Archive for ‘Thesis’

March 18, 2015

Paper Towns

Here is a clip from John Green (vlogbrothers) talking about where the term “paper towns” comes from. It actually relates to the practice of mapping and how the map often informs the space instead of the other way around.

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December 9, 2014

Visiting Researchers

If we can’t go to them, then they’ll just have to come to us. This was our solution to best use the time that I have left before I head back to Canada in mid-December. I was supposed to be a visiting researcher to UCBC in Beni, but instead we brought Congolese visiting researchers to Uganda! Last week two of our colleagues Othy and Archip came and joined the international staff in Kampala for two weeks of GIS training. Both are alumni of UCBC; Othy is a professor with a degree in Computer Engineering and Archip is a researcher at the Integrated Research Institute (IRI) with a degree in Communications. It has been such a blessing to have them here! They are a piece of Beni and have an incredible joy, energy, and hope for Congo that is contagious!

Every day the work has been intense because we have been making up for lost time. The first three days were a review of OpenStreetMap, OSMAnd, JOSM Editor, Garmin Devices, ODK Collect, QGIS, and how to build custom surveys. Next we jumped into training on how to fly the quadrocopter drone that the IRI purchased to use for developing maps from aerial photography. We taught ourselves how to manually fly the copter but also to automate take off and landing and set a preprogrammed path for it to follow. We are now in week two and are diving more into QGIS to continue developing the base map, and working together to develop the UCBC, IRI, and BeniAtlas websites. There is great and exciting work happening here and I feel privileged to be a part of it! I am sad that I don’t get to be there to see these projects through, but am looking forward to keeping in touch and working with the team remotely. These two weeks of training have been a great conclusion to my time here.



Calibrating the drone

Calibrating the drone

Curious spectators

Curious spectators



Flying the Drone

Test Flight

November 23, 2014

The Problem with the News

One thing that has been frustrating about recent events in Beni region is how poorly they are reported on by the media and therefore how distorted the situation must look to westerners. There was one particularly bad article that came out on Reuters and Yahoo a few weeks back that claimed an act of cannibalism without having any witnesses to the event. I was happy to find an article a few days later that countered the article and condemned the practice of using clickbait and stereotypes to gain readership. This is a similar lesson for news coverage of other conflicts around the world.

November 23, 2014

A Look into Congolese Politics

During the recent insecurity in Beni, I have begun following more news of the Congo and reading more materials in an attempt to try to understand some of the complexity of Congolese politics. Here is a blog I found by Jason Stearns called Congo Siasa. He is the author of the book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters that I read a while back. He wrote one post in particular that discusses the recent insecurity. It’s a few weeks old but I want to share it because it does a much better job describing the situation than the news.


October 27, 2014

Around Beni

Here are some photos of points of interest that the team discovered around Beni.IMG_0228




Water reservoirsIMG_0301







Traffic circles (rond-points)1413196357999Markets

October 27, 2014

Sur Terrain


It was finally time to go out in field! For four days we met with the volunteers each morning, everyone partnered up, and we gave them an area of Beni to explore and map. The task was to find and fill out surveys for the following elements and place them on the map:

– roads: name (if applicable), type (primary, secondary, residential, footpath), condition (good, mediocre, bad), and coordinates

– bridges: name (if applicable), size (road bridge, footbridge, crossing), material, condition, and coordinates

– points of interest: name, type, subtype, photo (if have permission), and coordinates


One of the core team members stayed at a meeting spot to collect the phones from the teams when they returned. I stayed behind two of the days and went out in the field the other two days. It was a great experience to explore and see different parts of the city. Beni is a very dynamic and beautiful city and I hope that some of the photos I put up in this and the next post will capture some of the life of this place!

At the end of every day I took the phones home to take the data off of the phones and charge them with the few hours of electricity that I had between 6:30 and 10pm. I printed the field papers on the portable printer that I brought along. It was an exhausting but rewarding week! Credit goes to Jessica, Bora, and Archip for these photos.

IMG_0329 IMG_0315


October 26, 2014

Data Collection Tools

The first phase of my research involves creating a base map of the city of Beni. Before I came to Beni I traced the streets of the city using a program called JOSM (Java OpenStreetMap) Editor that I then uploaded to OpenStreetMap and can open in a desktop GIS program. The map is incomplete because it may have errors from tracing from an image and also because there is no road information such as road types and names. I learned that another important element to include on a base map of Beni is bridges. Beni has a large network of creeks that run through the city and there are hundreds of bridges of all shapes and sizes. Lastly, not many people know road names and so people find their way around using points of interest. Points of interest are also useful for preliminary research of the city, such as knowing how many schools or clinics are in the city. The only way to collect most of this information is to go and find it in the field.

In preparation for coming to Beni I researched methods for collecting data in the field. After exploring and testing several mapping application tools, I chose to use three tools called ODK Collect (with FormHub), OSMAnd, and Field Papers.

