Community Land Mapping and the Navigation Satellite Revolution

New America

12/05/2018 - 12:30 to 14:00

The rapidly improving accuracy of satellite navigation in mobile devices can help to democratize land surveying throughout the developing world. How can field practitioners best utilize this tech to implement community mapping initiatives and formalize property rights?

Across the developing world nearly a billion people live without legal title to their land. In order to formalize this property, governments need to issue titles and create secure registries in which to record them. Mapping informal land at scale, and especially delineating one person’s property from another’s is a serious technical challenge.

This challenge is all but insurmountable if approached with conventional methods. Professional surveying is prohibitively expensive in much of the developing world, and there are not enough licensed surveyors to do the work. Recent advances in global navigation satellite system (GNSS) technology have weakened the correlation between precision and cost, promising to make survey-grade accuracy widely available in smartphones.

With widespread access to high-accuracy location data, some of the most time-consuming and expensive parts of the formalization process can be completed more quickly and cheaply at the local level. Yet collecting geospatial data is only half the challenge. Land registration also requires the gathering of information about the people living on the land. This data must be collected in a way that respects cultural sensitivities and land use practice, as well as the privacy of landholders. Taken together, these two components constitute the basis for a community land mapping initiative.

An in-depth conversation on the advent of high-accuracy GNSS technology in mobile devices and its significance for community land mapping projects in the developing world.


Frank Pichel, @Frank_Pichel
Co-Founder & Chief Programs Officer, Cadasta Foundation

Walter Volkmann, @WVol_
Owner & President, Micro Aerial Projects L.L.C.


Christopher Mellon
Policy Analyst, Future of Property Rights Program at New America


Follow the conversation online using #GNSSatFPR and following @NewAmericaFPR

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