What exactly is MapAmericas?
MapAmericas is an online platform that allows users to easily view and track the results of development projects financed by the Bank and carried out by member countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. It uses the latest geo-mapping technology to show where the Bank’s projects are located. To obtain more information on a specific project, the user simply clicks on the icon, and a wide variety of information becomes available onscreen: the money invested so far, the number of beneficiaries, photos and videos of the projects, and so on.
That sounds cool. But how useful is it, really?
It will be very useful. The project has two key components: project management and project visualization. One part of the program is for internal use by Bank specialists and for countries’ executing agencies—a kind of intranet where both parties can upload and access the latest data on money budgeted and how it is being spent. This makes it easier for the Bank to monitor projects and measure their impact, and for countries in the region to manage their projects with the IDB.
The other facet of MapAmericas is an external platform that the public can access, to have a fuller picture of what governments are spending and what results are being achieved. It’s a good way for the public to learn about the hundreds of projects that the IDB funds throughout the region—poverty-reduction programs, improvements in education, upgrading infrastructure, modernizing justice systems, and so on.
How did you come up with the idea?
For some time, we had been looking for a better way to manage, along with our government partners, the hundreds of projects we have throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. We also knew we needed to do a better job of communicating our results to a broader audience.
This was especially evident after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Haitian ministries found it difficult to keep track of aid flowing in from around the world. IDB specialists came up with the idea of a platform that would take advantage of the latest geo-mapping technology, allowing government officials to easily track projects and facilitate planning. The IDB decided to expand the concept to cover all 26 countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region.
What countries will be included in MapAmericas?
We started with five of the region’s poorest countries: Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Guyana, and we added Uruguay, which hosted the IDB’s Annual Meeting this year. We expect all 26 of the region’s countries to be in the platform by the end of 2013.
How is MapAmericas different from what the World Bank, USAID and other institutions are doing?
Many organizations are taking advantage of the recent advances in digital mapping technology to create data-rich maps. But we believe that MapAmericas represents one of the most ambitious and far-reaching applications of this technology, and we are very excited about its potential. You see many maps on the Internet, but few have the level of detail that MapAmericas has. A visitor to any of our country pages on MapAmericas can choose to dig as deeply as he or she wants to into any of the projects the IDB finances. If people want to see, for example, information on the IDB’s role in helping Haiti rebuild its school system, which was heavily damaged in the earthquake, they can click on the “schools” icon. There, they can choose from a variety of options: they can see how much the IDB has donated to Haiti’s school-rebuilding efforts and how many students have benefited; they can click to see photos of school projects throughout the country; they can read webstories or watch videos focusing on specific projects. We designed MapAmericas to make it easy for people to monitor the results of IDB projects and to learn how projects are impacting the lives of beneficiaries and communities. This is a really sophisticated tool.
Did the IDB design this project all by itself or did it have outside help?
IDB specialists, including experts from our Development Effectiveness department and our in-house IT and Internet teams, came up with the initial design and then reached out to some of the most cutting-edge companies in the geo-mapping world. For the internet part of the project, we partnered with a company called GeoIQ, creator of a geospatial mapping software that allows us to add layers of information drawn from a variety of outside sources.
For the internal component of MapAmericas, which handles the Bank’s management of projects and its interaction with government agencies throughout the region, the IDB worked with Infusion, a software and system integrator that specializes in designing the architecture and design of web-based platforms. The platform they designed leverages a number of Microsoft Connected Government applications, including SharePoint, CRM Dynamics and Bing Maps, as well as Open Street Map, which is an open-source map service that is free and available to anyone who wants to use its very detailed local maps.
So MapAmericas is an open-source platform? What does that really mean?
This is one of the things about MapAmericas that we’re most excited about. We have designed MapAmericas so that as we build it out, we can incorporate more and more information from the world at large. We’re starting by populating the country maps with our own project data, and data from governments. But, as noted above, we’re already taking advantage of free information that’s already available: statistics from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and maps from NASA. We will be incorporating more “crowd-sourced” information, also known as “open data,” which is made freely available by governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), communities, and individuals. Once MapAmericas is fully functional, we will be capable of receiving data sent in by citizens from their mobile phones.
Are you creating a mobile app?
Yes, we are.