A brand new start up, First Mile Geo, which specializes in developing GIS tools for research in developing countries, has helped analyze and map out the Syrian conflict at the neighborhood level in the country’s largest city, Aleppo. In order to create a report commissioned by the American Security Project, Caerus Associates, a research firm based out of Washington D.C. that specializes in complex conflict affected environments, partnered with First Mile Geo to spatially analyze important issues affecting the neighborhood of Aleppo.
Nathanial Rosenblatt, Senior Analyst from Caerus Associates, noted that Syria is an information rich but analytically poor environment. Over a period from September 2013 to January 2014, researchers from the consulting firm conducted a hyperlocal assessment of the city’s 56 neighborhoods in order to develop a fine-grained understanding of the conflict. Information gathering including a monthly survey of 561 residents as well as biweekly assessments at checkpoints and bakeries. Matthew McNabb, the CEO of First Mile Geo, called this effort the “highest fidelity project conducted on the conflict showing the situation street block-by-street block inside Aleppo over a four month period. We ran hyperlocal assessments across the city’s 56 neighborhoods, then hit play.”
For example, a poll was done to analyze who the local residents considered to be the leader of Syria. Rosenblatt reported that by analyzing the information at a hyperlocal level, they were able to demonstrate that not overall did residents of Aleppo not identify any one person as the legitimate leader of Syria, but that the distribution of those respondents was even across the city, showing a uniformity to how the residents were feeling about Syrian leadership.
The geographic analysis also tracked the movement of militant groups. By geolocating militant groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, (ISIS), researchers could not only know where the group was located but also understand how that group was interacting with and affecting local residents. Answers to those fundamental questions help humanitarian agencies with aid distribution and other outreach efforts. By asking a series of questions and scoring them, neighborhoods could be ranked based on their needs.
More about the Aleppo mapping project can be accessed from First Mile Geo’s case study page on Aleppo. The page includes an open data form where legitimate organizations can request access to the data. From this page, links to the full report on Aleppo can also be accessed.
First Mile Geo has developed a straightforward system that allowed decisions makers the ability to receive near real-time information about changes in Syria and not to have to wait for analysts to produce reports. First Mile Geo’s interface is simple, intuitive, and intended to be “agnostic”, meaning that users can leverage its tools for any purpose. Designed for environments that are low-tech, First Mile Geo’s tools are intended to easily convert data gathered from pen and paper based surveys into easily visualized and shareable online outputs such as maps.