What does the map show?

I. Sector and Sub-sector Filters


The menu box on the left side of the screen allows users to filter the 1,100 projects on this site by five sectors, which are:
  • Humanitarian Relief - Projects with outputs that address immediate nutritional, medical, and other critical health needs. Often, humanitarian relief takes place after severe flooding and targets young children and pregnant women.
  • Business - For-profit initiatives that are in the forms of equity joint ventures, contractual joint ventures, and wholly-owned foreign subsidiaries.
  • Development Assistance - Projects with outputs that address longer-term needs related to self-sustaining methods of producing food, energy, and clean water.
  • Educational Assistance - Projects that address needs in the DPRK education system.
  • Professional Training - Projects that as standalone activities introduce new disciplines, skills, or general international industry standards to professionals in the DPRK.

Different colors represent the five sectors and selecting more than one sector will illustrate what types of work is present in various parts of the country. These five sectors were chosen because after extensive research and exposure to the nature of engagement activities in the DPRK, these were the most common sectors we identified through which foreigners could build relationships with a variety of people in the DPRK, including mid-level bureaucrats and average citizens. Other efforts such as cultural, athletic, or political exchanges are also important, and we hope to be able to include these categories in future stages of the project.

Practitioners have widely shared that some parts of the country are more accessible to certain types of work; for instance, businesses may have access to locations appropriate for investment while humanitarian organizations may only have access to areas where there is a specific need. However, there is never an open list of all-possible locations from which foreigners can thoughtfully select. The formula for access is not always clear, so it is helpful to visualize what kind of projects have been given access to specific locations, and explore future opportunities.


Sub-sectors, which can be selected by clicking on the "+" sign next to the sector names, were created inductively based on the 1,100 projects we were able to identify. Hence, these sub-sectors may evolve over time as we discover more projects or as new types of work is developed in the DPRK. Below is a table listing the different sub-sectors found in each sector.

Humanitarian Relief


Development Assistance

Educational Assistance

Professional Training

  • Basic Necessities Donation
  • Child/Maternal Care
  • Disaster/Emergency Relief
  • Health - Construction/Renovation of Facilities
  • Health - Treatment and Prevention
  • Nutrition - Food Distribution
  • Nutrition - Food Production Facilities
  • Energy and Natural Resources
  • Finance/Consulting/Services
  • Food/Agriculture
  • Heavy Industry/Infrastructure
  • Logistics/Transportation
  • Light Manufacturing/Retail
  • Technology
  • Tourism
  • Agriculture - Farming
  • Agriculture - Input/Equipment Donation
  • Assessments/Surveys
  • Energy/Power
  • Nurseries/Forestry/Fisheries
  • Water and Sanitation
  • Construction/Renovation of Facilities
  • Improving Teaching Materials/Methodology
  • School Supplies/Equipment Donation
  • Teaching Disabled People
  • Training English Teachers
  • Business/Finance
  • Development
  • Health
  • Media

Creating Sector and Sub-sector Names

Identifying sector names was not a straight-forward task and we understand that they may not be consistent with how other organizations, such as the UN groups, categorize engagement activities. However, we believe that these five categories best represented distinct ways of engagement, while minimizing overlap.  Distinguishing between “Humanitarian Relief” and “Development Assistance” was one of the biggest challenges as work in the DPRK does not operate with conditions similar to what would be found in many other countries.

The country has experienced chronic humanitarian needs; therefore, activities that may seem like Development Assistance, such as hospital renovations or food factories, are actually necessary to meet immediate medical or food shortage needs. Additionally, development projects generally require specific protocols and standards as operating conditions for the appropriate skills transfer and capacity building inherent in the projects, and these conditions have been difficult to meet in the DPRK. Hence, some work that the international development community would categorize as “development work” functions, in practice, as a humanitarian project. Therefore, the main distinction used for the DPRK is in whether the project outputs meet immediate or longer-term needs.

