Below is a description of two interactions I recently had with CartONG.
Late last year I noticed that the place=refugee_camp tag that was unknown to me was used on hundreds of OSM elements. Failing to find any documentation for it, I left a comment on one of the changesets that introduced the tag. The changeset author requested that I contact CartONG’s Missing Maps project (which I thought was a HOT initiative, but no matter) by email, which I did. I received a response from the Project Coordinator who kindly explained the thinking behind the tagging and that a tag proposal is in the works. A few months of discussions and two tag proposals later (first of which seemed to raise a concern about rallying last-minute votes from “colleagues and friends”), we all arrived at an approved tag.
I thought that it would have been best to first launch a proposal and have the tag approved, rather than tag features in OSM and then try to push through a proposal that conforms to the de facto tag usage, but that’s just my opinion. We are all working towards the same goal, and in the end I congratulate CartONG and Missing Maps on the result.
Fast forward two months, yesterday I came across what looks to me like an import of non-cleaned UNHCR refugee camp data into OSM done by CartONG in two parts (1, 2), both of which had already attracted comments on their quality, and one of which had been reverted. The revert seems to have been preceded by direct communication that ended without satisfactory explanations from CartONG. I have contacted the user who reverted the changeset to see if the second changeset raises similar concerns, and they have promptly reverted that one as well.
As best as I can tell, these imports were not documented or discussed beforehand, and thus do not follow the Import Guidelines. In my opinion an effort could be also done to improve compliance with the Organised Editing Guidelines, though I am grateful for the #RefugeeSiteMappingDataGlobalStandardization hashtag, which is the one way I have of finding all the related edits. Following the hashtag through OSMCha, I found a few further edits that seem, to me, questionable. In particular, existing valid tags (like landuse=residential) are occasionally removed. This, in my opinion, looks like CartONG through this effort cares only about the refugee camp tags, sometimes (infrequently) doing damage to other valid data.
Overall the process looks to me as if the idea was to have a non-cleaned UNHCR database dump imported into OSM, and then take the time to go through the imported features one-by-one and check them, effectively turning OSM into a data cleaning platform. In my opinion the cleaning should be done first, and only then data should be uploaded to OSM. As a side effect to this approach, the import changesets can now be queried to get email addresses of a dozen or so UN employees, which I imagine was not intentional.
I think CartONG is doing some very useful and needed work, however these two examples of their use of OSM show potential for better communication. I request CartONG to be more transparent about their intentions and processes in advance, conduct discussions through community channels rather than private emails, and to follow the Import and Organised Editing Guidelines. I’m sure the issues of the second example will be resolved just as in the first one, and I look forward to having documented, standardised, and well-tagged humanitarian data in OSM.