Google homepage logos are seen on a wall at the Google campus near Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, California
The World Bank and Google announced on January 16 2012 an agreement aimed at improving the ability of developing countries to access a web-based community mapping tool and data to help better monitor public services, and improve disaster and humanitarian response efforts.
Most developing countries do not have basic local data about where schools, hospitals, or water points are located, and the data they do have is often out of date or incorrect, a media statement said.
"One way to collect this information is to ask citizens directly, and crowdsource the locations of public infrastructure."
Under the agreement, Google will provide the World Bank and its partner organisations - including governments and UN agencies - with access to Google Map Maker underlying geospatial data that includes detailed maps of more than 150 countries.
Through this tool, citizens are able to directly participate in the creation of maps by contributing their local knowledge, and those additions are then reflected on Google Maps and Google Earth.
These maps include locations like schools, hospitals, roads and water points that are critical for relief workers to know about in times of crisis, and will help NGOs, researchers, and individual citizens to more effectively identify areas that might be in need of assistance.
Crowdsourced mapping platforms have the potential to move beyond mapping individual projects, as in the World Bank Mapping for Results Initiative, which has mapped 2500 projects in more than 30 000 geographic locations in all 143 partner countries, the media statement said.
By combining the locations of all social infrastructure and citizens’ feedback, all development partners could better track the contribution they are making towards improving local public services and disaster preparedness in developing countries, the statement said.
"A global community of Google users have been volunteering their time to improve maps, making them more comprehensive and ensuring that they remain accurate as the world around them changes. This is particularly important in vulnerable locations and for disaster preparedness and recovery as it helps citizens and governments to better prepare emergency response plans and act effectively when a crisis hits," according to Shona Brown, Senior Vice President, Google.org.
This agreement also builds on previous joint mapping efforts, the media statement said. In April 2011, more than 60 members of the Southern Sudanese Diaspora joined a World Bank and Google event to help map schools, hospitals and other social infrastructure in this new country.
"The remarkable success of the South Sudan ‘Mapathon,’ and our new collaboration with Google Map Maker represents an unprecedented opportunity to harness one of the most sophisticated mapping technologies. Being able to crowdsource data of schools and hospitals will create both transparency and accountability for citizens," according to Sanjay Pradhan, Vice-President of the World Bank Institute.
Initial World Bank country offices that plan to pilot the Map Maker agreement include Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, DRC, Moldova, Mozambique, Nepal, and Haiti.
These countries are where governments have a strong interest in supporting the use of technology and data for decision-making and community monitoring, and in encouraging projects that support government and citizen engagement in geospatial mapping, the statement said.
The World Bank-Google collaboration is complementary to the Open Aid Partnership (OAP) which is being facilitated by the World Bank Institute and has been endorsed by the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Estonia, and Finland.
The OAP’s goals are to develop a joint Open Aid map to visualise all donor-funding programmes at the local level to enhance aid transparency; pilot its use in certain countries to better monitor the impact of development programs on citizens; and empower citizens to provide direct feedback on project results, the statement said.