"Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much." - Helen Keller
Having a sense of community unites us. Being a part of a community can make us feel as though we are a part of something greater than ourselves. It also gives us opportunities to connect with people, to reach our goals, tell our story and express the things that matter to us. There is no power for change greater than a community recognising its shared goals, stories and discovering what it cares about, collectively.
Of all the tools we've ever created or been a part of, Wazimap speaks to the idea of community the most. Developed by OpenUp in 2013 as a spatial data portal, Wazimap has sparked the birth of as many as three distinct communities. These are driven by shared goals and interests, and by making use of - or in some cases even emulating - Wazimap, have been able to grow and flourish.
These communities include journalists, academics, techies, activists and so many other types of people.
Not only has Wazimap given way to a diverse set of communities, but it is also the perfect example of how our organisation has turned its focus to individualised missions on the back of open data platforms.
A community driven by shared goals
The first type of community that exists within the orbit of Wazimap is one made up of individuals and organisations that see value in the collaborative aspect of the tool. This community uses Wazimap to support its particular objectives, while sharing in the mutual benefit, guaranteed quality of the data, and the potential for new ideas and perspectives that others bring to the table. What is most striking about this type of community is how much sharing really occurs. Wazimap is an entirely open-source tool, which solves a series of usual issues around any sort of development: there are (generally) no significant fees involved; there is a lot of room for flexibility and adaptability; there is 100% transparency, ridding oneself of trust issues; there is a lot of room for an organisation to customise and create something that has their look and feel - while borrowing another's (i.e. Wazimap) functionality; and there is a wealth of knowledge and learnings to be gained from the experience.
Code for Africa's HURUmap is an example of a mutually beneficial relationship that came about thanks to Wazimap. This resource helps storytellers and campaigners use data, and to add both context and depth to their stories. It is built on the idea that civil society should not be using the few precious financial resources it has to build inappropriate technology or to pay predatory consultancies to do the job for them. So, just like its primary source - Wazimap - HURUmap is available for reuse, at no cost.
Then there is FACTLY's Counting India (CI), which is an attempt to bridge the gap between the facts and the narrative. CI makes data related to the states and districts - using census data from 2011 - of India easier to access and to understand. Just like Wazimap, anyone can embed, access or download the data and use it as part of the story they are trying to tell. As FACTLY so beautifully puts it when describing the launch of their very first data-driven tool, "It is a journey that can take you as far as you want, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari with a special set of eyes. Eyes that will crunch the numbers, create personalized data visualization on key demographics and eyes that cannot lie."
Truth, knowledge and collaboration are at the heart of this community. It is also an opportunity for us to improve the original version of Wazimap and in turn, helps others to create even better tools of their own in the future. Without Code for Africa and FACTLY, HURUmap and CI would not exist, but without these tools, the organisations who helped create them would not be able to meet their goals, and expand their networks. Without one, the other would not be what it is today.
A community driven by shared requirements
The second type of community is one that is made up of individuals and organisations that want to publish data they already have access to, in a particular way. Wazimap serves this community by offering itself as a platform on which to create new instances. Within this community, members may find their needs overlapping in a way that helps to shape decision-making and refine the primary tool for the long-term support of this community. While individual members remain distinguished from one another in the way they look and feel, and the data they showcase, they remain linked through their origins: Wazimap.
An example of this is Youth Explorer, a tool that provides facts and information about young people living in South Africa. You can use this resource to compare places, download data and embed graphics in your own narrative. It was created due to a lack of understanding about the realities that shape young peoples' lives, how they change over time or differ from one community to another. Developed in 2016 by UCT's Poverty and Inequality Institute in partnership with us, Statistics South Africa and the Economies of Regions Learning Network and with the support of the Western Cape government, the City of Cape Town and the Centre of Excellence in Human Development, Youth Explorer is an indispensable tool for youth-oriented municipalities, government departments and civil society organisations.
Wazimap GCRO was a project commissioned by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) to package and display their Quality of Life data. It is yet another example of a community driven by shared requirements. Every second year, GCRO conducts a survey that measures the quality of life, socio-economic circumstances, attitudes to service delivery and other characteristics of life in Gauteng. They describe it as a "tracking and diagnostic tool", which acts as an excellent resource for policy makers and the public wanting to better understand where progress is being made and what issues remain.
At present, the tool they use to publish the Quality of Life data is one-dimensional and does not allow anyone reading the report to interact with the information.
By using Wazimap as a template on which to showcase the results from their latest survey, the aim is to make it more interactive and even more relatable to the average person. GCRO also hopes to create a resource that is even more accessible than before.
The members of this community maintain their individuality through their data, but benefit from one another's experiences, learnings and the requirement to make their message accessible to all.
A community driven by shared topics
The final community, what we're calling an 'interest-driven' community, is made up of individuals and organisations that gather around a shared topic. The members of this community may have vastly different or even overlapping objectives, but their interests are all centred on a particular type or source of data.
Water Wazi is a prime example of this. At its core, the concept is to create a portal of water-related data and information. Typically, access to this type of information is restricted in many countries due to technological, legal or political reasons. At a time when knowledge about this particular topic amounts to empowerment, having access to data and information about water gives people the opportunity to address grievances in their early stages to prevent health-threatening situations - and to plan for disasters, such as droughts and global pandemics.
Despite access to clean water being declared a universal human right by the UN a decade ago, a billion people do not have access to clean water and adequate sanitation. There are also very few sources of consolidated water-related data.
Herein lies the need for Water Wazi.
This particular project brings together five different organisations, all with the shared topic of water at the centre of things. OpenUp, Code for Germany and Code for Africa will work to solve challenges faced by the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ) and iLAB partners. The first three organisations will provide the other two with data, and from this, important stories will be told, and actionable insights will be created.
This community shares not only interest in a dataset or source of information, but also in intended impact. Much like the other communities, their aim is to be accessible, provide greater understanding to an issue and to tell a story.
Joining these communities
Do you have data that you'd like to showcase, or skills and learnings you would like to contribute? We'd love to hear from you! Here are a few suggestions on how you can join one of these communities, based on a shared goal, requirement or topic:
- Perhaps you have code or improvements that you would like to contribute to Wazimap? Or maybe you've noticed a bug on the tool and want to offer solutions to fix it? We want to learn from you just as much as we hope you learn from us
- Do you have a dataset that you would like packaged? If this is the case, we can help to create something that borrows from Wazimap, but looks and feels like something that is uniquely you.
- Maybe you're interested in the topics we've mentioned in this blog? Access to water, service delivery in your area or storytelling. We'd like to teach you about how we made Wazimap, and would like to help you create something of your own. Additionally, we'd like to help you expand your network, and link up with others who have similar interests to yours.
Reach out by emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org and don't forget to spend some time playing around on Wazimap! We'd love to hear what you think.