As I mentioned in my first post, I’m coordinating the inputting of survey data into OSM for Epworth, in Zimbabwe. It’s an interesting project but the current system is very difficult to use and it can take 90-120 minutes for some users to get up to speed and add their first node. This isn’t great when the sessions last a maximum of three hours!

How field papers work

Volunteers in the place being mapped print off parts of the OSM map (roads and buildings only I think). Each piece of map has a QR code on the page, which has the details of the project and the precise location of the map shown. The volunteers then walk around the map identifying buildings and POIs, noting them down on the map with an ID and then noting the details on a separate sheet, using the same ID.

This way, systematic, geolocated data can be recorded by hand. These sheets are then delivered (physically or electronically) to volunteers with internet access and OSM skills who can interpret the information and convert it to OSM nodes, ways, tags etc.

The field papers can be uploaded to a website called which use the QR code to turn the image into a geolocated layer for JOSM, facilitating easier interpretation…when the website works. It’s a great website, but it does seem to break down quite often.

If you have Field Papers working and a print-out (or original) survey sheet with all the information on, inputting data can be quite quick. If you have to use the work-around of Field Papers and you only have electronic copies and one computer screen, it takes a lot longer.

Ideas to improve the experience

I’ve been writing instructions based on the workflow and experience with the volunteers. I’ve had to greatly expand the instructions, but I think they’re now quite comprehensive. I’ll be trying them out at the next mapathon. If you’re interested in taking a look, they’re here. The info about how to access the field maps and surveys is in there, too.

I think the major issue with the process is the number of websites required. In this project, you need to open OSMWiki, Field Papers, Dropbox and the GoogleDocs for the instructions. It all seems so disparate…

Has anyone had similar experiences? Have you managed to improve on the method to make it more user-friendly?



Comment from russdeffner on 24 September 2015 at 16:54

Hi again Tom,

As related to my comment in your other post - would love to have your assistance maybe building a LearnOSM module for Field Papers and/or help thinking about TM developments to better facilitate Field Papers. Probably best to bring it up at the HOT Training and/or Tech working group meeting(s):


Comment from Thomas Hills on 24 September 2015 at 17:44

Hi Russ,

Thanks for getting in touch!

Yes it would be great to build connectivity between FP and TM. I think there’s quite a few people thinking about this in London (e.g. Pete Masters who you probably know). I’m not a coder unfortunately and since I’m finishing off a PhD I don’t really have time to learn at the moment, but I’d be more than happy to help with top-level design and then testing/feedback! I could try it out at the mapathons and get some independent feedback too.

There’s already a LearnOSM Field Papers tutorial - were you thinking of expanding on it, or writing one specifically for field papers from developing countries?



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