Spotlight on Recent Publications: Exploring the Hyperbole Behind Crisis Mapping Through Chronic Community Development Issues

By Drew Bush

McGill University Masters Student Ana Brandusescu, lead author on the paper "Confronting the hype: The use of crisis mapping for community development."

McGill University Masters Student Ana Brandusescu, lead author on the paper “Confronting the hype: The use of crisis mapping for community development.”

In a paper published this month, Geothink researchers critically examined the role that crisis mapping software such as Crowdmap can play when used to instead facilitate development issues in three Canadian communities in Vancouver and Montreal. They argue that such platforms hold many technological constraints, including an intrinsic short-term feel that makes it difficult to deploy on the chronic, long-term issues common to community development.

Entitled “Confronting the hype: The use of crisis mapping for community development,” the paper was published in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies by McGill University Masters Student Ana Brandusescu and Associate Professor Renee Sieber along with Université du Quebec à Montréal Professor Sylvie Jochems. Please find the abstract below.

Each of the case studies examined in the paper involved a different set of circumstances. In Montreal, the researchers worked with a community of low-income immigrants in single-family homes who predominantly spoke French. In contrast, one community in Vancouver consisted of young middle-class families living in subsidized student housing while the other was an ethnically diverse low-income community living in rented housing. Both Vancouver communities predominantly spoke English.

“The Vancouver cases had issues resembling crises, for example, immediate rezoning, antidensification, and loss of social housing,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “The Montreal organizers wished to address longer term issues like the recording of community assets.”

In each community, the researchers prepared participants at initial community meetings by using storyboards or comic books to explain the process of mapping. Furthermore, a manual they created helped application managers and community members understand how to manage the application, submit reports (via texts, tweets, Web reports, e-mails and smartphone message), geolocate reports, and handle messages that might contain personal identifiers or foul language. In Vancouver, the managers consisted of community activists while in the Montreal case the managers were part-time professional community organizers.

Although each community differed in their implementation of the mapping software and program, the findings were striking.

“In this article, we explored the reality behind the hype of crisis mapping and revealed that hype through its repurposing to community development,” they write in their conclusion. “We confronted the zero-cost argument and found numerous technology constraints, which confirmed the challenges of introducing a new technological medium to community development processes.”

“Burns asserted that knowledge politics concerns the role of power in developing a map but the politics also refers to the overall hype to which we so easily succumb,” they add later in their conclusion in reference to a paper by a researcher at the University of Washington, Ryan Burns, entitled Moments of closure in the knowledge politics of digital humanitarianism. “If we acknowledge and then work past the hype then perhaps we will achieve more meaningful and sustainable systems.”

Confronting the hype: The use of crisis mapping for community development
This article explores the hyperbole behind crisis mapping as it extends into more long term or ‘chronic’ community development practices. We critically examined developer issues and participant (i.e. community organization) usage within the context of local communities. We repurposed the predominant crisis mapping platform Crowdmap for three cases of community development in Canadian anglophone and francophone. Our case studies show mixed results about the actual cost of deployment, the results of disintermediation, and local context with the mapping application. Lastly, we discuss the relationship of hype, temporality, and community development as expressed in our cases.

If you have thoughts or questions about the article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at