What is a crowdmap?
A crowdmap is an online tool (a map) that enables individuals (the crowd) to upload locally-based information that on a specific subject. It allows ordinary people to share their experiences (such as sexual harassment, crime, problems with access to water, elections or humanitarian crises) and highlight the need for action to be taken to address an issue.
If properly implemented, crowdmaps can enable citizens to add their information to official data and provide much greater depth to available information. It allows for greater transparency to events that are difficult for traditional media or researchers to adequately cover. It also increases the public pressure for government to take action on specific issues.
Could you contribute to a crowdmap?
Do you have an issue that is bothering you or your community – for example, poor water access, police victimisation, lack of service at the local health clinic? Do you think that putting this issue on a public crowdmap might generate more pressure for public change on that issue? Would you feel more inclined to publicise the problem if it was easily displayed? If so, then crowdmapping may be a useful tool to engage in.
Who can create crowdmaps?
Anyone can. There are openly available online tools which are not complicated to use that enable you to create a crowdmap. For example, the tool Crowdmap.com runs on the open source Ushahidi platform, a Kenyan technology initiative developed in response to the 2008 post-election violence.
Potential benefits of crowdmapping
To generate data: Crowdmaps help organisations carrying out research to understand an issue better and bring about the pressure for change at the national level. For example SACCORD’s research in specific districts into the nature and extent of torture in Zambia led them to use crowdmaps to upload their findings into a public space so that the public could view them easily. This also allowed for sources of information beyond the organisation’s own staff and volunteers ,and the specific districts it is focusing on. Thus more evidence was available to increase pressure for national level change were strengthened.
To mobilise to action: Where an organisation is generating data in order to mobilise at the local level, a crowdmap enables groups and individuals beyond the organisation’s own membership and networks to also engage in the process. A crowdmap, when put together with simple guidance materials, can enable groups countrywide to map their local issues and take collective action by being linked into a larger national movement. For example, the Environment Africa Trust (EAT) is using crowdmapping for monitoring and mobilising on informal dumps, de-forestation and extractive industry projects. Crowdmaps are an effective, visual and interactive way of getting people involved in campaigns that have a strong local action element to them.
Should you create a crowdmap?
First, not all subjects are relevant to crowdmaps – so before deciding if you want to create one, you need to ask yourself the following questions: does my organisation want to generate additional information to better understand the scope, nature and scale of an issue? Do I want to mobilise others to action? If the answer is no to both questions, then crowdmapping is may not be for you. If it is yes to either of the questions, then you’re on your way to creating your first crowdmap.