The inner workings of Liberia’s first election map
Ushahidi Liberia work has been nationally considered a new approach to data gathering, data curation, and a unique way forward for information sharing in Liberia. Covering the national elections using mapping technology has given the rest of the world a real-time glance at what was unfolding in Liberia, from the voter registration process to the presidential run-off election. This post will explain how the elections map was customized to suit Liberia’s needs, and how information was shared using the map particularly during critical times like elections day and the run-off.
The election map, called Liberia 2011 (liberia2011.ushahidi.com), is a one-stop shop in terms of reports, results and all related information
concerning the elections. All reports and results are visualized using maps that show where events occurred, as well as voting precincts, polling places, results per county, and candidates per county and districts. Different types of maps were used to display the different kinds of data that were gathered.
All this was made possible via the Ushahidi platform, an information collection, visualization and interactive mapping tool. The Ushahidi Liberia team customized new features for this elections map, some of which include plugins being used in other Ushahidi deployments around the world like in Libya and Japan.
A variety of tools and programming languages were used to create the elections instance. Ushahidi itself uses html, css, php and Kohana; while with the map layers we had to go beyond just coding, working in Google Earth– creating and working with KML- (Keyhole Markup Language which is an XML-based language schema for expressing geographic annotation and visualization on Internet-based), xls, csv. We also wrote scripts in the Python language to convert information from the Liberian media into KML.
When it came to elections results, we had to wait on the National Elections Commission to announce results. These results were shared via the NEC’s website in a pdf format and we converted into xls and KML files to upload to our Ushahidi instance as a layer. With support from colleagues at the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), we had up-to-date kml files for Liberia and the elections; the Liberia Media Center (LMC) provided us with preliminary results of the elections as vote counting was in process prior to the official results from the National Elections Commission. These are just some of the partnerships that made the elections map possible, demonstrating how an Ushahidi map rich in data is truly a collaborative effort.
To quickly generate election results layers and automate result updates as they changed, we coded a python program that converts CSV files into KML files.
Using this method, all we had to do was receive CSV files in a specified format and then convert them into KML that could then be uploaded to
our Ushahidi instance.
Still eager to ensure our maps were reflecting results in near real-time, we had to come up with ways to rapidly create these layers. To this end we setup a spreadsheet in which we copied and pasted results directly from the National Elections Commission websitehttp://www.necliberia.org/results2011/and these results were automatically concatenated to generate KML. This was the fastest method we had for getting the layers or maps up as soon as possible.
Anyone can embed our maps by copying and pasting the following HTML into their site http://liberia2011.ushahidi.com/iframemap
Online mapping of real-time events has evolved in a variety of ways. For instance, to complement the Ushahidi platform (used in more than 128 countries worldwide), Ushahidi has launched a service called Crowdmap, a similar mapping platform that allows users to set up a free crowdsourcing site with server space so there’s no need to worry about having your own server.
In an effort to more effectively enhance mapping for crises, the Crisis Mapper Stand-By Task Force was formed as a group of mapping experts who could help in times of crisis.
As a member of the Crisis Mappers Task Force, I participated in the Mumbai blast (Mumbai Unites) deploymenthttp://maps.myindia.bz/mumbai/main in which I realized the importance of mapping crisis events in a real time and how, even from a distance, it is possible to reach and help affected communities whose needs are often more fully represented via these maps. Crisis maps created by the Stand-By Task Force also inform responders and members of the affected community about where to go and what to provide when immediate assistance is needed.
In the context of Liberia, the Ushahidi Liberia team focuses on ensuring that free mapping technology is available to all humanitarian, conflict, and peaceabuilding organizations operating locally that want to map their efforts and the communities they are trying to reach.