I hope you and your family are safe, healthy, and happy in this challenging time. I have been meaning to write this post since I became the Regional Director for the Asia Pacific Hub early this year. However, I decided to wait until I had something specific and useful to share with you all. Recently, we have made a few important decisions that I am thrilled to share with you through this post.
First, we have decided to name the Regional Hub as ‘Open Mapping Hub- Asia Pacific’.The ‘Open Mapping Hub’ name will also apply to the hubs in three other regions. I believe that this decision is profound and far-reaching. Although HOT is supporting the establishment and operation of the hub, we did not want to narrowly name it something as ‘HOT Asia Pacific Hub’. We want to ensure that the hub creates an accommodating and equitable space for everyone interested in contributing to the OSM movement in the region. We want the hub to be as inclusive as possible.
Those who attended Tyler’s talk at the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Summit in December 2020 should not be surprised by this decision. In his talk, Tyler committed to shifting HOT’s focus from HOT to the wider OSM local communities. The name ‘Open Mapping Hub’ intends to encapsulate this very spirit. We are extremely excited to start our journey with this new name, and I would like to thank everyone who participated in the naming discussion.
The next decision you might find interesting is that the Asia Pacific Hub will operate as a virtual and mobile hub. Originally, the hub was going to be physically located in Manila, the Philippines. As we started to contemplate more about it, fixing the hub at one physical location seemed limiting to us. It is particularly because the hub intends to work with OSM communities distributed across many countries throughout huge geography in Asia-Pacific, and we want to make sure we are accessible to all these communities equitably whenever they need us. We will still have a small operational team based in Manila. Additionally, we will also leverage a strong knowledge base from our partners in various countries such as Perkumpulan OpenStreetMap Indonesia (POI) in Indonesia and Kathmandu Living Lab (KLL) in Nepal.
The notion of a ‘mobile hub’ opens up several interesting possibilities. The mobile hub would be similar to a mobile phone when compared to a landline phone. The mobile hub can go to local communities, work with them more closely, and enable us to understand the local context much better than the fixed hub. We are extremely excited about this, and we hope this decision will allow us to directly connect with diverse communities across the Asia Pacific and support their work. We also hope that the direction of the mobile hub will enhance shared ownership of the hub among countries and communities.
Finally, the 7-member hub team, although at an induction stage, is working with great zeal to operationalize the concept of the ‘mobile hub’. We are planning to experiment with it from the next quarter beginning August 2021, with the hope that the COVID situation will get better by then. In any case, the hub is here to identify, recognize, nurture and collaborate with individuals, self-organizing groups, and institutions for advancing the OSM movement in the region. The hub is eager to support and amplify your work. Currently, we are working on launching various community support activities such as grant fundings, training, and regional knowledge sharing, which I cannot wait to share with you all in my upcoming posts. There is a lot we need to achieve together as a community, and we will keep you updated as we move forward in this journey. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more updates.
In the meantime, your suggestions are welcome.
I have been reading messages regarding the election for HOT Board of Directors with interest and contemplating for it. Finally, I decided to declare my candidacy as I feel that my experience of building local OSM community here in Nepal as well as establishing and managing Kathmandu Living Labs as a sort of ‘Local HOT’ might be useful to HOT.
Let me tell you bit more on what I will bring to HOT and where I want to see HOT going.
MY OSM JOURNEY
I first came across OSM in 2006 when I was a graduate student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Coming from a country where there was not a good map (there still is not), it immediately caught my attention. As I started to observe the phenomenon, I got intrigued and eventually ended up writing the first doctoral dissertation on OSM. During those years, there were two major thoughts within the academic community: one saw it as a mapping revolution whereas other ignored it. In a paper I wrote in 2008, I argued that we should not see this emergent form of mapping as totally separate from traditional mapping; rather we should work to create a synergy between them. I still believe in it.
After spending a year in North America after the graduation, I returned to Nepal at the end of 2011. Since then, I have been working to create a robust mapping community and a detailed map in Nepal. As many of you know, Nepal is seismically one of the most at-risk countries in the world and it needs to remain prepared with good map. However, mapping on the ground here—and perhaps in most developing countries—pose different sorts of challenges: low map literacy to slow Internet connection just to name the few. Despite all these, we are progressing. I had reported this to HOT community in early 2013 (http://hot.openstreetmap.org/updates/2013-02-06_mapping_for_preparedness_in_nepal) and provided updates about a year ago (http://hot.openstreetmap.org/updates/2014-03-10_openstreetmap_on_the_ground_update_from_kathmandu).
Our OSM movement started by reaching out to university and college students and teachers. One of the lessons we have learned during this period is: OSM has huge potential to serve as a cross-cutting infrastructure to different application areas e.g. urban management, local governance, agriculture, food security, health, sanitation. While continuing to reach-out to schools and colleges, we are now having encouraging conversations with government departments, politicians and policy-makers in Nepal. There are clear opportunities but also challenges as the concerns those organizations express need to be handled differently.
We have established Kathmandu Living Labs (http://kathmandulivinglabs.org) to expand and deepen the mapping work in a more organized way. Currently, Kathmandu Living Labs has nearly a dozen extremely dedicated and passionate members. I am privileged to have the opportunity to lead this group of talented people. Establishing and managing this organization to its current stage has been an interesting experience. I am interested to bring this and other on the ground experience from Nepal to HOT.
MY VISION FOR HOT
I would like to see HOT playing a catalytic role to advance OSM movement globally. We should develop HOT as a leader in creating more local mappers and mapping groups that help make their own communities better mapped and better prepared for disasters.
HOT needs to move beyond post-disaster activations. It should work to establish OSM as a part of “critical information infrastructure” and embed it in overall disaster preparedness plan.
Investment in OSM produces digital good that can be (re)used in other areas that politicians, policy-makers and the public are more interested in. Our work enables a wide range of economic activities and innovations; it is just that we have not been able to demonstrate this. For example, building footprints we create to address crisis situation serves as a foundation for local government to build their services. HOT has great opportunity here. We are already working along this direction in Nepal.
The process of map creation in OSM is equally important as the map itself. OSM is more than map and mapping. It is about generating active and networked citizenship, which is a vital asset in both crisis and normal situations. As soon as we begin to articulate this, it becomes appealing to people beyond mapping community.
Finally, OpenStreetMap is needed in developing countries more than in developed countries. I am interested to bring my experience to build local communities and expand mapping in under mapped regions in the world.