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  • Nanthilde KAMARA

5 tips to learn how GIS really improves decision making in emergency contexts




As a data analyst for a humanitarian organisation, one of my KPIs (or performance indicators) are the number of reports I write and how they inform programme decision-making. Like everyone in our sector, I am always overloaded with work and as a consequence, I worked hard to :

· lighten the formats – from the 1-2 pager to 10 pages maximum

· find new ways of presenting data…

· … to make results ACCESSIBLE to non data scientists with enough ESSENCE to help managers make strategic decisions and operational people design or review their programme.


To celebrate the GIS world day, I decided to share with you a practical example and 5 tips to learn how GIS can be used for reporting and how it improves decision making in emergency context.


1. Nobody reads a full report anymore– do you ?





Traditional reports written on word are no more THE tool to use to inform and make a decision!


On top of our daily work, we are OVERLOADED by tons of informations : emails, reports, briefing notes, sitreps, ToRs etc.


Nobody has nor takes time to read carefully all the reports they receive, especially the managers.


And finally, reports take a long time to write, correct, prettify, the added value is close to ZERO, especially when the reports are issued three months after the end of the survey.



2. Maps as a new way of reporting and support to decision making:


You're finding new trends in the reporting, less writing and more visuals: we are surfing on the « visualisation » wave. GIS and mapping are part of the visualisation trend and represent a very powerful tool to inform decision making.


We all love maps but they sometimes can be only « nice drawings » and are not very useful to the programme colleagues of managers because the upstream preparation work was not done.


I led a market assessment this year to identify the best modality for food assistance (different types of cash based transfers or in kind as last resort) in central and northern Mali.

Market assessments reports are usually very heavy: they include a lot of information difficult to digest and results are always aggregated at an administrative level which don't fit your needs : your results are presented at regional level but you need more information at village level for example.


From a programmatic point of view, the length of the report, the quantity of information in the report and the lack of granularity make programmatic decisions difficult to take, including in my case the best food assistance modality to use in your area of intervention.


So this time, I decided to present the results of my market assessment with maps and at village level. We were very careful at including geolocalisation in our survey questionnaires and harness official geographical coordinates' dataset when the survey was done remotely (by phone).


3. Be clear about what you want to represent


Source: Survey sample and food assistance areas of interventions, WFP Mali, May 2020


Let’s be clear with #mappers and #GIS experts : the objective is not only to make nice maps but to focus first on what your maps should say. We are talking about information management here which is much broader than only mapping skills. The map is only one step of the process and not the final one (see below).


Your first step, do not miss it, is to answer these questions: what do you want to represent? What data will you use and combine to create your map ?

GIS experts and programme managers or end users of the maps must work together since day 1 to answer these questions and confirm the types of data to use and to represent on the map.


Do not forget that managers and operational folks don’t always have the technical background and the sufficient data literacy level to define by themselves the TYPES of data to use. GIS experts have to translate their needs of information for their programme or strategy and select the datasets that fit best.


I designed an analysis plan and selected the indicators and data of the market survey I wanted to see represented on a map, usually quantitative and descriptive data : sample of the survey compare to the areas of interventions (to evaluate the representativity of results for my operations), access to market, availability of food and non food items, vulnerable men and women’ transfer modalities preferences, traders payment modalities’ preferences etc.



4. How do you represent your data on a map ?


Thanks to your analysis plan and after discussion with your programme colleagues or managers, you know what data you want to represent on a map.


At this stage, you are working on your datasets, colors, symbols to make your results readable and make the map pretty.



Source: Payment options of vulnerable households, WFP Mali, May 2020


5. Decision making : discuss your results!



This step is often missing whereas it is an ESSENTIAL step in the decision making process.


First, share the draft of your map with your colleagues and DISCUSS the maps to make sure they meet their needs : what does the map say ? what does it mean for your programme ? what would be the recommandations from a programme point of view? Review the maps if necessary after this discussion and add your narrative.


Then present and discuss the results with all your colleagues and finalize the recommendations of the market survey in the form of RECOMMENDACTION :recommendations must be concrete, easy to understand and technically feasible to be implemented.

You can organize meetings with partners in the field (cluster level, coordination groups, authorities and technical services) to present the results and the recommendations and confirm their feasibility or refine the recommendactions if needed.


I discussed the results of the market assessment with my programme, finance and logistics colleagues. Results showed a high potential for mobile money but vouchers system were preferred in areas with a lack of (stable) network coverage or high insecurity. After discussion at the field level with colleagues and partners, we took the decision to pilot mobile money before scaling up and continue with voucher system in remote and hard to reach areas.


#GISday2020 #data4decision #humanitarianaction #future4change


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