*Edit: big thanks to Charlotte Wolter for having kindly corrected and improved the English!
The use of OSM in humanitarian and development projects is growing, and more and more stakeholders are interested in this approach, impressed by the results it has shown since the earthquake in Haiti four years ago. OSM has, remotely, grown a significant community of volunteers who are mapping affected areas, especially with the Tasking Manager tool and with field projects led by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and several partners, stakeholders and individuals. The past criticism by some stakeholders (against openness or about potential quality issues) has toned down, and OpenStreetMap has become a key element in humanitarian relief and Disaster Risk Reduction Preparedness (as shown in the Open Data for Resilience Initiative: Field Guide). HOT has played a leading role in making this happen, creating the link between the OSM community, and humanitarian and development stakeholders. HOT has become a kind of OSM chapter for these efforts and a structure able to run successful field projects, sometimes in tough conditions. These projects have demonstrated the capabilities of OSM in these contexts.
What should be the role and strategy of HOT regarding this (exciting) situation? Should it be an internal growth? In 2013, HOT had 6 medium or big projects. So it could expect to double this in the coming years and have a few full-time staff and make HOT a small/medium size NGO. I think it is definitely important for HOT to run projects, in order to grow capacities. These include internal capacities, such as expertise and skills within the deployed OSM specialists, as well as communautary tools, like in the past for the Tasking Manager or the HOT Exports. Also important are external capacities, such as creating or supporting local communities. Also each new project enhances knowledge as lessons are learned.
Nonetheless, there are limits, if this is the primary strategy. First, any individual close to HOT activities can thus be seen as having a conflict of interest as soon as she or he engages in a paid activity where OSM is involved (training session in an event where all trainers are paid, field support to a local project, etc.) or is involved in initiatives with external organizations. “Conflict of interest” sounds like being guilty of something that should be avoided. Consequently initiatives may tend to be self-restricted by these individuals. And will this allow HOT to be the only organization using OSM on the humanitarian and development fields? No, and it is actually not even the case. There are already many organizations in this field that have run or are running their own mapping projects based on OSM, such as World Bank GFDRR, American Red Cross, MapBox, Architecture for Humanity, etc. And others will very likely do the same in the near future. OSM will be used more and more as a platform for mapping projects or as a component in projects that are not only mapping based.
Should these initiatives from individuals and external organizations be considered as endangering or competing with HOT? I don’t think so. First, I think there are donors who target those who have initiated a new methodology and/or technology. So HOT will be identified as such an initiator and will continue to make the difference for such funders. I also think that, these initiatives represent great opportunities to expand what should be the main aim of HOT, like any other community-based OSM organization: increasing the use of OSM and enriching its data.
What should then be HOT’s primary strategy? IMHO, it is to foster, advise and support any project that wants to use OSM in humanitarian or development contexts, as long as it is respectful of OSM and HOT ethics that are agreed within the whole community of OSM contributors. (Do we have any ethics that everyone agrees on?)
This calls for the definition of a HOT Project with a HOT Charter and HOT Commons that any individual or organization could concur with and even officially join and/or fund.
The HOT Charter would contain good and fair practices that should be embedded in any OSM project. Building local capacities should be one of the major concepts:
- when the time allows, train every mapper in the whole work flow, not just field surveyors or editors, which is very common in classic field-collection projects
- train the future trainers to make possible the rise of a local community
- ensure the conditions (space, equipment, Internet) that will allow this community to continue the mapping are initiated during the project
The HOT Commons would provide:
- a set of tools to create, access and analyze OSM data easily, according to the needs and ideas expressed by those using them, i.e. international and national organizations or NGOs, local communities, local authorities, etc. This exists, but could be improved
- a set of technical guides, describing, not only how to create OSM data or products based on it (what LearnOSM covers), but also work flows and methodologies to train new mappers and organize data collection, from the lessons learned from the remote activations and the field projects
- neutral support for external projects following the terms of the HOT Charter, such as projects started by individuals or local OSM communities that request it, in order to create local capacities, including in Crisis Preparedness and Response
This approach would be a virtuous circle:
- the HOT Charter would ensure the mapping projects based on OSM led by other organizations would follow the fair practices identified by the community. It also would ensure that those organizations would not use OSM as a platform to raise money without building any local capacity. If they do not endorse the charter at least it will be clear for everybody that they decided not to follow fair practices. Of course, the compliance with the fair practices by those who endorse the HOT Charter would be verified by a neutral committee from the community
- the HOT Commons could get financial support from donors interested in supporting one or all of its aims and would strengthened the creation of tools and guides for all and the support to local OSM projects
I am interested in any comment on these topics!