Where’s Waddan? Missing Maps and cross-cultural voluntary engagement in ICT4D initiatives

University essay from Malmö universitet/Kultur och samhälle

Abstract: In the wake of the Haiti earthquake response in 2010, crowdsourced humanitarian mapping has taken off, and today is considered an essential tool by many humanitarian agencies providing assistance in disaster-affected and under-resourced countries and contexts. But what happens when there is no information on a map to help agencies decide how to respond? If they cannot find roads to take to get there? If they do not know how many houses are in a village? What if the map is – missing? In response to this all-too-common problem, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), American Red Cross, British Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) created and launched Missing Maps in 2014. A crowdsourced ICT4D tool designed to create accurate maps using satellite images, the initiative relies on volunteers – ‘digital humanitarians’ – to participate. So why participate? Previous research has looked at motivations for participation in open street mapping and other voluntary contribution-based tools, such as Wikipedia. Other research has described how to attract people to Missing Maps – and retain them. But until now, there has been no research exploring why people are motivated to volunteer for humanitarian ICT4D initiatives, and no researcher has tackled this subject from a cross-cultural perspective. Here I attempt to answer the question: what are the motivations for people to map? And more specifically, are the motivations of someone in the Global North to voluntarily map different from the motivations of someone in the Global South? In this paper, I outline the results of empirical research in the form of one-on-one interviews conducted across four cities I travelled to: London and Prague, to represent the Global North, and Beirut and Kampala, representing the Global South. In interviews in which a total of 21 participants were asked six standard questions about their interests, likes, motivations and challenges in mapping, I uncover clear differences between the motivations of not only people in the north versus south, but also amongst the young, and even between men and women. The results show that, while people from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds are motivated by a multitude of reasons, young people, especially in the Global North, are more likely to map from slacktivism tendencies given their perceptions of the mapping software’s ease of use. People from the Global North – particularly young women – were also more likely to engage out of interest in humanitarian issues or organisations like MSF. Played right, organisers could groom these young people into the humanitarians of the future. Meanwhile, people in the Global South were more likely to participate for both community and personal – such as career and life – benefits. This partly reflects previous research that has shown local bias to be a strong motivating factor for participation across other platforms. Although people across all four cities expressed some of their motivations to be altruistic ones, those in the Global South were more likely to express this response. Taking these results, I explore themes of how an ICT4D tool like Missing Maps will not change the status quo of inequality in the world, while questioning whether that is important enough to undermine the initiative. I also investigate the likelihood of being able to turn today’s young digital humanitarians into the humanitarian leaders of tomorrow. I also explore the impact of mapping in the Global South, both for those doing the mapping and those being mapped. Finally, I look at what initiatives like Missing Maps mean in the world of communications for development.

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