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Beyond Earthquakes: Leveraging GIS and Volunteered Geographic Information to Build Haitian Schools

By Guest Writer on January 25, 2012


In the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, Haitian citizens and the use of technology, particularly mobile and GIS technologies and social media, proved critical to response and recovery efforts. Ushahidi, NOULA, OpenStreetMap, and other volunteer-based efforts gathered data from multiple sources, including Haitian citizens, to produce timely information on the ground and around the world. Beyond the crisis, however, the work done by the open source software community and volunteer technologists has begun filling gaps in Haiti’s outdated and incomplete spatial data infrastructure (SDI) – providing some of the most accurate and current information about Haiti’s human and physical geography.

Thus, contrary to popular belief, I, Alexandra Morgan, believe that Haiti has tremendous assets that can be leveraged to rebuild the country. Among these are the aforementioned data gathered in the wake of the earthquake as well as an expanding technological infrastructure and technology-based services – personal computing devices, broadband networks, mobile telephony, etc. – and the Haitian people, the nearly 10 million of them who possess knowledge critical to making decisions about how to reconstruct the country. Unfortunately, to date, these resources – particularly the latter – remain largely untapped, underutilized, mismatched, or marginalized in reconstruction efforts.

Without question, reconstructing Haiti, in part, means restoring and improving education – which involves building schools. Yet, a host of unknowns exist that negatively impact the capacity of the Ministry of National Education and Professional Training (MENFP), or any domestic or international entity, to effectively improve the educational infrastructure. Mobile and open source GIS technologies and VGI present new opportunities for data collection and can play a key role in supplying needed data for school construction, renovations, and investments.

MENFP and partners, for example, could customize a standard questionnaire for schools to complete and submit via SMS or other electronic service, and engage the public to crowdsource information about schools in their areas, surrounding resources, and other types of information that cannot be captured through automated means (e.g. GPS or remote sensing) or due to resource constraints. As a starting point, this VGI can be combined and mapped with more credible i.e. verified sources, such as the breadth of data collected to map urban to rural migration as well as data related to the ever-changing Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and spontaneous settlements that have reconfigured urban spaces.

Such an approach can at once begin verifying the credibility of the incoming VGI and help the Ministry visually begin to identify types and locations of various educational infrastructure needs. The Ministry and their partners then can use this information, along with other pertinent data, to determine candidate sites for new schools, and use the government’s limited human resources, as well as those of their partners, to conduct more manageably in-depth assessments and analyses of sites to determine optimal locations.

The new data gathered and added to the spatial data infrastructure through this process would yield near- and long-term local and national benefits. In a sense, this approach would embed a sort of feedback loop whereby the existing SDI is used to inform the reconstruction process during which more data is created, collected, and added to the SDI, thus broadening it and making it more useful for further reconstruction.

Two years after the January 2010 earthquake, it’s time to move beyond the crisis and towards an asset-based approach to reconstruction. GIS and VGI can be used to help establish a research-based framework that guides domestic and international reconstruction decisions and investment.


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One Comment to “Beyond Earthquakes: Leveraging GIS and Volunteered Geographic Information to Build Haitian Schools”

  1. Kate Chapman says:

    I just wanted to mention that OpenStreetMap is still being developed in Haiti today. This is primarily through a partnership between Communauté Open Street Map Haïti(COSMHA) and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team(HOT).

    The is more information about work COSMHA and HOT are beginning available on our website. As well as a look at the past two years.