Making the COVID-19 Pandemic Visible: The Power of Grassroots Mapping Initiatives
Since March 2020, digital maps have been used around the world to spatially display COVID-19 cases and deaths. Some of these maps aggregate official government data, and others are built with user-generated content. Particularly in low-income communities, where residents do not have proper access to tests, user-generated maps help people understand the scope of the pandemic. Two examples of grassroots initiatives that use maps to make the pandemic visible are Conexão Saúde (Health Connection) and Painel Unificador COVID-19 nas Favelas (Unified COVID-19 Slums Dashboard). Both were developed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, one of the countries with the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in the world. This study describes the implementation of these initiatives, considering how networked grassroots approaches can be effective in locally mapping and managing a pandemic. The findings reveal that the interconnection among mobile platforms, community leaders, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are critical sociotechnical assemblages that help manage a public health crisis that would otherwise remain invisible to the world.