This is a about what I have learned most recently by being involved as a contributor to, and organiser of the “mapping sprint” or “mapathon” called #StayHomeAndMapIRL.This is written in my own voice as an individual mapper.

The mapping sprint was a week long, and really grew out of a spontaneous confluence of two things:

  • The mapping campaign #osmIRL_buildings for which we use a task manager

  • The necessity of everyone in Ireland to stay home, as part of the Covid-19 emergency

By combining these two we were creating an immediacy and dot-joining exercise between something people were all experiencing, and something useful to do with the time at home.

Our community agreed at the 2019 AGM to have a mapping task, one where participation was voluntary like always, but it would be the “common ground” for mappers. Some deep thought went into choosing buildings as the focus, not least being that openstreetmap for Ireland seems to lag behind in the completeness of the buildings. Typically, a large Irish town or city could have a small number of buildings mapped, even in the town centres, almost as if buildings were not a significant human feature and not a major part of the detail of any map at the end-user scale. Of course the wider point is that working at this scale adding a feature like buildings allows our community to scale up and down, and by that I mean add useful end user things like details about the buildings, or scale up and create better de facto landuses - ultimately to increase the completeness and usefulness of the map.

The week through insights taught me the following things:

  1. The #StayHomeAndMapIRL mapping sprint evolved somewhat spontaneously. OSM meetups in Ireland seems to have a number of gears, in which we focus on one aspect of activity, training, talking, showing new stuff, or mapping. We rarely do all of these together, yet the week allowed this to happen. Working together, and changing gears together, as talks were delivered can only increase the glue and focus between everybody, and will help osm to recruit new contributors. These two outcomes are vital for a healthy community activity, especially an activity done by volunteers.

  2. The community seems to work well using the task manager, where people see each other marking a tile in blue with their presence they do stuff like map tiles near each other, and have a sense of progress - not measured but visible across the space we are working on. Mappers can see unfinished tiles by others, and finish them. Mappers can split tiles where they feel bogged down. The tasks where a larger number - at some points in the week we had 7 at one time in Cork - were working simultaneously seem to make the mapping task disappear quickly, and even big and complicated Cities like Derry, Drogheda, Newry and Limerick had big chunks of detail added to them and they are all approaching or above the 50% completion mark. We should reduce down the number of tasks that are open, and not dilute our ability to work together and motivate one another, through gentle competition, validation and interaction.

  3. I think community interaction would increase if it were to establish itself on a more face-to-face (or voice to voice) basis and with regularity online. At the end of the week we learned that we already have a dedicated Big Blue Button space, and the board members should organise this a bit to have a weekly hangout or chat and the community members could each volunteer to take the lead and talk about something. Perhaps a format will evolve in time which allows this happen with regularity.

  4. The week showed me the output of the community if we try to map together, learning from the three previous points. The community was able to get from 902,000 buildings on the 1st January, to 1,110,000 buildings on the eve of the mapping sprint. The mapping sprint added almost 40,000 buildings on its own. This would represent a speed multiplication factor of 4 times for adding buildings on what has gone before this year. We cannot sustain probably this effort using the same call to action, so the organisers and community will have to think about what can be sustained about the week that would keep us focused and contributing to the #osmIRL_buildings campaign.

Thanks to everyone who got involved in this, the osm community from far and near for every building they mapped. Thanks to my fellow board members of osmIRL for supporting the sprint in loads of ways. Thanks to Heikki Vesanto for making the gif, which shows activity over 3 hours chunks and captures all the mapping action. action

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