The Digital Agency for International Development

Building TradeMapper

By Mark Skipper on 23 October 2014

We're running a hack day to help WWF build a community around TradeMapper, I'm excited about future of this open source tool for mapping and visualising trade flow data. And, in this blog, I want to give some background on how we built it.

The original idea was developed by Willow Outhwaite at TRAFFIC and Paul Roberts at WWF. Willow has worked hard and enthusiastically to make it a reality. When TRAFFIC and WWF brought the project to us they already had a proof-of-concept prototype; and a long wish-list of features.

We take an agile approach, of course. With Willow as product owner, we turned her wish-list into a feature backlog, and she updated her priorities daily as we explored what was technically possible in the time available.

WWF-UK funded our work from their Innovation Challenge Fund, which they use for time-bound innovative projects that support their programmatic outcomes. This fund acknowledges a level of risk in innovative projects, which enabled WWF and TRAFFIC to take this experimental approach.

Willow has spoken about what she learned from this process:

I was concerned that I wasn't guaranteed a certain output, and that I would be steamrollered into making too many compromises. I was involved heavily in all the decision-making, Aptivate offered excellent advice throughout and were incredibly patient, and I never felt pressurised.

During the software development phase I realised that my priorities for the project were shifting, and it was fantastic to be able to adapt to make sure that the end result was a useful, well-designed product.

A great example of this is branching flows. We worked hard early in the project to merge all the flows from a country into one thick line, with thinner lines branching off to each destination. We made good progress but decided to focus on other features to avoid spending too much time on this at the expense of other important features.

You can try out branching flows in TradeMapper by adding an option to the URL. We're hoping to get a polished version of branching flows into TradeMapper real soon. Maybe you can help.