Ushahidi: Crowdmapping Space and Time


Following the disputed Kenyan election of 2007, local bloggers and software developers concluded that it was necessary to create a tool to map incidents of violence reported by citizens. The result, Ushahidi, is web-based software that enables information collection, visualisation, and interactive mapping through an elegant and simple solution. Users could submit reports of violence by e-mail or text message. The software would then use geolocation and timestamping to create a visual map of all reports.

Researchers at the Kennedy School of Government concluded that the user-generated data in Ushahidi was more accurate and reliable in tracking the Kenyan election crisis than was reporting by the mainstream media. In retrospect, it seems obvious that a highly motivated, widely dispersed group of citizens with a simple way to file reports of violence would provide more useful data than would a much smaller group of professional journalists. That key insight led to further deployments of Ushahidi to map events in space (through geolocation) and time (through timestamping). Since the initial launch of Ushahidi, the software has been improved, released in open-source form, and deployed in a variety of contexts throughout the world.

For example, users quickly adapted Ushahidi to enable reporting on the 15-year war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The tool has been used to map relief efforts after earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, to track pollution reports in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and to provide reports from the Libyan crisis of 2011. There is even speculation that Ushahidi could be used to locate and apprehend terrorists.

In more mundane applications, Ushahidi can show blocked roads and organize cleanup efforts after a major snow event. Indeed, Ushahidi reports that its users have deployed the software over 50,000 times.

From a community engagement perspective, Ushahidi could support a wealth of local crowdmapping projects. Cultural events, crime reports, event locations, citizen unrest, meetups, and more…in short, Ushahidi will support any context in which a local government or nonprofit organization wants to create a spatial and temporal map based on user-submitted reports.




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