By Maurice McNaughton, Director of the Centre of Excellence for IT-enabled Innovation at the Mona School of Business & Management, UWI
Tourism is a vital economic activity, and a significant contributor to employment and GDP for most of the predominantly small island developing states (SIDS) in the Caribbean, which is widely regarded as the most tourism-dependent region in the world.
The “Empowering Local Communities with Open Data and Interactive Community Mapping” project is one of several strategic open data initiatives currently being implemented by the Caribbean Open Institute that explores the potential of citizen-generated open data using interactive community mapping (ICM) as a platform for enhanced community tourism products and services.
Below, we discuss the main components of the interactive community mapping pilot project currently being implemented in Jamaica:
Fill a need
In terms of economic market share, the Caribbean tourism landscape is dominated by large all-inclusive chains, a reality that contributes to some of the challenges faced by the sector, such as high leakage rates (percentage of tourism revenue that does not pass through the domestic economy) and the marginalization of smaller players, including small hotels, guest houses, attractions and craft vendors.
However, there seems to be a growing emergence of a new type of tourist and tourism market that thrives on visitor-community interaction, exploration and exchange. Community-based tourism offers a promising response to this market shift, and seeks to empower local communities as sustainable ecosystems. It is a key component of Jamaica’s tourism master plan and current efforts to diversify the tourism product.
Design a sustainable initiative
Interactive community mapping has been used in various contexts to support activities such as disaster preparedness and response, community asset profiling, and facilities planning and management. However, many initiatives tend to be one-off projects implemented through external facilitation, which struggle to develop the intrinsic characteristics necessary to become self-sustaining.
In conceptualizing our interactive community mapping project so that it was both sustainable and repeatable, we knew that a key enabler would be a systematic approach to training and capacity building. We were fortunate to identify and work with a very enthusiastic and engaged training facilitator named Milo van der Linden, from Dogodigi Spatial Solutions in the Netherlands. Milo helped us define the essential pieces of a vibrant open geodata ecosystem that would sustain our open mapping initiative.
Choose a pilot community
We selected the August Town community in Kingston, Jamaica for our pilot project. August Town is adjacent to the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies and is part of the University Township outreach project. August Town has experienced periods of inner-city violence in the past, but is well known for its rich heritage and cultural history, including being the historical base for Alexander Bedward, the founder of Bedwardism, one of Jamaica’s prominent Revivalist movements in the early 1900s. Iconic reggae artists Sizzla and Etana also have their creative bases in August Town, while the university’s recent August Town film project has created the rapidly growing GATFFEST film festival.
Identify and train a community of mappers and champions
As a next step, we needed to find our enablers. These are individuals who are enthusiastic about technology, know what is going on in their neighborhood, and are willing to map and document what is out there. Working through key community partnerships, we identified ten young people from various August Town sub-communities to become the first cohort of trained community mappers.
The mappers participated in an intensive 5-day workshop where they learned the essentials of geodata for modeling real-world geographical artifacts, and mapping and editing techniques using the OpenStreetMap platform. After completing the workshop, mappers organized into 2-person teams which were assigned designated grid areas to map the entire August Town community over a 4-week period. The mapping fieldwork included identifying points of interest, tour routes, and capturing associated multimedia content in pictures and video.
Promote knowledge exchange
In the short period of time since their workshop and field mapping training, the AT Mappers (as they have now branded themselves) have digitized over 9,000 features (including 4 bus stops, 85 addresses, 1000 buildings, 250 km of roads, and 250 photos and videos). They also participated in a hackathon organized by Developing the Caribbean (DevCA), where they applied their unique combination of mapping skills and community knowledge to address the Zika virus health challenge and placed third.
In addition, they have created their own website and interactive social media presence (Twitter: @ICM_jamaica and Facebook: ICMja), plus a vibrant and active WhatsApp channel for interactive communications.
Leverage open geodata
Interactive community mapping creates digital assets in the form of geodata, which provides a virtual representation of the mapped communities as a useful artifact in and of itself. However, the real value of interactive community mapping is amplified when these digital map assets are created as open geodata and reused to create social and economic value in a variety of ways.
The AT Mappers are now engaged in discussions with a local government agency to provide mapping support for various community initiatives that promote school safety, support community resilience and response to the Zika virus threat, and map tourism assets to enhance the visibility of some of Jamaica’s eclectic tourism destinations. As a feature of the upcoming 178th anniversary celebration of the August Town community, the AT Mappers (enablers) are working with a team of software developers (builders) to use the digital maps as a platform for developing a virtual August Town tour companion mobile app.
Overall, interactive community mapping goes beyond developing the skills to create digital map assets; it includes empowerment and self-belief about the creative combination of technical skills and knowledge that gives our community mappers a unique capability that can be repurposed in so many ways.
We continue to see this pilot project evolve and adapt as new circumstances and opportunities arise, and hope it can be propagated to other communities across Jamaica. We look forward to the AT Mappers becoming pioneers and catalysts for continuous knowledge exchange, training and building a vibrant interactive community mapping culture as part of the emerging open data ecosystem across the Caribbean region.
Maurice McNaughton is actively involved in the emerging open data movement in the Caribbean as a founding member of the Caribbean Open Institute (COI). The COI is a regional coalition of Caribbean organizations that engages and works with regional governments, researchers, journalists, technologists, NGOs, and academics, to raise awareness, strengthen capacity, and foster collaborations towards the adoption of open development approaches.