WHO IS PHIL BRIGHT?
Phil Bright is a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community – a technical assistance organization covering the island nations of the South Pacific.
Phil’s work focuses on supporting census activities and includes capacity building, planning, implementing and analyzing census data. Prior to joining SPC he was a Research Assistant at Curtin University of Technology.
You can connect with Phil here:
IN TOR 008 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- What performing a census on the 22 island nations of the Pacific Community entails: long term planning, infrastructure and communication issues, and bigger language and cultural barriers than you would expect, from island to island.
- Why GPS is a godsend for millions of inhabitants without addresses, but with impending needs of efficient delivery of social services.
- The serendipitous job ad that would take Phil from Australia to New Caledonia, into a field he was not even aware of; and his account of a well traveled 15 year career.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Secretary of the Pacific Community
- Australian Aid
- Curtin University Australia
- Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
- Global Positioning System (GPS)
- Census planning and implementation
- Survey design
- Social services
- Political risk
- Climate change, rising sea levels
- Nouméa, New Caledonia
- Pitcairn Islands
- Papua New Guinea
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Phil’s role at SPC
Assist GIS, network, statistics.
SPC is a nonprofit in 22 countries.
Statistic data for communities. Census Planning, assistance in capture and processing.
Fixing and cleaning maps.
Working and communicating with partners. Both field and office work.
5 years cycles. “Planning for a census starts as soon as the previous one is over.“
Statistic offices tend to be small. Low level of capacity and resources implies more planning.
Every country has priorities, census questions have to change.
SPC provides a standard upon which countries change. Core set of questions along with new ones. Avoiding new design every time is vital.
New questions need to be tested, they cannot be subjective, incite specific answers, or allow for ambiguous responses or record equivalent responses as different things.
Questions are more standardized each time.
On data, and GIS
Technology is progressing.
“We take things for granted.” Australia has a straightforward addressing system, relatively easy to locate. Not the same case in the Pacific, as there are no addresses with P.O. boxes. Geographic coordinates are a must in surveying homes in the Pacific. GPS has some advantages over regular addresses:
GPS coordinates are used as ID
GPS provides control for data experiments
GPS data for homes are confidential
GPS is complemented by other data capture technologies
GPS help in districting, to prioritize social services and assistance. Large problems of access, schools, medical centers. GPS helps to optimize locations of these services.
Census as political tools
Some countries use data for political purposes, or withdraw it from the population for the same reasons.
It is worse if census and elections are close. Incumbents could keep key data on voters for themselves.
France has also exerted its influence into the census of some Indian countries.
“It’s not always used for development of the people even though that was the reason for its existence.“
Census themselves are prone to corruption. “It is sometimes out of our control, but if we don’t do our job problems get worse.“
22 countries, ranging from Pitcairn Islands with less that 50 people to Papua New Guinea with about 7 million. Vast differences.
Some countries tallest points are just meters over sea level.
Climate change and rising sea levels are huge concerns.
There are small conflicts between even smaller countries. Language issues, access, fuel, communications, weather. “Unthinkable things can go wrong.“
Phil’s career up until now
“It fell into my lap.“
Was a research assistant at Curtin, saw a three month job ad, went right in. Was thinking about traveling anyway, but had no idea about New Caledonia.
He had no idea, let alone interest in getting into development. Was looking into public health research.
Flows of fund are not continuous, and there is not a lot of development activity so applying is tricky. Australian Aid has a large presence, and there are university partnerships.
Phil has limited experience in fundraising. Often times, his field work reveals situations that would benefit from development or humanitarian aid, so he makes sure to reach out.
Keeping it interesting, challenging, exciting
He goes through lots of countries. “It can be very stressful.“
“It’s such a beautiful region. There is a lot left for me to see.” Phil is a passionate scuba diver.
Technology infrastructure is catching up, user inflow is shooting up, as is attention towards international development. It brings a lot of benefits and opportunities, and lots of challenges.
Processing data is not without its “banging the head against the wall.“
Phil enjoys interacting with all kinds of different people and cultures.
Country and Capital inaudible at 38:01
He goes there a couple of times. Spends the night with a family, has a great time, and meets a lot of friends. Loves their simple life. He goes there every chance he gets, “to discuss the meaning on life in the most isolated island of the Indian Ocean.“
“Frustration is part of life.“
Peace Corps is a great way to know the region and offer help.
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