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Simple, informative and visually coherent maps can be strong allies in a pandemic: 10 tips to deliver

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These guidelines have been jointly written by CartONG & MapAction.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has impacted in one way or another the work of nearly all humanitarian actors. With the global, national and local dimensions of the pandemic, static and interactive maps and dashboards are more valuable than ever before in communications and decision-making and a large number have been created. As Fawad Hussain Syed, chair of the GIMAC (Global Information Management, Assessment & Analysis Cell on COVID-19), remarked during a meeting with its members: “Everybody has a dashboard now … Every organisation sees it as a visibility opportunity to have a dashboard.”

When so many information sources are available, creating data visualisations that are inadequate or don’t meet a clearly defined need just adds to the noise and may even result in misinterpretation or wrong directions being taken. Sometimes good intentions – such as an attempt to include everyone’s suggestions or meet everyone’s needs in one map – may turn bad, resulting in an overcrowded product that is hard to read. Likewise, a small, innocent mistake, such as forgetting to include the data release date on a map, may also result in wrong conclusions being drawn.

In order to help enhance the quality of maps used for humanitarian response, both during the COVID-19 situation and in the long-term, CartONG and MapAction have put together this quick guide giving some simple and concrete tips on how to deliver effective maps and avoid common pitfalls. Many of the points raised in this document also apply in the context of other types of pandemics, natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies.

Here are the questions that you should ask yourself when producing a map in the context of a pandemic: