Why Good Geo-Mapping is Worth a Thousand Words

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There’s no denying the importance of having the right information and data when it comes to planning, informing, analyzing, and monitoring and evaluating. How that information is displayed can have a surprising influence on the ease of understanding and interpreting the data. At the M&E Tech Conference I had the opportunity to talk about the strengths of using maps as a data visualization tool and shared some of the things we at Development Gateway and AidData have learned when integrating mapping into Aid Management Platforms around the world.
The images below show two different ways to display funding information about projects taking place throughout Timor-Leste: a tabular report and a line graph. While they show the same information, they each have their own limitations: the report makes you dig for information, while the graph can’t show country context or other data layers.
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Putting this same information onto a map allows you to quickly see which areas are receiving most funding, who is working in those areas, and what kinds of activities they are doing. An interactive map allows you to quickly switch from granular level analysis as shown in Figure 3, to a more high-level analysis, as shown in Figure 4.
Mapping funding information helps planners quickly answer questions such as, “Who should we be partnering with in water and sanitation?” “What other education projects are already taking place in this district?” and “Where should we focus our efforts for improving maternal health?”
When it comes to answering that last question on maternal health, there are a lot of factors to consider, such as which areas are already receiving a lot of help, and what areas have the greatest need – which areas have high populations and high child mortality rates.

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By overlaying multiple data layers – in this case, child mortality rates from the Government of Timor-Leste National Statistics Directorate Office, and information on health projects taking place at the sub-national level – we can see an overview of the situation that isn’t available through columns and graphs.
However, maps have limitations as well. To start using this data for monitoring and evaluation purposes, we need timely statistics data to track the impact of projects on an area over time. Granular impact evaluations require hyper-local location data, which may or may not be made available, depending on the responsible organization.
More results information needs to be made available at a centralized location that can be accessed and understood by all stakeholders, instead of buried within the confines of a single organization.
So far, the Ministry of Finance in Timor-Leste has used maps in their high-level reporting on aid and development in-country, but there is still a missing link. Foreign assistance – which is currently mapped – only accounts for approximately 10% of the development budget in Timor-Leste. So far, government budget data (which comprises the bulk of development funding) has not been geo-located or mapped at that same level. This is something we hope to work with the Government of Timor-Leste to accomplish in the future to get a complete picture of development in country.
Unquestionably, maps help provide a clearer picture of who is doing what, where – but they also have untapped potential. We are eager to blaze a trail through uncharted territory, and begin using these tools to answer the question, “But how is it helping?”
Taryn Davis is a Senior Associate at Development Gateway