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Geo4Dev: Making Geospatial Data and Tools More Accessible for a Better Understanding

The Geospatial Data for Development (Geo4Dev) Initiative – a unique partnership between academia, NGOs, policy makers and the private sector – will be launched next month, December, 2020.

Geo4Dev aims to drive the development of new data, tools and methods for conducting geospatial analysis across diverse sectors, including agriculture and food security, urbanization, climate change, impact evaluation, humanitarian crisis, and disaster response. It brings together a network of leading researchers, government ministries, NGOs, private enterprises, and funding partners to inspire and support new research collaborations, share knowledge, and build capacity to utilize geospatial data, tools, and approaches.

Ran Goldblatt, the Chief Scientist of New Light Technologies Inc. (NLT), one of the founding partners of the initiative, explains that Geo4Dev is unique in that it serves as a hub for research and training that exploits geospatial data for the targeting, design, and evaluation of social and economic development programs, especially in low- and middle-income countries. According to Goldblatt, it aims not only to make geospatial data more accessible, but importantly, to provide tools and training for those who actually need to make use of it in order to make change.

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Bilal Siddiqi, the Director of Research at the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA)–a hub for research on global development headquartered at the University of California, Berkeley— explains that geospatial data provides the basis for answering some of today’s most urgent questions. According to Siddiqi, Geo4Dev will integrate rigorous research with innovative sources of geospatial data–including satellites, sensors, and mobile phones–and new tools–such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision approaches–that could help reduce poverty and accelerate global development.

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According to Douglas Glandon, a Senior Evaluation Specialist at 3ie, the data and tools that will be made available by Geo4Dev can also improve the way agencies and governments perform impact evaluations to measure the effectiveness of development interventions, particularly when program placement and outcomes can be clearly demarcated geographically (e.g., based on plots, districts, etc.). Douglas also emphasizes the importance of Geo4Dev and similar initiatives in generating widespread access to the tools and skills needed to conduct geospatial impact evaluations.

The launch of the initiative will coincide with the launch of a new World Bank data set called “Light Every Night” via the AWS Open Data program. Trevor Monroe, from the World Bank’s Development Data Group, explains that the data set is the culmination of a several year collaboration between the World Bank, NOAA, and the University of Michigan. The data set comprises the DMSP and VIIRS data catalog published as Analysis Ready Data(ARD) under a World Bank open data license. For the first time in one place, almost 30 years of daily measurements of nighttime lights will serve as the foundation for insights into a wide array of policy and research applications. Open source tools from the World Bank and the ARD community will help transform the data into valuable insights for sustainable development.

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To launch this initiative, Geo4Dev will host a two day symposium and workshop (Dec. 10-11) focused on a range of applications of nighttime light observations in the context of developing countries.

Current partners of Geo4Dev include The Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), New Light Technologies (NLT), the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), and the World Bank. Geo4Dev is actively seeking partners who are invested in expanding the use of geospatial analytics in the service of poverty and global development research.

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