What Does GIS Day Mean to Us?

What World GIS Day Means to DevGlobal Partners

For those of us working in geospatially focused organizations, the applicability of using geographic information systems (GIS) to solve the world’s most pressing problems is clear. There are communities in desperate need of support, and true impact is contingent on strong partnerships and in-depth collaboration. Employing user-centric design within an ethical framework to ensure the appropriate type of data sharing and engagement across diverse communities and organizations is critical to realizing a more sustainable future. From using high-resolution satellite data and machine learning to derive building footprints for improved population estimates, to mapping potential habitats of vector-borne diseases with free and open-source software, we are beginning to see the fruits of a decades-long push to realize the benefit of satellite imagery and aerial data for all the world’s people. For an organization like DevGlobal Partners, it’s easy for us to get excited about celebrating these technologies on World GIS Day!! 

As part of DevGlobal’s efforts to reduce the digital divide and enable inclusive, sustainable global development, our Geospatial Practice Area has been working diligently with partners, donors, for-profit organizations, and key local and national stakeholders to leverage GIS and geospatial technologies across diverse domains. Among dozens of projects DevGlobal applied our collective energy and expertise in GIS to aid global health programs, such as neglected tropical diseases and malaria, supported regenerative agriculture efforts, and developed an open ML/AI model to strengthen microplanning and emergency response. With a specific focus centered around the use of innovative technologies such as geospatial data, DevGlobal works to align digital strategies across global organizations while emphasizing the localization of efforts through our partner organizations, DevAfrique and DevIndia. We are so excited to continue this work and hope to contribute to a more transparent, understood, and sustainable world. 

Assessing the Geospatial Landscape for Global Development

Though there are numerous global efforts to harmonize data collection, analyses, and implementation across domains, we still find that there are critical gaps which delay more rapid progress. A core focus of the DevGlobal Partner approach is understanding where we already have alignment and amplify those efforts, and reinforce best practices for other industries and global development programs to accomplish more together. DevAfrique and DevIndia are conducting a comprehensive assessment of the geospatial landscape across low– and middle-income countries (LMICs) in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia to identify both governmental and non-governmental gaps and needs. This assessment traverses the entire value chain – from funding mechanisms to the last-mile operationalization of the geospatial interventions in the countries – and provide direct insight into local stakeholder needs while identifying the most impactful opportunities across the geospatial value chain in LMICs. 

Machine Learning and AI for Disaster Response 

Our Replicable Artificial Intelligence for Microplanning project, or Ramp, aims to make powerful ML technology and outputs accessible to communities of both implementers and end users. This is an ambitious endeavor to create a powerful, yet easy to use, machine learning model to detect and delineate building footprints within high-resolution satellite imagery. 

Where people exist, in what density, and how best to reach a community are common unknowns creating significant blockers across health programs, financial services, electrification efforts, disaster preparation/response, and food security. Building footprints, either currently or potentially, form a cornerstone of these programs. The Ramp project’s unique value proposition is in unlocking the ability to generate building maps on demand by providing a machine learning model that will perform well across diverse geographies, particularly in the Global South, with minimal training data.

The Ramp baseline and fine-tuned models are coupled with thorough documentation, Jupyter notebooks, and over 100,000 labeled image chips with over a million buildings digitized for training data. This work benefited from a group of global advisors working in the GIS and global development fields to ensure applicability to local populations, and a distinct focus on ‘ethical AI’ to maximize impact and minimize unintended externalities.

Top-down drone-captured image of rural town with computer generated rectangles over houses

Whether continuing to map the missing millions or responding to the latest crisis, Ramp tools can rapidly delineate buildings, which offer humanitarians the ability to generate data on demand and ensure more equitable coverage. 

User-Centric Modelling and Mapping for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) 

Advances in GIS modelling and computation have paved the way for vector-borne diseases like onchocerciasis and Guinea worm to be mapped effectively via satellite and aerial-based data collection and analysis. We prioritize working with state governments and local implementers, collaboratively mapping out health problems and devising user-centric solutions that are tailored to given geographies, local capacities, and inclusive technologies. By synthesizing publicly-available datasets like digital elevation models and terrain data with data provided by local Ministries of Health, our team is helping to improve how our implementing partners identify potential hot spots where a disease may be flourishing. These efforts can help maximize the limited resources available to both country governments and implementers hoping to affect change in a community. Mapping the areas where an intervention is likely to create the biggest impact is at the core of how geospatial technologies are changing the landscape in global development, and by partnering with local users to create solutions and then transition this capacity to a given region, we hope to further diminish the digital divide.  

Convening to Improve Collaboration

DevGlobal, along with key partners like DevSeed, convened leaders across the satellite industry with experts and innovators in global development for SatSummit 2022 to discuss the state of the satellite sector. The satellite imagery and Earth observation industries have grown significantly since the last time the Summit convened, with advancements in imagery resolution, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and cloud compute capabilities. These advancements come at times of unprecedented global challenges, climate change, food and natural resource scarcity, on top of a worldwide pandemic. There is immense opportunity to apply these technological advancements to solve some of today’s most pressing issues, but only if we work together. It is all our  responsibility to collaborate so these developments are inclusive to the most vulnerable and overlooked populations, are ethical and responsible solutions, advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and address and not perpetuate climate change and socioeconomic disparities.

Please join us in celebrating GIS Day and how geospatial data can help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.