Over the last few weeks, I have been writing on spatial data and mapping. Those of you who read my previous posts, may have noticed my interest in Meier’s book Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response. Last week, Meier sent a message on Twitter to remind his followers of his 2011 TED talk, titled “Changing the World… One Map at a Time”, and encourage them to watch it.
The presentation that you can watch below demonstrates examples of the recent history of digital crisis mapping, from the 2008 post-election situation in Kenya and the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and in Japan in 2011, to the 2011 protests in Libya. Meier concludes his talk by emphasising the use of live maps for activism purposes in several countries like Syria, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen and Tunisia.
“Infodemiology includes the analysis of queries from Internet search engines to predict disease outbreaks; monitoring people’s’ status updates on microblogs such as Twitter for syndromic surveillance; detecting and quantifying disparities in health information availability; identifying and monitoring of public health relevant publications on the Internet” (Eysenbach, 2009)
Internet data, especially search engine queries and social media postings, have shown promise in contributing to syndromic surveillance for several communicable diseases, including Ebola. Much has been written about the global response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, “lessons learned” have often focused on operational reasons why health systems faltered and why the humanitarian response came late, often taking donors and international aid agencies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) to task for mishandling the crisis.
A systematic review published in 2014 by Nuti and his colleagues, highlighted that in recent years, researchers have been increasingly utilising online search data for a diversity of health topics with some successful applications in the field of infectious disease surveillance, especially in countries with high Internet penetration levels (Nuti et al., 2014).
Data was broadly discussed throughout the various discussion and debates of the day. However, the issue of data had already been introduced the day before during the closing session entitled “Harnessing the data revolution to reach the missing millions”, which provided a forum for unpacking the data challenge underpinning the goal of leaving no one behind. Among other topics, a panelist highlighted how her institute created digital maps to visualise mobile internet activities in China, and how it analysed the gaps.
The term ‘born digital data’ was coined by Taylor and Schroeder in 2015 to denote “data that are digital from the start rather than starting out in non-digital form”. ‘Born digital data’ can be ‘consciously volunteered data’ or ‘data in the wild’ (pp. 504-505).
The Haitian humanitarian crisis that followed the 2010 earthquake also highlighted the fact that real time data could now feature in humanitarian responses. In their2011 Haitian study, Bengtsson and his colleagues demonstrate that data could, in principle, be obtained for continuous and extended periods and in near real time, and that data were readily available.
“Social media, data and development”… It didn’t take me long to choose a focus within that theme: spatial data and mapping will be my common thread in the next few weeks.
Gathering geographical data about a crisis area is considered a traditional data-gathering target (Read etal., 2016, p. 6). According to some experts, the most mentioned application of ‘big data’ in developing countries is the possibility of mapping problems, for instance tracking and modelling the spread of diseases, through novel ways (Hay et al., 2013 cited in Spratt & Baker, 2015, p. 14).