Crowdsourcing Data Visualization Maps

Putting SDG Movements on the Map in Canada

Learn how networks, visual technologies and a lot of personal motivation can promote collaboration on the SDGs.

You want to help achieve sustainable development in your community. You have launched a new initiative with friends and now you are looking for collaborators. You may already have heard of other initiatives that aspire to make our planet a better place. But which initiative would make for a good partner? Who is doing what, and where can they be found?

SDG communicators like us can help answer these questions. They can bring together like-minded people and turn isolated projects into a strong network.

“Put them on the map!” – that’s what the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) decided to do in 2016. Using Google technology, BCCIC created the interactive Movement Map, on which SDG activists can position their organisations and initiatives. Visitors can find SDG-related initiatives in any neighbourhood. With one click, they can access a short description of each organisation and its projects, along with contact details and a link to the organisation’s website.

Some cities boast dozens of initiatives, while some regions host hundreds of them. The choice can be overwhelming! This is why the map designers added a powerful search and filter function, allowing users to find initiatives that match their preferences. Users can search for initiatives linked to specific countries or world regions, to specific SDGs, or even to specific SDG targets. So if you are looking for an initiative focused on SDG 6.1 (“Safe and affordable drinking water”) in the Americas and based in Edmonton/Alberta, then, out of the 319 initiatives registered for Edmonton or 1,275 registered for Alberta, the search function will show you 3 matches: the Change for Children Association, the Haitian Children’s Aid Society, and the Sombrilla International Development Society.

BCCIC is an umbrella organisation for civil society initiatives, development organisations and committed individuals in British Columbia. With the Movement Map, it is helping Canada put into practice one of its international promises: in its 2018 Voluntary National Review on SDG progress, the country commits to “raising public awareness of the 2030 Agenda and fostering new partnerships and networks to advance the SDGs”. 

Creating networks – shortcuts for communication

Pursuing the SDGs is a collective effort: to achieve common goals, citizens, initiatives and organisations need to connect in multiple ways. That’s where networks come in. Networks can become shortcuts for people to find the resources, partners, and inspiration to help pursue the SDGs. While professional SDG communicators are used to operating within networks, actually creating effective new networks for partners and audiences could be seen as a goal in itself. After all, SDG 17.17 calls on us to “encourage effective partnerships”.

“Part of the strength of an online network is that it helps to break hierarchies, so that there is an explosion of networking communication at some point.”

– Rosalind Warner, Member Board of Directors

So how do you get people to cooperate in a network structure? The experts behind the Movement Map suggest some answers:

  1. You need grassroots interest. As a precondition before building a network, local initiatives or activists need to feel and express the need to connect with like-minded partners. The Movement Map actually emerged from a series of roundtable meetings in British Columbia, during which participating cities, initiatives and activists showed an interest in more efficient networking structures and ways to engage with each other using internet platforms.    
  1. User experience is crucial! A good networking platform disguises the hard work behind its creation. It is intuitive, easy to understand, and easy to access.

    The Movement Map developed from a structure that saw volunteers adding local organisations on a spreadsheet. Today there is a large online database with more than 12,000 registered activist groups, initiatives, and organisations. Users access this wealth of data via the intuitive map interface. Operating the Map requires considerable time and resources: BCCIC reviews every new addition to the map; their ambition is to check the data of participating groups at least once every year.

“The most valuable element of the project is the quality of data about organisations. So maintaining data quality is the crucial task.”

– Orton Mak, Project Lead
  1. Do not rely on the internet alone. Network builders need a strong sense of the “real” analogue world and the people who can make the network flourish. SDG communicators need to build personal relationships with a critical mass of local and regional organisations, city governments, and big international organisations who can help carry the network.

    BCCIC started by adding their own member groups to the Map. They proceeded by researching and adding initiatives, non-profits, and charities across Canada achieving the SDGs. They then approached other local and regional organisations, institutions, or administrations, inviting them to share data on their SDG initiatives.

    Some partners of the Map say that, rather than the final visualization on the internet, it was the in-person effort of coming together and preparing data for the Map that actually started a networking process.

“An initiative like the Map has to grow organically. The objective is to develop a momentum that carries the initiative on without you yourself having to provide everything. To sum it up: It is about driving an experience forward and letting go as it catches on.”

– Anne-Catherine Bajard, Interim Executive Director:
  1. We need to raise SDG awareness. The people who could carry the network may have too little awareness of the bigger SDG picture. Focusing on local issues, they may not see the value of supra-regional cooperation and miss out on the potential of sharing experiences and joining forces – a potential which is at the heart of the SDG concept. Of the initiatives integrated in the Map, only about one in ten referred to the SDGs in their self-presentations. Fostering SDG awareness is hugely important – and implies making the case for cooperation.
  1. Collaboration is not always easy in a complex system. Don’t be discouraged by structural barriers to collaboration, including rivalries for attention and resources.

    When BCCIC started to grow their network, they found that there were already regional collections of data on initiatives in many places, but all maintained their data in different ways. In Canada, organisations also face the reality of collaborating across different languages.
  1. Start close to home. Almost all organisations are created by individuals coming together to address problems in their communities. Personal relationships being so important, network building is most efficient close to home: More than 90% of organisations represented on the Movement Map are based in Canada.

The Movement Map has established itself as an important networking project in Canada. BCCIC now hopes to find international partners that are capable to do the groundwork in other countries.

Whether global or regional, networks can raise the intensity of SDG communication to new levels. Around the world today, there are many projects experimenting with maps focusing on different geographies and different audiences. We need to continue learning from these initiatives in order to understand the most effective ways to manage network maps.  

In the end, however, building a networking structure like the Movement Map is about inspiring individual people by creating lightbulb moments: “I did not even know you existed. Now I know you are just around the corner!”.

This post is published in partnership with Engagement Global, a German service agency working on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to engage civil society on issues of development co-operation.

We would like to thank the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) for collaborating on this piece.

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