For more information on how the UN categorizes its work in the DPRK, please refer to the UN Theme Groups featured on the UN Resident Coordinator’s website. Projects in the UN Theme Groups overlap with our projects sectors in the following ways:


II. Base Layers

The menu box on the top right side of the screen allows users to choose various layers to provide contextual information for the DPRK map. These layers are intended to help contextualize the distribution of the projects, as well as spur analytical questions regarding the locations of projects and what life might be like for people living in different conditions with varying access to foreign engagement. They include the:

  • “Flooded Areas” Layer – This base layer illustrates which counties and cities were damaged by severe flooding since 1996. The darker the area, the higher number of years that it has been damaged by floods and landslides. Due to inconsistent availability of data, we were not able to identify all of the counties or cities that were affected each year; however, this layer reflects about 80% of the locations that have been affected by severe flooding. Data for flooding was gathered through information provided on UN’s Relief Web site and the DPRK’s Korea Central News Agency. This base layer may be helpful to use as context when observing the distribution of humanitarian relief projects throughout the country
  • Markets Layer – This base layer illustrates approximately 200 marketplaces that were identified as of June 2009 by the North Korea Uncovered project on Google Earth and as of April 2013 in Google Maps. Marketplaces are areas where transactions and exchanges most often take place, and may provide insight to the interplay between the domestic availability of resources and foreign assistance or investment. The majority of marketplaces are located in Pyongyang, South Phyongan, and South Hwanghae provinces, near city centers that are accessible by roads. These marketplaces are government regulated, and while other informal marketplaces are known to exist, there is little available information on them. Given the rapid expansion of formal marketplaces in recent years, there are many more markets beyond those identified in this base layer and we will be updating this layer once we are able to find their locations. This base layer may be helpful to use as context for observing the various locations of business and humanitarian relief activities throughout the country.
  • Population Layer – This base layer illustrates the distribution of people throughout the DPRK and darker areas indicate a higher population count. Additional population statistics – such as the total population, percentage of females, urban to rural ratio, and percentage of children 9 years or younger – will be available for each province in the “Location Info” window. This base layer may be helpful to use as context for understanding the locations of the development assistance, humanitarian relief, and educational assistance projects throughout the country. 

III. Project Clusters

Once users have selected sectors, they will see dots appearing on the map. The size of the clusters reflects the number of projects in the city or county, and the more projects there are, the larger the cluster size. The dots are located near the centroid of the county (군) or city (시) instead of the exact geographical coordinates, since these clusters do not reflect exact locations of projects. The sizes and distributions of clusters help users to visualize the levels of engagement taking place throughout the country. The projects that are included in each dot meet the following conditions:

  • They require some type of relationship or contact between foreign organizations and DPRK people or mid-level bureaucrats/technocrats. These are not security, scientific, or other exchanges.
  • The project operation takes place inside the country.
  • They have been in operation for more than 6 months.

One project may belong to multiple sub-sectors and even have some work being done that qualifies as another sector, but the project categorizes it into the most relevant sector and sub-sector. Additionally, some projects may be counted more than once, but when partnerships have been identified, the project is only represented once.

The map illustrates about 70% of the data we have; the map does not include projects for which we did not have complete information and those projects that organizations did not want revealed. Over time, as we get more data on city or county level locations, as well as years of operations for the projects, we will be able to upload more information. We hope to do another significant data upload before the end of the year, and subsequently update the website once a year. 

IV. Timeline

The timeline at the top of the screen above the map allows users to filter projects by year in order to see how engagement has change over time.

The timeline starts at 1995 because that is when North Korea began opening up to foreign assistance. The timeline ends in 2012 because that is the last year for which we had a complete dataset. Additionally, it is likely that the map will always have a one year lag due to the time it takes to gather and upload the data.

In order to create a tool that was simple and easy to navigate, we decided to only allow filtering by year, instead of month or day. This means that when looking at projects from 2001-2002, one project might have lasted from December 2001 to July 2002, while another could have lasted from January 2001 to December 2002. There is clearly a difference between these two time frames, but we decided to group projects by year so that the map could depict large-scale trends over the years.

What is not on the map?

This mapping tool is most helpful for coordinating current and future projects, not evaluating past projects. This map does not include data about projects or filters that are necessary for evaluating the impact of projects. In order to properly evaluate, we need data on more impact-related measures such as:

  • funding amounts
  • beneficiaries, or
  • number of monitoring visits per project.

Additionally, the distribution of the projects does not necessarily reflect the degree of needs that exist throughout the country or the intensity of relationships built through the engagement.

Finally, this map does not show all of the possible engagement efforts taking place inside the DPRK. For reasons mentioned in the Sectors description, this map does not include other types of engagement that are political, cultural, or sports related. 

