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Youth Maps Open Government and Activate Community

Digital maps created by young advocates establish a collaborative space for municipal government and community to work together towards safer neighborhoods. UNICEF proposes a “Five Cities Initiative” to scale its digital mapping toolkit.

What problem are we solving?

When a government official sets out to survey a poor urban neighborhood for baseline data on disaster risks, the job can be nearly impossible. The official arrives into the community to investigate the needs and prioritize mitigation activities based on their limited government budgets. When the scope becomes apparent, fear of how to start sets in and the process slows. Dialogue with the community results in emotional confrontation seeped in a history of conflict and limited development. Even with the best intentions, the idea of accountability for the government becomes as much of a stopping point than a starting point. Last but not least, youth are excluded from the local debate and have a very limited say in how their environment is managed and shaped. UNICEF is solving these issues of accountability, engagement and action by giving local youth the digital power to advocate for a positive change, create empirical evidence on risks their community faces,  and establish common grounds for community and government collaboration on the shared goal of improving living conditions locally.

What is our solution?

UNICEF has discovered that given the proper digital media training and tools, youth can be influential and effective drivers to opening government, activating their community, and driving change to reduce risk of disaster in poor urban neighborhoods. Over the past eighteen months in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, UNICEF has pioneered a methodology which empowers youth to produce digital maps and civic media that convey the exact location of disaster risks in a way that compels action and enables youth-led public advocacy. The maps and digital stories become both empirical evidence and a rallying point for the community, government and civil society to come together and take action.Through February 2013 we have trained over 300 youth mappers covering 11 favelas in Rio de Janeiro and 2 neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, and a new program in Ceara, Brazil is launching March 2013. Youth reports have already led to bridges being fixed, flood walls reinforced, and playgrounds cleared of stagnant water and rotting garbage. Moreover, the turnaround time for fixing hazards has improved and youth become committed advocates on behalf of their communities.

The UNICEF solution toolkit, developed in conjunction with the MIT Mobile Experience Lab (MIT MEL) and Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) contains a workshop curriculum that deploys the UNICEF-Geographic Information System (UNICEF-GIS),a smartphone application which allows youth to collect and share location sensitive reports in a simple, private and secure manner. The digital application creates a map of all reports filtered by type of hazards and risks. These maps become a social monitoring and evaluation tool for governments to track their disaster risk reduction activities. To engage and sensitize the greater community about the youth mapping process, and to establish a methodology for the youth to create up to date aerial maps where they may be lacking, a training module is provided on utilizing the PLOTS Balloon & Kite Mapping Kit.

To increase public attention to their reports, the youth workshop curriculum contains a module on digital journalism. The GIS mapping platform was built upon Open LOCAST, a platform developed in 2006 by the MIT Mobile Experience Lab and designed to promote participatory journalism and to urge citizens to undertake civic engagement. Using the UNICEF moderated youth-friendly public platform, Voices of Youth, the participating youth mappers can turn their reports into powerful advocacy materials, which they promote collectively through other social and local media channels. This results in a successful increase of awareness, evidence, action and monitoring on youth and community related issues. Following the workshops MIT MEL also conducts surveys of the youth to gain insightful usability feedback so that the platform could be improved for future deployments.


UNICEF is a trusted organization that protects and promotes the rights of children. The protection of the identity and personal information of the mappers is of the highest priority. UNICEF has the network to deploy this solution at scale and with measured impact. UNICEF is active in more than 190 countries and territories through country programs and National Committees. Being active on the ground in so many communities and with established relationship with governments gives UNICEF a unique position to bring the needed stakeholders together for this program.

Why Youth Mappers?

Our solution doesn’t use professional mappers and experienced journalists, because young people bring a truthful first-hand and real perspective to the program, making our maps extremely compelling. The government can ignore media and reports created by professionals by viewing them as biased or inflammatory. If they ignore maps by youth, then they are denying the needs of their most vulnerable and innocent citizens who are the voices of the future, as well as potential community leaders.

