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IPIS Technical Consultancy

Over the last years, IPIS has learned a lot about data management, statistics and map making, and we’d be happy to help your organisation to do the same. Are you an NGO working with geographic data and looking for some help? Prefer learning from another NGO with similar (mapping) projects to yours than from a for-profit focussed consultant? We can help you! 

What can we help you with

1. Getting started with data processing and GIS

About you

Maybe your organisation has been receiving large data files, possibly including some geographic data, and you’d like to feel comfortable exploring your data, computing statistics and making simple maps.

We’ve been there before

We’ve used tools like Excel/OpenOffice and switched to more powerful datascience tools like R to process large amounts of mining site data. These tools allow us to quickly get overview statistics of the data, and save us from having to repeat the same actions again and again in Excel. Additionally, we’re using QGIS to explore the spatial context of our data and to make simple static maps that visualise its geographic relations.

How we can help you

We can help you pick the right tools, install them together and explore how they work with your data. We’ll browse through your datasets, use descriptive statistics to get to know its contents and help you make a simple map. This is a great way to get you more comfortable with handling your data, and a good first step to using more advanced techniques.

2. Setting up a data collection campaign

About you

You’re planning to set up an in-field data collection campaign, but the number of different tools and approaches seem a little overwhelming. You might have heard about some of the tools other organisations use, but find yourself wondering how they work, what you need to do and buy to set up an entire system and how you should prepare and encode your questionnaires.

We’ve been there before

When we wanted to scale up our mining site visits, we needed to switch from paper-only to digital questionnaires. We equipped about a dozen teams with smartphones and robust satellite phones, trained them on how to use them, translated our questionnaires to advanced XLSforms and leveraged OpenDataKit and KoBo to manage a live data stream of data from mining site visits. This system allows us to collect text, GPS points, photos etc. for a large amount of visits, and maintain an overview of the entries in real time.

How we can help you

We can help you set up the entire data collection system: from the design of the questionnaires over the on-device collection to the management of live data entry. If needed, we can even include buying the right smartphones. We’ll spend enough time on designing performant questionnaires, leveraging the advanced options such as constraints, required answers and grouped questions. We’ll show you how to download forms on a device, fill in a form and send it to the server. If needed, we can also train your enumerators in the field.

3. Processing and analysing large datasets

About you

Your organisation is working with large datasets and you find yourself repeating the same calculations and plots in Excel too often. You’d like to make your analyses more powerful and more reproducible: you’d like to explore better ways to describe your data, and you think it deserves nicer plots which should update automatically when new data is added.

We’ve been there before

For a long time, we’ve used Excel as our main statistics and plotting tool. When we scaled up our data collection campaigns, this wasn’t feasible anymore. Now, we create automated statistical reports with well-chosen overview statistics and print-ready graphs using R and some of its advanced data cleaning, processing and visualisation libraries. When new data is added or a project is extended, we rerun or reuse our scripts and have updated results in a couple of seconds. This allows us to scale up our data analysis, which was very useful in our Mambasa project.

How we can help you

Since R is a programming language, it’s most effective to teach it to people who have some affinity with coding. We can teach you a lot about R and how it can be useful for you in three hands-on sessions: one to get introduced to R, one to do data manipulations in R and one to make reproducible statistical reports of one of your datasets.  There is also the option to follow this up with a session on advanced visualisations in R.

 4. Creating visualisations

About you

You’re publishing a growing number of visualisations in your reports, on your blog or in your newsletter. You’d like to make them a little more fancy, more interactive or more reproducible. You’ve heard about tools that make this easy to do, but you don’t know where and how to start.

We’ve been there before

We’ve been producing a growing number of visualisations using R and have used a couple of online tools for infographics. We’ve been inserting the results into our publications, placing infographics along our maps and posting interactive charts on our website. Encouraging our users to explore our data has greatly increased its impact.

How we can help you

If you want to get started with interactive data visualisations, we can join you to explore your data, envision the visualisation possibilities, pick the right tools and make some first prints or interactive visuals. There are quite some powerful and easy-to-use tools available online, and you should be familiar with them within a day. If you want to learn how to make appealing visualisations with R, we suggest to first familiarise yourself with processing and analysing large datasets in R, and follow that up with an extra session on advanced visualisations in R.

5. Making static maps for print

About you

Your projects have an important geographic component, but you feel like you haven’t been able to study them fully in this context. You’re looking for tools to visualise different layers, to look for spatial correlations or to explore the use of satellite imagery or Open Data. Maybe your publications, or your office spaces, are filled with maps of someone else, and you think your data and your stories equally deserve to make it there.

