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I hosted a session at the Nonprofit Technology Conference called The Future of the Map. We had a great team of presenters — Konpa Group's Rob Baker, Urban Strategies Council's Steve Spiker (Spike), and GeoIQ's Andrew Turner.
Mapping is a huge topic, and we intentionally cast a wide net, including both desktop-based GIS tools like Esri and online disaster mapping initiatives like Ushahidi. We thought it would be interesting to cram a few quick demos of mapping tools into the session. Obviously, you can't become a pro from a five-minute demo, but you can learn what a tool is good for, what sorts of skills it requires, and how it might fit into your organization's mission.
Google Maps/Google Fusion Tables
I started with a quick demo of how to use Google Fusion Tables to display database information on a map. I didn't quite get to showing everything I wanted to show, so I recorded this screencast (I suggest watching full-screen in 720p mode):
What's great about Fusion Tables is that unlike some of the other tools we talked about in the session, you could use it to start using geospatial analysis with your data with almost no additional work. There are certainly more sophisticated ways to map your data, but this one requires no overhead.
Here's a blog post about the "Google Geodata Hack" I used in this video.
Spike works at the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland. He has a Master's degree in GIS and a striking ability to make complicated technologies look fun and easy. He took us through a scenario from his work at the Urban Strategies Council, studying rates of foreclosure in different neighborhoods to find correlations with other factors in those neighborhoods.
There are lots of resources on the Internet about Esri products and other GIS tools. One of the best places to start is Spike's own website, NonprofitGIS.org. Here are some resources from TechSoup:
Download slides as PDF (17 MB)
We've discussed Ushahidi here several times in the past. By connecting people with relief efforts in real time, Ushahidi has made a huge difference in the post-election crisis in Kenya and earthquake relief in Haiti and Chile. With Crowdmap, organizations can set up an Ushahidi implementation without using their own servers and bandwidth.
Rob began his demo by saying that with Crowdmap, creating a map and posting data to it is just as easy as setting up a WordPress blog. He then built a Crowdmap (don't ask) and showed us how to start submitting data by web or SMS message.
Rob also stressed that when organizing people around a disaster or event, the technology is the easy part. It's important to have people on the ground who understand the issues and key players to connect people with the help they need — as he put it, dots on a map aren't good enough.
One strong theme throughout the session was that the nonprofit sector is stronger when we share our data with each other. That point came across loud and clear in Andrew's demo of GeoCommons. GeoCommons is a repository of geospatial data where users can upload data and work together to share, collate, and analyze data. GeoCommons accepts data in a wide variety of formats, including spreadsheets, GIS shapefiles, and KML. He gave some cool examples of how people have mashed up data in GeoCommons, the most breathtaking of which was this animated map of tweets mentioning Egypt leading up to Hosni Mubarak's resignation. That sparked an interesting discussion in the room about how maps can track change over time. Andrew said he thinks that time-based analysis is the future of the map.
After the session, a few people mentioned to me that they'd been working with BatchGeo, a free online tool that creates Google Maps from spreadsheets. For example, Stand Up for Wisconsin uses BatchGeo to map upcoming demonstrations surrounding the Wisconsin budget controversy. A few days after NTC was over, Matt Denner of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (previously) used BatchGeo to put together a map of upcoming legislative forums. BatchGeo can also export latitude/longitude coordinates for use in other tools.
Budgeting and Staffing
Both Rob and Spike put together sample budgets for mapping projects; Spike wrote one for a GIS-based foreclosure analysis and Rob wrote budgets for three different Ushahidi deployments. The sample budgets are available in the session handout (108 KB PDF). Echoing Rob's "dots on a map aren't good enough," Spike stressed that the people gathering data for a mapping project should understand the issues and people that your organization works with; ultimately, that's more important than understanding the technology.
There's something intimidating about hosting a session about a topic that ranges from huge, international aid efforts to tiny nonprofits using a map to track their fundraising efforts. We weren't able to go very deep with any one tool, but we did give a hands-on look at the spectrum of nonprofit mapping projects, and hopefully gave participants the opportunity to locate where their work could fit on that spectrum. Most importantly, every speaker repeated the point that when nonprofits are willing to share data with each other, the entire sector is better for it. As Spike said, "Throw every data set you create up on GeoCommons. Don't be another data silo." Willingness to share our data with each other in a usable format isn't just the future of the map: it's the future of the nonprofit.
Photo: Bruno Girin, CC license
Staff Writer, TechSoup
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