Tuesday, October 02, 2012

I Now Have a Legitimate Reason to Use Foursquare, or a Tale of the birth of the Africa Media Forum for Geo-Information Systems(AMFGIS)

I have been home for the past hour or so mulling in my mind exactly how the day went. Simply put: it was fantastic. This is because for the first-time-ever, I got to chair a meeting impromptu and I actually had a few funny things to say--including wondering how the plot of "Avatar" might have been different if only Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver's characters knew how to use geomatics, which is basically another name for geospatial information technology.

If you are confused, don't be, because geospatial information technology is quite simple. It is about LOCATION, LOCATION, and LOCATION. The academics and specialists will give you long lectures of what it is about--including how it "refers to technology used for the measurement, analysis and vizualization of features or phenomena spatial occurrences, which has an impact on a country's socio-economic development ..."-- and much more. In my view, it is pretty simple, especially for journalists in the sense that it is about using maps to tell better stories.

I know that many of the Ghanaian journalists that were there probably got this sense, but I think it is important to home in on this point: it is to complement more than serve as a substitute for anything stories.

Some might say that I would say this wouldn't I, for I had the priviledge of attending a Trainer-of-trainer's meeting on Geospatial Technologies from 16-18 September in Addis. I partly agree. I say partly because I am still trying to get to grips on what it can do for journalists. I have not quite hit it, but I am getting there. Did I say it was using maps to tell better stories?

Out of the Addis meeting, a baby was born--the Africa Media Forum on Geo-Information Systems, which seeks to "be a leading information; knowledge and awareness-raising platform on “Geospatial information science and technology system for socio-economic development."

Today's meeting--sponsored by the UN Economic Commission for Africa--is the first-ever meeting held by AMFGIS. The workshop comes a day before the 7th Annual African Conference & Exhibition on Geospatial Information, Technology & Applications,-which takes place at Movenpick Ambassador Hotel from 3-4 October, 2012 (http://www.africageospatialforum.org/2012/programme_schedule.htm).

Journalists were drawn from print; online; radio; and television, and included Multi TV's Mary-Ann Acolotse and Dansowaa Awuku; Ghanabusiness News' Emmanuel K Dogbevi; Mawutodzi Abissath of the Information Services Department(ISD); Ghana Community Radio Network's Kumadzra; Ghana Radio's Rayborn Bulley; and CITI97.3fm's Citi Breakfast Show producer Philip Kofi Ashon.

The UNECA were in town to offer their usual insights into Geospatial technologies. Aster Denekew Yilma, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Officer of the ICT and Science and Technology Division and the Director of the Division Mrs.Aida Opoku-Mensah (who is incidentally a prolific tweeter on http://www.twitter.com/AidaOpokuMensah) offered very useful insights, including providing information on the UN Global Geospatial Initiative (http://ggim.un.org/). Most importantly, however, were her statements regarding what the UN is doing (in response to a question raised by a participant).

Aida explained that the UN can only do what the UN member states ask it to do; secondly, if we think about how geospatial technology was used to track Al-Qaddafi, we already know what situation we are dealing with. The issue is that one's sovereignty ends, where someone has access to your domain. Third, there is an issue of intellectual property in the sense that Google has our data. Question is: WHO owns the data that Google has of our digital layouts: is it Ghana that owns it, or Google? These kind of issues are those that will inform the discussions of a meeting that will be held in Morocco at the end of October, including legal and regulatory frameworks for geospatial technologies.

If there is anything we should probably take away from the AMFGIS workshop, it is that elements of GIS are already around us as GIS technology can already be found in our smartphones, what with GPS and all. In social media, there has been a development of location-based social media , such as foursquare, including an increased number of web applications that enable one to anchor tweets.

For me, however, a foray into GIS usage would have to be the usage of foursquare. It is essentially location-based social networking. I don't know how many Ghanaians are on that site, but I do know people do use it to show where they are, and to show pictures to attest to their location.

I want to imagine a world where many more Africans find themselves on foursquare, and decide, therefore, to use it constructively by broadcasting their location--not all the time, but at critical times, such as holidays; when they are in town and witness an accident; when they are in the village and want to showcase an innovation coming from there; during public celebrations; etc etc. While the so-called crisis-management community are those likely to benefit  from many more Ghanaians on foursquare, I want to think that it can benefit us all.

The question, now, is whether our journalists have seized the opportunity to think this way, too. I do not know how many participants are on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, or foursquare, but I do know going forward, it might be important to do a quick mapping of these skills and see how they can be built. In addition, it would be good to know what they think they learnt from the meeting, and what examples they found could be localized.

AMFGIS and geospatial technologies are not an easy sell, but we must all believe it to be useful for development in the long haul and long run.






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