Mercy Corps simplifies GIS with ActivityInfo in Somalia

Last week, Alex spoke with Umikaltuma Ibrahim and Eric Omwanza from Mercy Corps Somalia to understand how they were using ActivityInfo.

Background

Mercy Corps have been working in Somalia since 2005, two decades of civil strife and extremism have resulted in a displaced population that relies on humanitarian and government interventions to survive. Mercy Corps in Somalia have a wide remit, not just focusing on emergency response but on Conflict & Governance, forming peace committees to help communities resolve clan disputes and provide mediation services. They also work on engaging local groups in environmental initiatives such as rehabilitating garbage pits, planting tree nurseries and launching a “reduce, reuse and recycle” campaign to promote climate-friendly economic development. In addition, Mercy Corps also work with Children & Youth to increase education, economic and civic participation opportunities for Somali youth to reduce instability. Mercy Corps have a long tradition of using GIS on their projects, and are well versed in using GIS for disaster response, project planning, estimates, M&E, public information and donor reporting.

The Problem

Coordinating a complex project of this type, across multiple regions requires excellent data, especially for GIS purposes. The country office is located in Hargeisa with field offices in Bosaso, Mogadishu, Garowe and Galkayo and 2 additional satellite offices in Somalia. Mercy Corps are also supported by the regional office in Nairobi. The Somalia team of approximately 120 professionals consists of 85% Somali nationals supported by international staff. Without a centralized, on-line system, information collected by project officers in the field was manually collated and verified by the M &E team before being passed to the GIS team. This meant delays in the production of geographical data that could otherwise be used to support the program. Additionally, GIS co-ordinates were sometimes unavailable, and the GIS team found it difficult to map data to a specific location. Consequently, the GIS team had to spend a lot of time on messing with data, rather than creating GIS information that could be used to analyze, inform and plan the program.

The Solution

Whilst in the process of creating their own on-line M&E system, Mercy Corps discovered ActivityInfo. They immediately recognized the benefits of using ActivityInfo over a bespoke system and, in particular, the advantage of the built-in GIS components.

ActivityInfo is able to record, analyze and systematize diverse data including satellite imagery, topography base maps, spatial data and photographs. Mercy Corps uses ActivityInfo to validate GPS data collected in the field against the administrative boundaries in which project sites are located.

“I created some zones so any coordinate that was linked to that [administrative] boundary could not fall outside of the area. This was very useful as it reduced the amount of work we had to do as GIS officers”

Locking the GIS co-ordinates has allowed the GIS team to focus on providing maps and detailed data analysis to support the wide range of Mercy Corps programming in Somalia, increasing the value that GIS can add to the program. The information produced by ActivityInfo is then be used in Annual and Quarterly Reports, to visually explain and evidence the work undertaken.

“Having the data there, and creating (GIS) reports immediately, exporting it into a pdf and incorporating it into an annual or quarterly report is a very, very important feature”

Advantages

“ActivityInfo really simplifies GIS in the way that we collect and present of data”

ActivityInfo’s GIS components provide a commonly understood and powerful framework for collecting, organizing, and managing structured data. ActivityInfo allows the different types of data stored in the central database to be displayed on maps, allowing complex information to be summarized simply and clearly.

The visual display of information can reveal patterns and relationship that may not be apparent in tabular displays.

ActivityInfo & GIS can assist program objectives through project planning, estimate creation, monitoring and evaluation, public information and donor reporting. Better quality data available for GIS use, due to ActivityInfo’s centralized data collection & recording methods.

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