Humanitarian Reference Maps
Fieldmaps is an ongoing project designed to address the needs of humanitarian field workers operating in environments where data quality is variable, connectivity is sporadic, or where the context changes frequently. It looks to consolidate work that has already been done within the humanitarian community into living products designed for daily use. Beyond creating tools for end-users, a primary focus is promoting inter-agency data sharing. Although the decentralization of field responses provides a great deal of adaptability and flexibility, a global data model can provide a useful framework for showing the bigger picture that emerges between organizations and countries.
The first part of this project is to create a living database that reflects the "best available" reference data from multiple sources into a common format that is easy to use. The approach taken here is to start with a baseline, typically OpenStreetMap, adding national sources that have been reviewed by a UN agency, NGO, or other humanitarian actor.
The first product produced using this model is the Global Admin geodatabase. This database starts with GADM , which provides a normalized schema, and builds on top of this by adding countries which have undergone validation by UN OCHA for use as a common operational dataset ( COD ). These datasets have been reviewed for quality and consistency at the national level, so little extra effort needs to be made to align this with a global model. It can be downloaded right now for testing with desktop GIS software, although the dataset is still in beta.
The second part of this project strives to make highly dense and technical data accessible to the widest possible audience. This comes from lessons learned in South Sudan and other parts of Africa, where extremely low bandwidth and a lack of geospatial expertise made it difficult to put highly detailed databases into common use. A recurring problem was sharing a dataset with tens of thousands of populated places among dozens of field teams, each trying to communicate back complex patters of displacement between specific places.
The first prototype map of this kind was built to pull vector tile data offline for local querying. The usefulness of such a tool inspired regional copies, which resulted in the current set of 31 maps last updated in January 2020. From these experiences, a single unified reference map emerged as the ideal way to scale this type of product globally, prompting the beginning of work on the Global Admin project. It's intended that this feedback loop of practical visualizations informing data standards continue, as the efforts between humanitarian agencies converge to create improved coordination tools for a better response.