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Business - Written by on Friday, October 5, 2007 11:48 - 3 Comments

Naumi Haque
Interactive Mapping Tools for Social Accountability


What’s more effective motivation for changing someone’s behaviour than shaming? Haringey Council, in London England is taking a page out of the schoolyard bully’s handbook with the recent launch of the Haringey Interactive Heat Loss Map. The Web service allows residents to view how much energy homes are wasting by showing heat loss on an interactive online map of the neighbourhood. The publically available maps are generated using “spy planes” that fly over an area and collect thermal imaging data.


We’ve blogged before about Neighbourhood Knowledge California (NKCA), a visual tool for neighbourhood analysis that combines socio-economic data with a mapping application. This new heat mapping tool is similar except used to depict energy efficiency. Personally, I like the idea. Of course some environmentalists fairly point out that the process used to collect the data (flying a plane over the housing district 17 times) is in itself a large waste of energy, but there are probably other equally effective data points that could be collected for similar purposes.

For example, how about shaming people into reducing household waste? Simply equip garbage collectors with PDAs they can use to record the number of garbage bags collected from each household. Encourage urban development by mapping average commute times in various neighbourhoods. Or maybe show the number of annual smog days in each city or an aggregate air quality index using data from services like AIRNow. Here’s an interesting site that attempts to map the level of CO emissions along a commuter bike route (see image below).


Companies shouldn’t be exempt either. What about groundwater samples at various locations within a state or province to highlight industrial waste and pesticide problems? Planet Hazard attempts to get at some of this by mapping top polluters in the U.S. and allowing users to view the proximity to schools and parks. I also like the map below showing nitrogen oxide emissions from electrical generating stations and prevailing winds – now just add the data to an interactive mapping application.


Neighbourhood Knowledge is a good start, but as more governments begin to adopt similar types of social reporting I would also like to see environmental indicators available to the public. Combined with demographic and socio-economic data, I think these types of maps can be powerful tools for promoting social accountability. This information will be even more valuable for municipalities as cities compete to attract talent and curry favour with an increasingly mobile workforce.


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Denis Hancock
Oct 9, 2007 23:21

From what I understand, grow-ops can be quite easily located by the authorities using thermal imaging data…

But that to the side. Shaming has it’s power and uses, but can be easily misused as well… there’s a fine line to be walked.

Naumi Haque
Oct 10, 2007 11:42

Hmm… Apparently, in the U.S., the Supreme Court has determined that thermal imaging without obtaining a warrant constitutes an invasion of privacy. However, the Canadian Supreme Court took the opposite view in 2005 concluding that there is a difference between informational privacy and territorial privacy and that thermal imaging does not constitute an invasion of personal privacy. Interesting.

I guess this is potential bad news for Canadian grow-ops; however, in BC, where the underground pot economy is a major economic driver, I think there’s little incentive to use such tactics. It’s mind boggling, but the last numbers I saw were from a Fraser Instutute study in 2004 putting the annual value of pot exports from BC to the U.S. at $7 billion – about the same as lumber exports that year. Although, I imagine the rising Canadian dollar is pushing down those numbers somewhat already.

Jan Percival
Jan 29, 2008 17:48

Do you know about any fly-over mapping in the province of Ontario, Canada?

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