We’ve been there before

When we stated mapping out mining sites in the vast region of Eastern DRC, we needed tools to visualise our mine visits on a map. We currently use QGIS (and have used ArcGIS in the past) to make maps with multiple layers, including mines, road networks, state borders, national parks and background imagery. During our research, we use the same tools to perform spatial analysis and answer questions like ‘how many mines are within 100km of this park’, ‘which territory has the highest total number of miners’, etc. Our maps are printed and shared with our partners, and available through our map store.

How we can help you

We can introduce you to QGIS, a free and powerful Open Source application for mapping. We’ll teach you how to load data, handle layers, deal with spatial questions and create high-quality print maps.

6. Making webmaps

About you

There are many good reasons why you would like to make a webmap. Maybe you’re writing a story and just want to pin-point some locations on a map for context. Maybe your creating a multimedia campaign where your viewers can read about stories in the field and discover data about a case you’ve been studying. Webmaps give context and invite users to explore.

We’ve been there before

We’ve made webmaps for various projects, and they are an important part of our identity. Our webmaps are used by researchers to explore contextual information about the conflict in the Central African Republic. We also made webmaps that invite users to explore the data behind our mining site visits in eastern DRC. We needed to think about how users would interact with the data and what contextual layers would be useful. We’ve learned how create them, either starting from QGIS projects using qgis2web for simple maps, or starting from scratch using JavaScript, Leaflet and Mapbox, for highly customisable webmaps.

How we can help you

Maybe you just need one webmap and want us to do the work for you. We can do so! We’ll listen to what you want to make and create it, to be hosted on our or your servers. Maybe you want to learn how to make them yourself. We can teach you! We’ll assist you in envisioning the map: what data can be used, who will use the map, how will users interact with the data. Then, we can either teach you how to make a simple webmap starting from a printed map in QGIS, we can introduce you to JavaScript webmapping or we can build a full-blown custom webmap for you.

7. Creating a Web Portal or Data Dashboard

About you

You’re designing a project where data is entered, analysed or consulted using a database, and you want it to work without your users needing to know anything about databases. A simple and intuitive user interface should do. At the same time, you want your users to have a powerful overview of the database content: summary statistics, filter options and maybe a webmap.

We’ve been there before

For our SAESSCAM project, we created a database for small-scale mining production data, and created a web interface where SAESSCAM agents from the provincial antennas can register artisanal production data and transaction at selling points as well as update number of workers on each site or report incidents. Also, on our DRC webmap, we’ve displayed some overview statistics in the lower left corner, that update with the filter functions. It’s just an example of what’s possible using D3.js or other powerful data visualisation libraries. Also, our Open Data portal is a first step into more advanced data sharing portals.

How we can help you

Web portals and data dashboards are always custom-build for specific needs. We’ll sit down with you and think about the entire process: who will use it, what do they want to or need to do, …. We can offer to build and maintain such a tool for you, in close collaboration with you.

8. Building a Data Strategy and setting up a Data Pipeline

About you

If your organisation finds itself processing large amounts of data, it’s time to set up a data strategy. How does data enter your systems? How is it stored? Who can edit it? How is it analysed? How is it visualised?

We’ve been there before

We were passing around Excel sheets for a long time, but ended up with conflicting copies and documents containing both data, statics and visualisation. A cleaner data pipeline helped make our data processing more scalable and the analysis more reproducible. Our current setup includes a simple file server, an externally hosted Postgres/PostGIS database and a GeoServer. A clean setup with many Open Source components also enabled us to provide Open Data with little extra work.

How we can help you

We can help you devise a data strategy, structure your data pipeline and sett up the necessary systems. This has quite some IT parts to it, so you should have one or more tech-savvy colleagues who can join in. We’ll think about where data originates, how it’s processed and where it ends up. We’ll look for the right technologie (databases like Postgres, applications like PGAdmin, Server hosting, …) and make sure your data collection, management and processing tools all work together.

How we like to collaborate

  • We’ve learned a lot from other organisations, colleagues and consultants. Similarly, we feel our accumulated knowledge, combined with our in-field expertise, can be useful for other NGOs. We’d like to help you in an honest and durable way, at a fair price. Maybe you prefer to ask us to do something for you, maybe you’d like to become independent  yourself. Let’s talk
  • In our own practice, we use a lot of Free and Open Source Software such as R, QGIS, GeoServer. It cuts our expenses significantly, gave us access to the lively support of the online Open Source community and opened up new technical possibilities. If you still have to choose your tools, we can certainly advise to choose those. At the same time, we’ve used proprietary software like Excel and ESRI in the past, so we can also help you if those are the tools of your choice.

 

Bonus

Organise a Mapathon together with us!

For a couple of years now, we’ve been organising/hosting Mapathons. They where ignited by the enthousiasme of the Open Source and Open Data people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the past years – especially the volunteers of OpenStreetMap Belgium. During Mapathons, volunteers gather to put vulnerable places on an open source map, which everybody (and in particular NGOs) can use. Interested in organising a Mapathon with us in a region of your interest? Let us know!