Vast regions of the world are unmapped by commercial services, and communities living there are digitally invisible. Visible Communities is a system that combines what local people using smartphones see on the ground with what computers can detect from satellite images, to create an interactive map at a fine resolution that continuously improves. The map captures both spatial and social data: houses and the paths connecting them, and the households living there and their relationships.
Enabling communities to put themselves on the map is a powerful way to increase their own visibility, and in turn serves institutional needs to improve infrastructure planning and humanitarian aid delivery. Existing approaches to do community-driven mapping either require outside experts to facilitate, or the results are lower-tech and not easy to keep up to date. In collaboration with Partners in Health (PIH), and supported by the MIT Tata Center, we are piloting this social machine in a sparsely populated, hilly region with a Community Health Worker (CHW) network in Burera, Rwanda.
The smartphone app enables CHWs to self-map their communities. We are intentionally designing an intuitive pre-literacy touch interface, enabling a wide range of users to participate without training. By removing barriers for people at the base of the socio-economic pyramid and designing with social dynamics in mind, we hope to unlock existing, self-motivated human potential.