Our involvement really depends on what the country needs and where they’re trying to go; we try to figure out how to get them there.
“If you’re doing an emergency response—to a hurricane or earthquake, for example—aid workers need to have maps of where the impact is and know how many people were affected, what the path of the storm was and how big the devastation was,” says Payne. “Most developing countries don’t have the kinds of data sets that the U.S. has, though. Their geographic and governmental boundaries tend to change more than ours do. So, it becomes an issue of getting all the relief workers to refer to the same city in the same place, to know which local governments they need to liaise with and to know where territorial boundaries are.”
But gathering and compiling all the information into a comprehensive system is a challenge, especially because a country in crisis tends to lack resources and personnel. Payne and her team step in to fill those data voids.
“If they don’t have staff in the office, they can send data to us and have us do the vetting a technician normally would do. If they don’t have the capacity to train people on how to gather and input the information, we can go out into the field and do training with them,” she says. “Our involvement really depends on what the country needs and where they’re trying to go; we try to figure out how to get them there.”
We’re incredibly fortunate to be born in a rich country, and we have a responsibility to bring up those around us. It’s the right thing to do.
That often means creating data sets, setting up an online service where people from different agencies can access data, or analyzing data and helping to develop plans for emergency aid operations.
Through her partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, Payne has traveled the globe training people on the best practices for managing and using geographical and population information. The more she does it, the stronger she believes in what she’s doing.
“We live in a global world,” Payne says. “We need partners. We need alliances. We need those relationships with other countries, and they come from doing things like this. We’re incredibly fortunate to be born in a rich country, and we have a responsibility to bring up those around us. It’s the right thing to do.”