What is our Next Big Step?

A “Five Cities Initiative” deployment of our digital toolkit for youth mapping and public advocacy at a five country scale. From today until the summer announcement of where the five city roll-out will take place, the UNICEF team will focus on improvements to the functionality and scalability of the youth-led digital mapping and public advocacy toolkit, particularly enhancing the user experience and filtering of the geodata.

Knight Foundation support will allow us to scale up by testing new assumptions on how cross-culturallythe citizen and government interaction improves from youth maps, with an emphasis on youths’ right to participate in policy making.

Specifically we need support for:

1) Monitoring and Evaluation: Producing empirical evidence on the civic impact of youth maps across diverse settings; Ensure quality open-source documentation of code on GitHub; Produce independent assessments which informs future scaling plans.

2) Personnel: Coordinate and promote the program globally; Run trainer workshops; Maintain technical support for implementation; Design and publish an interactive how-to guidebook for the digital toolkit.

3) Innovation: Improve the performance of the platforms, applications, and systems of the digital toolkit; Invest in strategic partnerships, including the MIT Mobile Experience Lab; Enhance the toolkit visibility and integrate with other media channels.

What’s Happening Between March 1st and July 1st?

We will use this space to keep the Knight News Challenge Community engaged and up-to-date on our activities. We look forward to your questions, comments and feedback. Currently we are actively working to develop the following features:

1) Prototyping an “Urgency Rank System”. The number of reports are increasingly growing, and in response we are devising a system to label and rank reports based on severity and urgency.

UPDATE 3/28: The team has begun its work to establish the “Urgency Rank” feature which will bring a new visual way to explore the maps for both government and citizen users. As the number of youth reports submitted to UNICEF continues to grow, the Urgency Rank feature will make our data more actionable, dynamic and newsworthy. Urgency Rank will be powered by an open source UNICEF-GIS Data Severity Index which will utilize objective criteria and an algorithm to give an urgency score and rank for each youth report submitted.

Urgency score ranges will be designated with a color code and label, scaling from blue/low urgency to red/immediate risk to children. Upon receiving its initial score, the report will be placed into a real-time rank, so if a user wants to sort the most critical outstanding risk reports within a particular issue and geographic area, they can do so quickly. There will be ways for reports to increase in urgency and move up in the rank based on new information submitted by verified youth mappers and/ time related or other external factors.

Upon completing the prototype of the Urgency Rank we will share it with our current users and partners for a design review. Later, we will integrate a public voting and commenting system through Voices of Youth. Currently you may view mock-ups of the Map View and Rank View on Imgur or in the photo slide deck above. Please provide your thoughts and comments below.

2) An administrative system that will allow users to create profiles and trainers to customize the layers on their maps.

3) A widget that will allow for a new interlinked Voices of Youth Maps to be embedded easily into any website for sharing youth posted multi-media reports.

4) Various upgrades to capacity and usability for UNICEF-GIS app and website.

5) A “Voices of Youth Maps and Civic Media How-To Guidebook” for streamlining trainings and project implementation as we scale to new cities.

UPDATE 3/29: UNICEF and Innovative Support in Emergencies Diseases and Disasters have officially signed a partnership agreement to complete all of the above mentioned technical development.

Who Manages the Program?

The Five Cities Initiative will be managed globally by the UNICEF HQ Social and Civic Media team in New York lead by Gerrit Beger and Arturo Romboli. A dedicated team with digital and civic media experience including Myriam Dems, Joseph Agoada and Rhazi Kone have brought the toolkit beyond proof-of-concept towards scaling globally. The team continues to innovate and push the mapping program to new levels. UNICEF Country Offices in the selected cities will manage the youth mapping initiatives at the community level in partnership with municipal government and civil society organizations.

