Product Development

Maps for the People, by the People

Participatory mapping can provide new insights into local communities, both for international organizations and for the communities themselves. Caerus is working to extend open source mapping techniques to frontier areas and communities without consistent access to technology.

Advances in mapping software are making increasingly complex layers of information simple and usable. The extreme specificity of modern mapping opens up new opportunities; the availability of street-by-street information can allow local communities worldwide to better understand their surroundings and advocate for their needs. However, the advances offered by GIS are limited by the available technical infrastructure; potential mappers often require GIS devices, computers, and consistent access to the internet. Caerus is working with Stamen Design to push the boundaries of participatory mapping. Field Papers is a project designed to allow communities with the least access to technology to engage with their environment and promote their interests.

Caerus is collaborating with Stamen to update and expand their groundbreaking mapping program, Walking Papers. Walking Papers allows people to contribute to Open Street Maps while offline. Users print out local maps, mark them with pen or pencil, and upload them to the internet. Stamen then codes the markings on the maps, transferring the information from the paper to Open Street Map, an open source GIS.

We are working together with Stamen to expand Walking Papers to frontier environments. Once completely realized, Field Papers will have three unique advantages. First, Field Papers will be an open source software platform; all of its information will be freely available to the public.

Second, because Field Papers is a paper-based system, residents in technically underserved communities can easily use it. The rapid penetration of mobile technology in even the most underserved areas will allow locals to mark maps and use their cell-phones to send pictures of their markings for uploading. Field Papers’ combination of paper and open source software will let traditionally underserved communities have a larger say in the way their communities are understood.

Finally, because Field Papers uses paper to record data, it can accommodate a much broader range of information than normal GIS collection methods. Respondents can note not only the location of buildings, but also their perceptions of the territory they live in. Field Papers can record tribal boundaries, help settle land use cases, or chart the rise and fall of floodwaters. It can even map local perceptions of safe and unsafe areas. This level of detail could provide a continuously shifting picture of a local community, as understood by its residents. Armed with this information, communities could better advocate for their unique needs, and international donors and development agencies could better tailor their interventions to the reality on the ground.

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