  • ODK (Open Data Kit) Collect is a smart phone application for creating and employing custom surveys. A project leader can create the survey using Excel, upload it to FormHub, and then download the survey onto the phone. Multiple field volunteers can then use the same survey in the field. All of the data that gets collected gets saved onto the phone and then can be uploaded to the FormHub website when there is access to a wifi network. The data is automatically compiled and available for download from the website as a csv, xls, or kml file. The application allows for a variety of question types including taking a photograph and collecting the GPS coordinates. It took a lot of work to structure the survey and create all of the questions and hints in both English and French.


  • OSMAnd is an application that can also collect GPS coordinates, but the real strength of the application is that maps can be downloaded onto the phone so that they can be viewed without internet access. Since I was intending to send groups to different parts of the city, it was important for them to have a way to locate themselves on the map. Even a physical map would not be enough to locate oneself since it is very difficult to distinguish which road is which or where the limits of the neighbourhoods are. Since OSMAnd uses the OpenStreetMap base map, field volunteers are able to locate themselves on the map that I traced. OSMAnd also has a tracking option so that we can see where the volunteers go when they are in the field. This is useful if we need to double check the location of a road or point of interest, or see where we might have missed an area. Lastly OSMAnd has the ability to show the areas that each group will be assigned to explore (see last post). I used QGIS to save the divisions as a gpx file that can then be made visible as a layer in OSMAnd.


  • Field Papers is a tool that combines digital data collection and physical note-taking. I chose it so that we would have a back-up in case we have technical difficulty with the phones or need to double check any information. On the Field Papers website it is possible to tile the OpenStreetMap base map into a print-ready pdf of the desired area. Field Volunteers can then take the papers into the field and mark them up at the same time as collecting the digital data. After the data collection is complete it is possible to take a photograph of the papers and upload them back to the website, where they are automatically geolocated because of a scan code that is on each page. JOSM Editor has a plug-in for FieldPapers so that allows the elements to be traced offline.


By word of mouth and text messages, we recruited a group of students who were interested in learning the GIS tools and join us in the field. I originally had the goal to recruit ten to twenty people, but we had thirty students come to our first meeting! We went through an introduction of how to use the tools and then the students partnered up and spent time wandering around the grounds and testing them out on the phones.



October 20, 2014

Map Hunt

The next task of the mapping project was to see what kind of maps of the city already exist. The core GIS team spent a few days visiting the various cadastral and municipal offices that might have information. It was a bit of a scavenger hunt because we would go to one office and they would suggest we go to another one. Sometimes they would be too busy and so we would have to come back another day or book an appointment. We went to the mayor’s office to see if they had any maps, but also to share and get support for the project. They responded very positively and expressed that it was a real need for the city. In our search for maps we discovered that there are no digital maps of the city that use or were created with GIS. At the office of urbanism we found a few hand drawn maps that had the names of some roads and rivers and the neighbourhood limits. It has been quite a challenge to overlay this information and transfer it to our own map. Originally we were planning to use the divisions of the neighbourhoods as the way to assign areas for upcoming fieldwork, but realized it would take us too long to resolve what the limits are. The quarters also vary too much in size. For the purpose of the fieldwork I divided the city into a series of “assignments” of areas that follow main roads and are manageable to explore on foot in one day. Beni Map


October 12, 2014

The Question of Land

One  thing I’ve discovered about this region is that there is a lot of conflict that arises over land. The problem is that there are multiple claims to land from different authorities. There are cadastral claims that are registered with the city, claims with local chiefs, and even ancestral claims that don’t belong to either group. It is a common occurrence that a piece of land is sold even though it already has another claim. In many cases the conflict becomes violent. There is no easy way to resolve such a deeply embedded issue, but mapping has the ability to offer transparency as a first step to reaching resolution.

An example of land conflict is the tension between the Congo Pygmy population and new populations that are moving in and buying land in the region of Mbau, north of Beni. The chiefs of the area are selling land that Pygmies say they already have claim to. Two weeks ago I went with a few professors and students from UCBC to an advocacy event that was arranged by an organization called PAP-RDC (Programme d’Assistance aux Pygmies) in partnership with the Catholic University of Graben in Butembo. Many Pygmy representatives were gathered to express their sentiments about how their land was being taken from them. They were seated in a circle and people stood up and spoke passionately one at at a time in front of a video camera. It’s a very sensitive issue because the Congo Pygmies have been subject to decades of discrimination and exploitation.  The advocacy group is making a video to spread awareness about the conflict from the perspective of the Pygmy population. It was interesting to be an observer. We are hoping to meet with the team from PAP to see what kind of mapping they have done and to learn from their experience of responding to land conflict.

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September 28, 2014

Week of Workshops

This week I jumped into teaching GIS software to the GIS group that has formed at UCBC. For two days I taught them the basics of QGIS and the final day introduced JOSM (Java Open Street Map) Editor and Field Papers. We were able to bring in the test data that the students collected the week before and start analysing it. I also showed the students how I created a base map by tracing a satellite image using JOSM. It is such a cool experience to see the students’ excitement as they are given tools to analyse themes in the community that they were probably already aware of qualitatively, but can now analyse, communicate, and respond to.


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