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF (USF), a U.S. 501(c)(3)organization, has worked closely with UNICEF for over 60 years to fulfill its mission of mobilizing resources in support of UNICEF’s work, and to participate in coordinating planning with UNICEF and other voluntary agencies engaged in child relief. As Financial/Administrative Coordinator for this project, the USF’s Foundation Partnerships team will serve as the focal point for any administrative or financial issues concerning the project, as well as reporting on the milestones and indicators necessary to successfully reach the program goals. Support by the USF-Foundations team is led by Carolyn Weidemann, and also in coordination with USF’s Communications team.

Who are our Partners? (Updated 3/29)

The open source core of the UNICEF-GIS application to beused for Voices of Youth Maps is built on the Open Locast system developed by the MIT MobileExperience Lab (MIT MEL). The MIT MEL continues to provide us with innovative thinking and technical support. Innovative Support in Emergencies Diseases and Disasters(InSTEDD) provides technical support including design, development and usertesting. The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) provides the methodology and support on the low-cost aerial mapping component of the digital toolkit. Through our UNICEF network we will continue to engage with youthorganizations like CEDAPS in Brazil and GHESKIO in Haiti to help us train and work with youth mappers.

What is your project? [1 sentence max]

Digital maps created by young advocates establish a collaborative space for municipal government and community to work together towards safer neighborhoods.

Where are you located?

New York, NY

How did you hear about the contest?

  1. Knight Foundation website
  2. Word of mouth
U.S. Fund's profile photo
entry submitted by: U.S. Fund for UNICEF
March 01, 2013, 05:02PM
4542 views 23 comments 56 applause Applaud


Join the conversation and post a comment.

March 02, 2013, 10:20AM
On behalf of the team at UNICEF, we look forward to all your questions and comments. Depending on the type of question, you may get a response from different members of our team. If you'd like to learn about the development of our digital toolkit, check out this five minute video about our first mapping workshop and read our February, 2012 Rio case study which includes some lessons learned from the initial five neighborhoods mapped
Joseph Agoada's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 02, 2013, 10:37AM
Scott Eustis's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 28, 2013, 07:28PM
The video shows another organization, Public Laboratory, not UNICEF, doing the trainings. You should probably give them some credit for coming up with the mapping methodology and mapknitter software.
Joseph Agoada's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 28, 2013, 08:43PM
Hi Scott, thanks for mentioning the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS -, a former Knight #newschallenge winner and very cool organization. PLOTS was part of that first training of trainers session you see in the video, but UNICEF with its community partners have been the lead in organizing and facilitating that first training and all subsequent trainings. The UNICEF-GIS platform is not currently employing the mapknitter software you mention. Please also see that PLOTS is credited at the end of the video you are referencing.

The aerial mapping skills passed along by PLOTS at that first training is still being utilized by the community team in Brazil. I have seen first hand how low-cost aerial photography is a fun way to generate data and engage the greater community. We will be sure to give PLOTS a shout-out in our next update.
Scott Eustis's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 31, 2013, 03:22PM
Thanks, Joseph. I'm a big fan of PublicLab, since they've stepped up their work on the Gulf Coast, and I'm very glad UNICEF is continuing to work on community mapping.

Does UNICEF have a mechanism for sharing back what people in the UNICEF program learn about mapping with the rest of us that are trying to figure things out? As a New Orleanian, i'm always excited to learn from Haiti, for example.

