The power of maps

This post was written by Anjali Sarker, SIL intern and student from the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka.

Drawing the boundaries of a large area on a paper and communicating enormous information by putting symbols on it seems deceptively simple. However, the world of maps (not only the map of the world) is worth exploring!

In case of BRAC, a fewmaps exist in the diary, annual report and hang on the walls of BRAC offices. What else? Well, think about a few situations.You are planning to go to a field visit and would like to see as many programs as possible. Time is running out.You need to knowwhich programs are operating within or near that area. You want to find out if there’s anything special nearby that you must visit. It can be a new initiative, a value award winner or any important activity. How easily do you think you can get all the information you want?

Or, suppose you want to know the density of a specific program’s operation. How many ‘Kishoree’ (female adolescents) clubs are there within 25 miles of Kapasia, Gazipur? May be you need information about more than one program, as an example,in how many districts both Aarong and TUP operate? What are those areas? Or, think about different programs operating in an area as a cluster. How can you get more information about these clusters?
At BRAC Centre, it’s easier to meet people from different programs and get information. But how easily can one get information from the field? Some information(i.e. contact numbers, location of offices, number and type of programs operating in an area) are needed by different people very frequently. Do you think such information is easily accessible?

Whether it is about getting a snapshot of BRAC’s operations, or designing a new initiative, or just presenting a lot of information in the simplest way possible; maps can make life easier! As an example, consider the world map on BRAC’s website. The image at the top-right corner shows BRAC’s presence in different countries by marking the locations with small, pink dots. From that map the only thing you can understand is BRAC operates in 11 different countries. However, in this BRAC International map (made in Google Map Maker), one can click on the markers in different countries and get basic information about BRAC’s operation there. Overall, it makes much more sense to the viewers.

Toilet mapping in Mumbai:

A month ago, Harvard Public Health student Jimmy Potter came to BRAC and presented a rapid mapping project which generated a map showing all the toilet facilities in a Mumbai slum named Cheeta Camp. A team from Harvard carried out the research to understand the sanitation scenario in that slum. At the beginning they were looking for existing maps, but they got none (very similar to the situation in Bangladesh). So they decided to use Google Map Maker, a free map making tool developed by Google. By using their smartphones (they had to stand in front of each toilet and locate themselves!) they found out the coordinates of all the toilet facilities. The next step was pretty easy, using Google Map Maker to put 46 markers in a map with all the necessary facts (see the Toilet Map here). The outcome is an impressive map of CheetaCamp with all the sectors mentioned; even the condition of the toilets can be easily understood from the color and specifications of the markers.

Potentials of iCress:

Another interesting thing that has clearly a huge potential to change the way BRAC deals with information is iCress (read a brief description of iCress here). It is a real time application that is currently being used by the legal and compliance department, MANOSHI (the urban, maternal, neonatal and child healthcare program) and a few other programs. Previously, in the legal department, documentation and sending regular updates about cases was a great hassle. Utilizing the power of iCress, now they are using “Casehub”, a legal database that the district level lawyers can access from their own offices.There is a standard online form in Casehub using which a lawyer can easily update the headquarterabout current status of each and every case. Right now BRAC is dealing with 10,000 cases (approx.) and already the legal department has put 5,000 cases in Casehub. Not only the factual information but also important legal documents can be uploaded there, so the management at the headquarter gets immediate access to the documents.

On the 21st floor of Brac Centre, there is a call center that serves a pilot program of BRAC Health Programmein 3 different areas of Dhaka. Using iCress, they can see the whole map of Dhaka City and after every 10 minutes, the locations of particular health workers working in those areas get updated on the map (you can actually see the spots on the map moving and it is fascinating!). At any point of time, a particular health worker’s location is known to headquarter and through the system, text messages can be sent to her mobile with necessary instructions. Without the visual representation of information and knowledge of the real time location of the health workers, it would never have been possible to instruct the nearest available person to assist a pregnant woman in critical condition.

The future of mapping:

At BRAC, maps can be used by different hierarchies of management for different purposes.

Nature of use Tools Potential Users Example
Formal iCress Higher level management (i.e. directors, program heads)
  • Using iCress to see all the program’s locations across the country and filtering information to know about any particular program.
  • Designing new programs/initiatives and using maps to get an overview of the current scenario.
Semi-formal iCress, Google Map Maker Program coordinators Using Google Map to locate resources within a community, sending text messages to all the employees simultaneously
Informal Google Map Maker and other third party solutions (i.e. Maptive) Field level employees (i.e. area managers, branch managers with access to internet) Making maps for the programs/their activities using and updating the program’s work there.

The bottom line is by using free, easily available online tools, complex activities can be done effectively and in an organized manner. BRAC has huge volumes of information in every nook and corner, which remains underutilized and often, not utilized at all. Using maps not only gives the information an image, but also makes it accessible to a number of users by using online platforms. As long as information is in paper form, only a few persons can use that. When something is in digital version, it becomes much easier to share, distribute and utilize the information. The best option is keeping information in an online platform, which makes it accessible to whoever needs it, preserves the information forever and overall, makes more sense if presented in a visual way. Exactly what maps are supposed to do! Enjoy mapping!

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