Crowdmapping by the (Sobering) Numbers

Posted by admin on Sep 06, 2012

Editor's Note:  We have, in the past, written about crowdmapping using mobile tech for submission of stories and reports. Crowdglobe recently analyzed data from Ushahidi and Ushahidi Crowdmap instances to better understand the quantity and quality of data submitted to 12,795 Crowdmaps in over 100 countries. 

This guest post by Tiago Peixoto, an expert in the use of mobile tech in participatory budgeting and citizen participation, reviews the Crowdglobe report. It is reposted here by permission. Tiago blogs at Democracy Spot and tweets as @participatory.

For a while, the (quite impressive) number of Ushahidi deployments has been repeated in development circles as proof of its scalability, although very little was known about these various deployments. A new report by Internews sheds light on a number of issues on that front, such as number of participants, areas of intervention and geographical coverage.

Below are a few excerpts from this rather sobering report, based on surveys and an analysis of 12,757 Crowdmaps (highlights are my own):

  • 93% of Crowdmaps had fewer than 10 reports.
  • 61% of Crowdmaps had absolutely no customization at all, i.e., they still had the four default categories and the default report.
  • 89% of Crowdmaps had four categories, including those with the four default categories.
  • 13% of Crowdmaps had 5-10 categories.
  • 94% of Crowdmaps had only one user.

(…) while about 61% percent exhibited virtually no activity beyond installation, 93% of Crowdmap instances reported fewer than 10 reports. In short, the power law distribution was far steeper than the Pareto Principle would anticipate.

Our initial processing shows a vast majority of deployments with little to no actionable data with a slight slope toward the minority with a likelihood of effective and active engagement. 

The more reports a Crowdmap project has, the more reports it seems to attract, leading it to a positive feedback loop.In physics, power law relationships often reflect phase transitions. It is possible that there is an analogous process by which a map project reaches critical mass. If confirmed, this may indicate the importance of strategies to get nascent map projects “over the hump.” This is a promising area for future research.

(…) more attention was given to analyzing the 585 Crowdmaps that had between 21 and 10,000 reports.

The results revealed that the vast majority of these(30%) focused on North America while 18% focused on Western Europe and 16% on Africa. On average, these Crowdmaps had 814 reports.The median number of reports for this set of deployments was substantially lower, at 94, which is not surprising considering that the distribution of this set of cases is highly right-skewed 

An even more important question refers to the number of outputs (Crowdmaps created) and outcomes (impact). The report does not go that far.

But still, it is a milestone in the efforts to better understand ICT mediated reporting (or engagement), a field in which policy is rarely backed by good evidence. Even if these results might come across as disappointing to some, kudos should go to the Ushahidi team for sharing their data for an external evaluation. Having said this, and in the spirit of openness, provided security measures were in place, it would be great if this data could be made available to other researchers to conduct their own analysis.  

Photo courtesy Crowdglobe

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