, needles and syringes and rapid test kits for HIV, that are essential for provision of services but local clinics may not be able to purchase on their own.” This is just one of dozens of compelling case studies how GIS is helping organizations to tell their story and improve their engagement efforts.

Examples like Direct Relief show how leveraging a GIS solution can lead to improved decision making and awareness for global aid organizations. For global aid, so much operational data is tied to location. Leveraging GIS is a natural fit for organizations. As Lanclos notes, “Considering that most of the data an organization manages contains location, it is hard to imagine not using GIS to help in the decision making process. Because location exits in these data sets, decision makers can use GIS to look for interactions among many different datasets, before making a decision that could have dramatic affect.”

One example that Lanclos identified was the benefits of understanding a population distribution in relation to a pending disaster. For example, crisis and aid workers can develop a better understanding of where to deliver aid during an emergency based on needs of the community. They can also use these maps to understand how to quickly mitigate impact and fix vulnerabilities in a community, before a disaster strikes. GIS allows the ability to layer data, and make smart decisions on how to distribute aid.

This example shows the power of understanding and leveraging spatial data. These insights drive new and innovative programs to combat some of societies most complex challenges. It’s of no doubt: GIS facilities a shift in how we can monitor, assess and develop global aid programs.

Yet, the benefits extend even farther. By leveraging spatial data, organizations are also able to bring more transparency to relief efforts. This is essential for organizations, especially as the resources have become limited. Donors want to be able to see and measure impact from their funding. “Being transparent about aid delivery is a great way to reassure a donor that their funds are going to the intended purpose and evaluate the impact it is having,” said Lanclos.

Adopting GIS solutions for global aid does come with unique challenges. One of these is that for GIS professionals and administrators, the applications and use case of GIS have extended enterprise wide. Today, anyone can leverage GIS and does not have to be trained as a GIS professional. “We’ve seen GIS evolve to become a true platform for engaging all of these employees, especially non-GIS professionals, with simple and focused applications that support these core workflows on any device and in any location. An aid worker in the field can document delivery of goods or the application of a vaccine to an exact geographic location. This data is then connected through the platform to program office and the donor community in near – real time,” said Lanclos.

To truly capitalize on the power of GIS, Lanclos advises that collaboration is key. “Collaboration among the community is critical. Knowing who is working in a specific area, what their expertise and resources are, and where they are targeting aid is a common problem. Using GIS, organizations can share public data sets openly that provide context to their actions and allow for a broader and more effective application of aid to the population in need,” said Lanclos.

To learn more about GIS and Global Aid, be sure to register for Esri Federal GIS Conference

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Esri was founded in 1969, it realized even then that geographic information system (GIS) technology could make a difference in society. GIS helps people to solve problems at local, regional, national, and global scales. Access maps and apps at ArcGIS.com. Be sure to check out all the
 GIS resources produced by Esri and GovLoop.

Photo credit: Lindsay Mgbor/Department for International Development

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