Many reasons place is important
The reason for “where” is that the data has way more meaning when it is associated with a place … in fact the value of data when they are not associated with place is near zero. Such data are useful for the promulgation of misinformation, but not for very much else.
A small dataset that is about a specific location can quickly show progress of the place … and the progress of the place can then be related very clearly with activities that have taken place in the place. These data can be the foundation for meaningful understanding of the relationship between socio-economic activities and outcomes in the place.
Another reason for “where” is that data need to be validated. It is difficult if not impossible to validate data when the data are not associated with a place. When data are not associated with a place the data can never be validated … and such data are likely to be unreliable if not just plain wrong.
The spatial dimension
The spatial data dimension is a core element of the TVM methodology. The physical place “anchors” the data in a way that activities, sectors, organizations, projects, etc. cannot. A physical place may be used in various ways to give the data integrity in a way that is not possible with any other entity.
For example … different dataflows from the same place at the same time reporting different things are prima facia suspect and subject to additional validation.
It is just plain ridiculous the amount of data that exist without adequate place labeling.
Think of the number of photographs that have been taken of the situation in Haiti … millions of images, almost all without much reference to the exact place where they were taken. Perfectly nice people are taking pictures to record their concern about the disaster and the scale of the crisis … but without a spatial dimension these data are dangerous. Please also see the observation under Time … The Temporal Attribute
Methods of defining place
There are modern technology based ways of defining place … but maps have been used for centuries without the need for advanced modern technology. At risk of appearing to have a Luddite streak … computer generated maps sometimes take away from good understanding of data as it applies within a community and within a place.
As a schoolboy, a friend and I mapped our school buildings and grounds using compass and chain … very low tech … but it put on the record a lot of important detail. I learned to “pace” out distance with surprising accuracy.
There are many ways of defining place:
Roll-Up to community
For most analysis the community is used. This is the level where simple summary of activities makes the most sense.
- A building address is a location;
- GIS coordinates can be used as a location;
- A block can be identified
- A building location within a block can be “paced out”;
- A block can be located within a neighborhood;
- A neighborhood can be located within a geographic community;
- A community can be located within an administrative area;
- An administrative area can be located within a country;
More drill-down is possible based on the amount of data available, and any indicators there are that might suggest more detail would be of interest.
The data related to a geographic community can be rolled up to higher levels and to the national level
A community may be something other than a geographic community … for example an affinity group … but these may not be automatically rolled up to aggregate.
Place identification using technology
It has become possible using mobile technology to identify location or place simply by using the cell-phone and its built in global positioning software. This may make things easier but it may also create dependency on technology that is not really needed.
At the community level, local people know where they are without much help from technology. TVM wants to use local knowledge and capacity as much as possible.
At the same time, TVM wants to have data that may easily be combined with other data so that a bigger and more useful database is building. At some point local knowledge without electronic spatial references needs to get these attributes added for data compatibility.
Satellite imagery is a very powerful and cost effective way of getting rapid knowledge about an area and an overall understand of the topography. While satellite imagery makes it possible to accelerate learning about any location, limited, of course, to those locations where satellite imagery is available ... there is a big role for on the ground mapping.
Image 1 shows the area around Monrovia, Liberia. The map covers around 50,000 acres of which some 15,000 acres is marsh, and very close to human habitation.
Ground surveillance will confirm whether the whole of the marsh is habitat for mosquito breeding, or just limited areas.
Image 2 shows individual houses in a section of Monrovia. Images of this sort enable plans to be made for surveillance and for interventions. The interventions may be interior residual spraying, source control or verification that bednets are available.
The level of malaria control activity should be based on knowledge of the community and the impact of malaria in the community.
Image 3 is of Stone Town and its outskirts in Zanzibar. It is supplied by QuickBird and incorporates data from both the visible and the near-infra-red (NIR) spectrum. A grid based matrix has been overlaid.