Thanks for including the link in yr submission.
March 29, 2013, 08:16AM
As a member of the MIT Mobile Experience Lab we are enthusiastic about the collaboration with the UNICEF team in developing this mapping platform. This tool for empowerment can provide local governments with constant feedback on problems in underserved areas. The initiative is responsible for real change; as a result of photos and comments from the workshops, repairs have already been made. We believe that this project makes use of the mapping technology in a meaningful way and we are excited to be apart of such a significant project. We look forward to continuing this collaboration and we are excited to see what the two teams may be able to produce together to benefit any number of other cities.
kimu Bubu's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 31, 2013, 10:10AM
@Catherine student or youth engagers should be incremently paid, why dont we make a platform where kids sign up then crownfund their funding locally from its community area station. I believe data is power, student/youth is the future which who need more care for their right to quality education and land to a sustainable jobs. This way we build peaceful communities and inclusive. Teachers and parent involvement to education is aligned to data collection for more magnified education. what do you think?
March 29, 2013, 10:04AM
I think this idea is brilliant. Especially coming from an individual who has traveled extensively, and has a Bachelor of Arts in Geography. After acclimating myself with ArcMap over the years, I have found that many local governments and municipalities find this program sufficient to locate such things as emergency evacuation routes, and disaster risks in certain areas. When an experienced government worker goes out to explore a particular area of interest, they already know their limits with an area that is hazardous, and have the tools necessary to navigate around it. I like the idea of engaging youth mappers to raise more awareness in a community. However, what steps are going to be taken to educate these youth members participating in this program to be vigilant enough when they are identifying areas in danger? For example, if they are exploring an area where there is a large gap in an elevated sidewalk like in the picture above, what precaution will be taken to ensure safety when these mappers are out in the field?
Joseph Agoada's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 29, 2013, 12:39PM
Thanks David for this comment. All youth that collect data using the UNICEF digital toolkit must first complete a training which allows them to understand all of the risks and opportunities associated with mapping in the field. During their initial report collection, they are under the supervision of a local NGO which has provided adult trainers for the program. Additionally, youth are never allowed to collect reports alone, a mapping team consists of a minimum of three members; a mobile reporter who captures the point with the app, a note taker who logs details to be added after the report is uploaded to the digital map, and a "look-out" who surveys the scene for potential danger. Our community partners like to call the youth who have completed the training "Street Smart Mapping Ambassadors". The safety, privacy and dignity of the youth participants always comes first.
kimu Bubu's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 31, 2013, 09:52AM
@joseph these student/youth should be aligned to teachers instructions, programs, subjects etc. for out of school youth parents involvement is needed. Increment incentives will lessen financial problem in a little way, they will grab this and work on than become scavengers on landfills.
March 20, 2013, 02:40PM
As the project coordinator for the youth mapping trainers team from the Center of Health Promotion (CEDAPS) in Rio de Janeiro, I have watched this project from its beginnings. From 2011 to today we have already trained more than 200 youth mappers in the areas of civic engagement, environmental education, and sustainable development; we want to do much more. After the 1st round of mapping, we organized a conference with our government partners, at which the youth of 5 communities presented the maps and discussed the risks. Now, we have mapped on 11 favelas from Rio de Janeiro and each of them created their own plan of action, where the youngs Streetsmart Ambassadors detailed which responsibilities for change fall to the government and which fall to the community itself. On the community responsibility, they detailed even more, and proposed activities and strategies to mitigate the risk's spots on the digital map.

Furthermore, we were last month on Eusébio (Ceará - Brazil), doing a Trainning of Trainners over there. Eusébio is a 40k people city and part of the metropolitan area of Fortaleza. Being inside of the semiarid area on Brazil, suffers with lack of rains and high temperatures, which brings different types of risks. Also, the cases of dengue fever is growing on the region. During the TOT, we trained more than 63 people among students, health agents, civil defense, politicians and social activists, the city hall committed with UNICEF and CEDAPS to locally support and advocate for the maps and add the workshop and methodology as part of the school activities. It's a new idea we are testing.
We are bringing a voice and the possibility of civic participation to adolescents in Rio de Janeiro and Eusébio, who then can mobilize and bring development to their homes. Some of these young men and women will become the future leaders of their communities. Yet even more important is the transformation of their relationship with where they live, an increased awareness of and responsibility towards their surroundings through the youth maps.
Joseph Agoada's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 29, 2013, 12:43PM
Ives, the work you and CEDAPS have completed already is truly inspiring. I cannot wait to see what comes next!
kimu Bubu's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 31, 2013, 09:39AM
@joseph what is the next plan? are you going to code a platform where student/youth engagers get increment incentives? say posting a a photo of danger we pay them 1 cents*. We can write up methods to do this sustainable and can cater low income family students and fortunate kids (different incentives)
March 26, 2013, 07:25PM
I love the idea, I believe youth that are involve in engagement should receive increment incentives for their education basic needs. Incentivize engagers is the the way to collect data, your collecting powerful data while helping kids sustain their basic needs in education, If data is power, our youth is our future, Lets invest incentivize youth/student engagers to help their schooling basic needs (food,travel fund,pen,group gadget, free access to wifi etc. anything small that work in a small community) in this way we could Open School for those digital divides people who dont know how to use email, kids teach non tech people in school, 2 days a week 2 hours a day. its a evolving solution always add small improvements.

