Calling all map nerds!

A month into my fellowship at CERSGIS in Accra, Ghana, we are hitting the ground running. We are beginning to lead professional trainings in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) at the National Development Planning Commission, which will be the main focus of the rest of our time here in Accra. GIS is a digital system that allows the user to perform advanced spatial analysis and ultimately create maps that make what otherwise might be overwhelmingly complicated data more accessible to policymakers, planners, researchers, or consumers.

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The U-report team goes to Karamoja

One of the highlights of my time in Uganda was hosting a conference with the U-report team to introduce district government and civil society organizations to crowdsourced data. It took a full day’s drive to reach Moroto, in Karamoja (the northeastern region of Uganda). Though it was known for a history of violence, the area is now experiencing peace and growth. The leaders we met from Abim and Moroto districts were very receptive to incorporating U-report data into their decision-making processes.

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Organizations of all sizes making an impact in Uganda

One question I’ve pondered frequently is the tradeoff between working with smaller vs. larger organizations. While being a member of a small team allows you to have greater autonomy and responsibility, you may find your capacity and influence limited. The bureaucratic structure of big organizations may lead to inefficiency, though the weight and experience of a large institution can help you accomplish larger projects. Luckily, this summer, I didn’t have to choose: as an AidData Summer Fellow placed at UNICEF Uganda, I gained valuable experience working in an international NGO’s large country office while being supported by a small team at AidData in Williamsburg and Development Gateway in D.C.

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The End of the Road

What a close to my final week in Uganda! From Monday to Wednesday, I was traveling around the rapidly-expanding city of Hoima and Lake Albert, which are in the western part of Uganda, to attend a conference on monitoring environmental compliance in the oil and natural gas sectors. This conference brought representatives from dozens of several civil society organizations together with government and oil/natural gas sector officials in an attempt to ensure that all parties involved, most especially marginalized groups, benefit from the recent discovery of Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest untapped oil deposits. However, it often appeared that industry groups and the government sought to limit criticism of extractive activities and their negative impacts on Uganda’s citizens. In our guided tours, we saw much of this. Of the 3 sites that we visited, on buses paid for by Tullow Oil, 2 had been inactive for months and the only active site, Kingfisher Field, we viewed from a distance. This gave valuable insight into some of the issues that Transparency International staff face in promoting an open, productive dialogue between citizens, civil society organizations, government officials, and private industry.

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Semi-Independent Research Projects

Over the past week, Robert and I have moved away from lecture-based instruction or guided exercises and have started to assist workshop participants with semi-independent research projects. With each of the participants now able to use ArcGIS to create maps centered around pre-determined themes (usually foreign aid or violent conflict), we felt that allowing workshop participants to make maps that were of interest to them would help to bring the trainings full circle and ensure that they would be able to apply the skills they have been practicing. We also broke up the trainings and created a schedule so that we could meet with each of the participants one-on-one to develop their ideas and make sure that all workshop participants were comfortable working with the software independently.

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