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Using GIS Technology to Reach Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Populations

By Guest Writer on January 2, 2015

ACDI2Colombian GIS Expert Carlos Julio Neisa is always looking for innovative ways to use maps and geographic data. To him, GPS coordinates can open up a world of possibilities that allow ACDI/VOCA’s Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program (ACIP) team to design better programs.

Ethnic minority populations are among the most marginalized groups in Colombia and are disproportionately affected by violence, displacement, poverty, exclusion, discrimination, and inequality. ACIP, with funding from USAID, is addressing these disparities through its strategic approach centered on building the capacity of ethnic minorities and their communities, state institutions, and private sector organizations.

To support this technical work, Neisa and other ACIP project staff collect GIS data and use that data to improve project planning and monitoring. We recently chatted with Neisa to learn more about this approach.

How does ACIP collect and present GIS project data?

ACIP uses two proven methodologies to collect geographic information in the field:

  • Geographic Positioning System (GPS)
  • Participatory scale mapping

Information is then processed using software such as ArcGIS online and Open Refine web interface by Google. Protection of gathered data is a major issue and one that we are conscious of as a project. ACIP ensures protection of information by limiting access to ACIP employees who require this information to complete their jobs, such as M&E coordinators or managers. We also assign arbitrary codes to each individual so that the information remains confidential.

How are you using this data in new and different ways?

While GIS technology has been around since the early 2000s, and Colombian government institutions have been using it for the past several years, local communities are only now beginning to use this technology for their benefit. ACIP is using an existing technology with communities that previously had very limited data about their members. This serves to give ACIP greater access to Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations and to allow local governments to improve outreach with improved public services and programs in their neighborhoods.

ACIP began collecting GIS data for workforce development participants in Bogotá and urban indigenous families in Cali. We have then mapped that information against official data that tracks socioeconomic conditions, poverty, and availability of public services at the neighborhood level. By interposing layers of data including the addresses of program respondents with socioeconomic data provided by local governments, ACIP has gained a wealth of precise geographical and socioeconomic information about each community.

Another example relates to mapping our rural families and interposing their locations with landmine risk, displacement statistics, and illegal crop cultivation. The data—which is for the exclusive and confidential use of ACIP—allows ACIP to identify the areas where a population’s needs are not being met by community resources. This knowledge helps us to better design our outreach to communities so that we have the greatest impact on these vulnerable populations.

What benefits has the project seen from its use of GIS technology?

Prior to implementing the use of geo-referencing, ACIP technical specialists relied mainly on information provided by the communities through discussions, meeting notes, or often outdated or incomplete censuses. With this new GIS data, we can paint a more accurate picture of the conditions our responders are facing on a daily basis. This information allows us to be more strategic with our efforts by triangulating concrete data provided by local governments as well as targeted communities to accurately pinpoint the areas of greatest need.

For example, when working with six urban indigenous councils in Cali, we previously reached potential communities by handing out flyers or posting information in and around each of the councils’ main meeting spaces. Today, we are able to go door-to-door in neighborhoods with the greatest concentration of displaced indigenous people thanks to GIS data that details the addresses of current residents. This information is also extremely useful for council leaders, since they now possess accurate maps of where their members live, which has helped the councils in the design of their life and safeguarding plans.

What advice would you give to other projects looking to use GIS data to strengthen project implementation?

Geo-referencing technology is especially useful for projects, such as employment programs, and organizational-strengthening initiatives that operate in urban areas. This technology allows programs to better direct its outreach efforts to attract a greater number of potential individuals compared with traditional methods.

It is important to foster close relationships with local government entities, which can provide access to studies, socioeconomic data, and territorial zoning plans. This information helps the program to optimize resources, strengthen its interventions, and more effectively target communities.

Learn more about ACDI/VOCA’s work in Colombia and ACIP here.

Eileen Barber is Communications and Information Manager at ACDI/VOCA.  Based in Bogota, Colombia, she writes about program achievements for donors, partners, local media, and Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations.

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