Let me join your team.
U.S. Fund for UNICEF's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 27, 2013, 10:10AM
Rich, UNICEF thanks you for the positive energy and ideas. To get further involved please fill out the city nomination form, describing why your community will benefit from a youth mappers program. The link to the city nomination form can be found at the top of the proposal summary.
kimu Bubu's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 28, 2013, 02:05AM
Thank you, My inputs is forwarded.
March 25, 2013, 10:37PM
Esse projeto já se mostra muito importante para o fortalecimento da participação de jovens e adolescentes do Rio de Janeiro. A perspectiva de expansão para cinco cidades mostra quão poderosa é a metodologia. Aguardo ver novos resultados! Parabéns para todos vocês que desenvolvem este trabalho!
March 11, 2013, 06:14PM
This looks like an awesome project that is already making a difference in the communities where it's been tested! You mention that you want to expand beyond Rio and Port-au-Prince, I was just curious what other cities you were considering?
Joseph Agoada's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 13, 2013, 05:59PM
Hi Brie, thanks for your kind words. We are currently undergoing a process to decide which five cities will be selected within the 190 countries and territories UNICEF operates. While we cannot name the five cities this moment, I can share that our mapping system is currently available in English, Portuguese and French with a robust, intuitive translation system that will allow us to easily add other languages as needed. In selecting the cities we are looking to form a group which reflects diverse settings. We want to learn deeply from the scaling up process to inform the development of an off the shelf, digital toolkit that will be cross-culturally effective and available to cities around the world.
March 11, 2013, 05:03PM
What I especially appreciate about this project is that it is led and advocated by the youth. This enables these young participants to directly see how their engagement fuels community change and fosters a more honest relationship with government, further teaching them the responsibility of being global citizens. By using this mapping platform, you've created a powerful tool for community to mitigate risks and for the government as well. I have seen and personally used several other community mapping applications, however I have never seen or heard of any that rank their issues by order of importance or immediacy. It sounds interesting, can you explain further how it would work?
Joseph Agoada's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 13, 2013, 05:51PM
Jennifer, thank you for the insightful comments which get to the heart of the civic engagement component in this youth mapping program. We are currently working on the urgency ranking prototype based on inputs from our government partners. When it is ready we are going to post it online for direct feedback. The open source system will take into account both specific disaster-related indicators, mapper inputs, and community feedback Keep checking back on this page for updates on the prototype.
March 06, 2013, 12:30PM
"...The number of reports are increasingly growing, and in response we are devising a system to label and rank reports based on severity and urgency..."

Awesome. I'd be really interested to see how this is addressed within the framework of the mobile app. If this is addressed adequately, then this tool could scale quickly to other cities without having to give much institutional support.
Myriam 's reply to Joseph Agoada's comment
March 07, 2013, 04:37PM
Thanks for your comment Michael!
We firmly believe that an urgency ranking system based on data severity will improve the public advocacy potential of our youth-generated maps. In the near future we will be publicly sharing a prototype of the system to demonstrate how it will function.

Stay tuned!


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