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Geographical Information System (GIS) for Culture

Geographical Information System (GIS) for Culture

What is GIS? 

A geographic information system, or GIS, relies on computer-based technology to produce, organize and analyze spatial information in the form of maps. GIS encompasses database management, mapping, image processing and statistical analysis tools. These tools allow users to see statistical data analyzed in relation to topographic and geographic features and administrative boundaries. 

Although the safeguarding of heritage has always been a central concern of UNESCO, the focus on the use of modern electronic and computer-based information technologies to support this work is a relatively new initiative. 

In his article "Geographic Information Systems and the Trafficking Project" (January 2001), GIS expert Paul Box provides a comprehensive description of GIS activities in a separate set of activities. In fact, GIS is a management and planning tool that cross-cuts the activities in the Trafficking and HIV/AIDS project, mainly by linking existing data sources. 

Questions GIS will help answer: 

  • What is the socio-economic condition of the Upper Mekong Region today?
  • What has been done so far in the fields of human trafficking and HIV/AIDS interventions?
  • Where is outward migration predicted and actually occurring?
  • What types of interventions are appropriate? Where? 
  • How effective are the interventions?

GIS-related Projects at UNESCO Bangkok

Over the past decade, the number of girls and women moving from Myanmar and China's Yunnan province into Thailand's sex industry has increased significantly. Lao PDR stands to become another supplier and transit point for entry into Thailand. In this trade of humans, minority women are disproportionately represented and vulnerable due to economic conditions, lack of rights and lack of awareness about trafficking issues. Such conditions allow trafficking networks easy access to highland communities as well as fluid, constant shifting from one spot to another to target victims. These constantly changing trafficking routes also facilitate the spread of HIV/AIDS infection, and make interventions more difficult to target. 

In order to better inform intervention programme and assess their effectiveness, UNESCO initiated the Social Sentinel Surveillance Project, a GIS-linked system connecting databases with information related to the trade in girls and women from the upper Mekong subreigon into Thailand, rates of HIV/AIDS incidence, interventions and their coverage, and the distribution of at-risk populations (migration, population in sex work), so that different trends may be discovered, recorded and mapped. 

All data generated through UNESCO research, together with data obtained from government agencies and NGOs, are incorporated into the GIS. They were developed into user-friendly products: 

1. UNESCO GIS Maps Collection: The Trafficking and HIV/AIDS project focuses predominantly on the mapping of highland minorities in northern Thailand, including their migration and socio-economic conditions, the incidence of HIV/AIDS, and locations of sex venues in Thailand, including distribution, types and changes over time.

2. The HIV/AIDS animated maps

3. Capacity-building: a partnership with TPSO Zone 10

4. The Migrants animated maps


UNESCO Bangkok, as the Regional Office for Culture in Asia and the Pacific, also increasingly employs GIS as a tool in its other projects. GIS can contribute to diverse cultural management programmes. For example,


GIS ArcView Training Kit

ArcView is full-featured GIS software for visualizing, managing, creating, and analyzing geographic data. Using ArcView you can understand the geographic context of your data, allowing you to see relationships and identify patterns in new ways. ArcView helps tens of thousands of organizations make better decisions and solve problems faster.

With ArcView you can:

  • Leverage geographic data to make better decisions;
  • View and analyze your spatial data in new ways;
  • Build new geographic data sets quickly and easily;
  • Create publication-quality maps;
  • Manage all your file, database, and Internet data resources from a single application;
  • Customize the user interface around the tasks that you need to accomplish. 

The purpose of this training kit is to provide an accessible introduction to Arcview 3.2 as a tool for analysing data. The kit is divided into 2 sections:

  1. Instructor Notes (in English only)
  2. Student Handouts (English and Thai)