13 Apr

Company Spotlight: Gather

By Jessica Devous

Gather is a non-profit organization in London, United Kingdom that collects and organizes geographical data on sanitation infrastructure in emerging cities. Launched in 2016, Gather is working to close the sanitation gap by standardizing geospatial data for various sanitation services, such as clean water, toilet accessibility, and more. Their efforts to homogenize maps for sanitation services will enable local leaders to make informative decisions about future infrastructure projects.

The American Geographical Society was given the opportunity to speak with one of Gather’s co-founders, John Peter Archer, regarding the company’s mission, current initiatives, and future plans.

The team at Gather believes that “safely managed sanitation is essential for people to lead healthy, dignified lives and, in turn, for cities to thrive.” Today, 2.2 billion people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water, and 4.2 billion are without healthy sanitation services. Co-founders John Peter Archer and Lindsey Noakes were eager to work on sanitation initiatives in emerging cities. When researching for their nonprofit, previous maps and geospatial data on sanitation were disorganized. Lacking the essential geographical information for the co-founders to target the gaps in resources, their mission shifted towards gathering and organizing this location data on sanitation in emerging cities. They took the initiative to create a new platform that would standardize geospatial data to empower local decision-makers. By providing leaders a platform within these emerging cities, who previously did not have local knowledge on the geography of sanitation services, Gather collaborates with cities to highlight solutions.

Gather’s mission is to reduce the sanitation gap by providing a platform of data collection and analysis, stimulating communication between themselves, their partners, and local officials. In turn, their goal is to aid decision makers on how and where to improve sanitation infrastructure and services. Anticipating to improve sanitation access for five million people by 2025, they are collaborating with research teams and local officials. Through partnerships and volunteers, they are creating appropriate maps that layer demographics, topography, water sources, flood risks, and more variables that factor into where the gap needs to be filled.

Mr. Archer spoke on how Gather is working to combat challenges in this sector, including geospatial data collection, standardization, and communication in local communities. Gather has three focus areas they are currently developing: Data Hubs, Data Standards, and Sanitation Index.

“Data Hubs” are best described as “collaboration in the heart of areas,” specifically in emerging cities that lack the geographical tools and analysis to promote change. The purpose of Data Hubs is to create transferable knowledge for local organizations to break down. Gather refrains from imposing changes city by city, because they realize that not all local entities have capacity to perform these tasks. They provide local communities the resources to collaborate and make decisions based on their map analysis.

Working together to share reputable data, Gather also addresses the issue of holes in data collection through their focus area, “Data Standards.” This focus area establishes a shared definition of standards for collecting and distributing knowledge on the sanitation crisis. Observing the location of the sanitation chain, and the resources involved in mapping it from formation to discard is essential to eliminating waste. By recognizing the need for appropriate organization of data, they are correcting the issue at the start of research.

Their last focus area is the “Sanitation Index,” which maps the risk and opportunities for the location of their Data Hubs. Analyzing geographical questions concerning population concentrations, slum areas in cities, flood risks, and more the “Sanitation Index” is their latest initiative to visualize the location of their Data Hubs. Hoping to establish their first Data Hub in Madagascar this year, Gather will be able to transform geospatial data on sanitation services in a manageable form for the local authorities to use and improve. In the future, Gather hopes to replicate these hubs in Southeast Asian cities and partner with local and regional sanitation organizations.

World map with fifteen emerging cities from Gather’s website.

While world leaders are pressured to close the sanitation gap, there seems to be little progress due to disparity in the geographical data collection. Gather is trying to change the conversation by raising public awareness of the sanitation gap, but also of maps that fail to target probable locations of future sanitation services. Gather recognizes that local officials do not have the ability to fund geospatial research for infrastructure development. Disparity in geospatial data and lack of knowledge on how to close the sanitation gap moved Gather to highlight this issue. They are taking practical measures to address these challenges through their focus areas. Sharing their success and helping other partners to learn their organizational strategy will create a common language for data standards in the sanitation community and transform the ethics of location data collection in other social organizations.

Creating a new standard in the geography of sanitation, Mr. Archer and the team at Gather hope that their platform will create a technology for the betterment of society. Translating not only within the public sector of sanitation services, but hopefully will later spark conversations on other active platforms for social change.

Gather is located in London, UK and is a thriving nonprofit organization looking for future collaborators, recommendations, and volunteers. If you or someone you know is dedicated to how geospatial data can tackle global issues, connect with the team at hi@gatherhub.org.

Sources: United Nations, Gather Hub