Engaging global youth in participatory spatial data creation for the UN sustainable development goals: The case of open mapping for malaria prevention

Patricia Solís, Brent McCusker, Nwasinachi Menkiti, Nuala Cowan, Chad Blevins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Practitioners bemoan lack of data as one of the biggest obstacles to progress towards global sustainable development goals. This paper explores a scaled-up participatory method developed by YouthMappers, for creating missing geospatial data derived from remotely sensed imagery in order to contribute to persistent data needs in the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We explore the application of this method to a case related to SDG 3 on Health. We document how our approach centered on creating a global academic network designed to engage and empower university students and their faculty mentors to participate in broader efforts to create open, free spatial data on open platforms to inform humanitarian and development objectives outlined by the funding agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This approach expressly links supply and demand for geospatial knowledge by connecting specific needs for geographic information to specific development objectives in targeted places where USAID works to end extreme poverty. We discuss the rationale and context for the methodology as it draws from and builds upon prominent literature of participatory GIS (PGIS) and volunteered geographic information (VGI). We demonstrate how the mapping of building and road infrastructure in Mozambique and Kenya was carried out in order to provide information for an insecticide spray campaign to prevent malaria and protect public health. Throughout these efforts, steps are taken to ensure spatial data quality and to offer opportunities for youth volunteer embeddedness in mapping tasks and themes in places where students otherwise would not engage with real world data or connect with peers from different countries. We reflect on the opportunities and challenges for how this scaled-up “remote participatory sensing” approach to spatial data creation can inform development projects in the context of the SDGs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-155
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Geography
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Malaria
  • Open data
  • Participatory
  • Remote sensing
  • Sustainable development goals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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