xvi. Imagery to the Crowd, State Department Humanitarian Information Unit, US

Interaction Type Government à Public à Government
Trigger Event Creation of new initiative: MapGive
Domain Open data for humanitarian relief programs and sustainable development / generic mapping
Organization US Department of State
Actors Humanitarian Information Unit
Data sets in use Satellite imagery
Process Manual digitization of roads, buildings, other features; public diplomacy and engagement
Feedback Access to vector OSM data for local and international organizations
Goal Increase participation in the volunteer mapping community and make it easier for users to create OSM data that can support humanitarian and development efforts
Contact Point US Department of State, MapGive Team

Facilitating access to the use of high quality aerial and satellite imagery to volunteer mapping communities can have dramatic results for humanitarian and development purposes.  Such imagery is often prohibitively expensive or only available under licenses that would prevent their broader use.  With this in mind, the US Department of State’s Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU) launched an initiative in 2012 called Imagery to the Crowd (IttC), which makes high-resolution imagery—purchased and licensed by the US Government from providers like DigitalGlobe—accessible to humanitarian organizations for use by the volunteer mapping communities that support them.  To build on the success of this initiative, in 2014 the HIU and the Bureau of International Information Programs created MapGive[1], a public diplomacy initiative founded upon open mapping and citizen engagement. MapGive makes it possible for large numbers of volunteers to contribute to the growing global open mapping community and leverages partnerships in the humanitarian and development communities to direct volunteer efforts to support priority mapping projects worldwide.

In addition to leveraging the imagery publishing workflow developed for IttC[2], MapGive provides an array of support to new and novice mappers in the volunteer community via its website.  This includes beginner tutorials on mapping, toolkits for hosting mapathons, and links to training resources. Since the launch of IttC and MapGive, the US Department of State has supported humanitarian response operations in the Philippines, Nepal, Haiti, and many other locales worldwide.   In doing so, it has partnered with multilateral international development programs such as the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). For example, in the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines, IttC published imagery of the affected areas supported a massive volunteer effort of over 1,600 mappers who contributed nearly 5 million imagery-based edits to OpenStreetMap (OSM) under a task from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.  These edits provided detailed information on the location and extent of pre-event infrastructure and provided the basis for a preliminary damage assessment.  As is the case in the aftermath of other natural disasters, organizations like UNOCHA, MapAction, the World Bank, the American Red Cross, and others used the OSM data created through these efforts for the humanitarian response.  Another project, implemented in partnership with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and USAID, organized volunteers in Nepal, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom to digitize roads and building footprints in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal.  Kathmandu is one of the most seismically at-risk cities in the world and the data created through this program helped inform an earthquake retrofitting program led by the Government of Nepal and disaster response planning by USAID, which ultimately played a critical role in the response to the 2015 earthquake.

These examples demonstrate that sharing U.S. Government purchased imagery with volunteer mapping communities has resulted in the creation of valuable spatial data that is accessible to governments, international agencies, and the public.  Moreover, technical and policy efforts at the Department resulted in an increase of the speed and quality with which imagery is served to the volunteer mapping community. The technical workflow for processing and managing the imagery is available on the Department’s GitHub page[3] and is completely open source. At the programmatic level, in cases like USAID’s work in Nepal, this also becomes a full-cycle example where a US Government agency makes direct use of the data created as a result of the imagery release. In other instances the users are UN agencies or not-for-profit organizations working towards primarily humanitarian ends.

Main lessons:

  • US Department of State created an initiative called MapGive to grow the volunteer mapping community and publish high resolution imagery, purchased and licensed by the US Government, for usage by humanitarian organizations and volunteer mapping communities.
  • Numerous humanitarian and development programs throughout the world have partnered with MapGive under circumstances such as responses to natural disasters, the earthquake retrofitting program in Kathmandu, PEPFAR supply-chain management, and PMI malaria reduction campaigns.
  • The HIU developed a robust open-source methodology for imagery processing and hosting within the OSM Tasking Manager (tasks.hotosm.org).
  • MapGive has achieved demonstrable results by creating projects that produce data for usage by the USG and its international partners.
  • MapGive was included in the Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review and the Open Government Partnership’s Third National Action Plan, which are recent fundamental US Government policy documents on open data, open government, and diplomacy.

[1] https://mapgive.state.gov/

[2] https://mapgive.state.gov/ittc/

[3] https://github.com/USStateDept