What are possible applications of this map?

This map is a starting point for those interested in engagement and a way for users to observe the bigger picture of what relationship building is like for foreigners in the DPRK. The primary audience for this map is a user who is looking to learn about what type of work is possible to do in the DPRK, who is already doing this type of work, and how he or she could coordinate with or differentiate from others in pursuing engagement activities. The following are some scenarios of how the website can be helpful to users from different functional backgrounds:

  • Practitioners: Organizations seeking to develop projects in a specific new location could use this map to identify other groups present in that location and identify the types of work that are already taking place in order to support ongoing work or avoid duplication. Organizations seeking to expand their projects into new locations can use the map to identify areas where less foreign organizations are present in order to reach more people.
  • Donors/Investors: Funders that have a specific programmatic priority can use the sub-sector filters to identify projects that are doing work in their field of interest. They can then provide support or invest in those projects or fund new initiatives that do not duplicate past and present efforts. Funders can also use the tool to identify organizations that have worked in their fields of interest to get a better sense of what needs deserve additional funding.
  • Scholars: For scholars, this map will likely serve as a starting point for inquiries about different areas of the DPRK that have not been previously researched in-depth. For instance, the map easily shows counties or cities that have high populations and have been severely damaged by floods, but do not seem to have any foreign assistance or investment. The reasons for this may be numerous, so thoughtful inquiries into this mismatch may be quite worthwhile. Other types of questions that scholars can begin to ask are related to investigating the social and economic changes that may differ between various parts of the DPRK or comparing how foreign engagement has evolved differently across sectors.
  • Policymakers: For policymakers who see the potential benefits of engagement and want to find ways of doing so sustainably, this map can be a starting point for understand the types of projects have endured, evolved, and increased reach throughout the country. A “big picture” understanding of engagement based on the data can provide policymakers with potential alternatives to past policies that have been less effective. We also hope that DPRK officials may find this mapping project helpful in coordinating their own efforts and contextualizing the various projects into DPRK’s larger goals.
  • Job Candidates/Volunteers: Users who are looking to find opportunities for work or volunteering can learn about existing projects in the DPRK and implementing organizations. With this knowledge, they can either prepare academically or practically to build expertise in these areas. Users can also contact the Engage DPRK project staff to match their interests with specific organizations, projects, or other related work.
  • General Users: For the general audience, this map can be a starting point for more nuanced questions about the DPRK. The common coverage that we see in mass media is not a representative picture of all that is taking place inside the DPRK. 

For updates on data uploads as well as interesting insights on engagement in the DPRK, please follow us on Facebook.

How can I provide feedback?

The Engage DPRK website currently does not have a comment forum, but we are very interested in receiving users’ feedback and thoughts about the map. In particular, we welcome any questions or ideas about engagement, and when we cannot provide answers, we will try our best to connect users with other experts who can do so.

Please submit feedback and questions through the contact section. Additionally, please submit any requests for features that you would like to see in the future. We are compiling a list of filters, base layers, and other types of information that we hope to include in the future.

What are some limitations?

The online map currently faces several limitations as a result of the sensitive nature of working inside the DPRK, as well as the inconsistent availability of data on foreign engagement activities in the DPRK. In particular, we are currently facing limitations in the following areas:

  • Project details: One important goal for this project was to create a public resource for understanding the various kinds of engagement in the DPRK. As a result, there were many elements that were too sensitive to make public given the careful nature of information sharing in the DPRK.  In the future, we hope that we will able to share additional details about projects, and if possible, allow for organizations to directly upload information about their work. 
  • Organization details: The map focuses on the projects and the types of work that have taken place, instead of highlighting the implementing organizations. Therefore, there is no simple way of searching for an organization and producing a list of the work that they are doing. At this stage, we wanted to maintain the focus on understanding what kinds of work could be done in the DPRK. We hope that in the future, we will be able to provide users with ways of directly contacting and supporting organizations that are working inside. 
  • Granularity in location information: Because this map seeks to provide a comprehensive picture of engagement, we aimed to feature as many projects as possible on the map. Initially, we had hoped to illustrate the project locations at a village level using exact geo-coordinates, but because this information was not available for most projects, we had to use the largest common denominator for locations, which are cities and counties. Hence projects are clustered at the city or county level, but when possible, we have identified the village or institutional locations for projects in the project description.