OpenStreetMap logo OpenStreetMap

Peter Mooney, Frank Ostermann and I first met at a workshop about Crowdsourcing in National Mapping in Leuven. There were people from national mapping agencies from around Europe, who came to talk about their experience with working with crowdsourcing. I talked about the crowdsourcer’s perspective. It was a bit frustrating to be the only OSM-community representative, as I know that we’re defined by many points of views. With Peter and Frank the conversation soon went to the science aspect of that same relation. Professional scientists find it hard to talk to OSM, and OSM people find it hard to talk to scientists. We believe we can do better. And we want to do something about it. Rather than just start doing stuff, we want to invite you to discuss this with us. Below is our line of thinking, written by the three of us together.


This initiative is based on our observations that there is room for improvement in the interactions between the academic research and OSM communities. On the one hand, the OSM community often learns late (or never) about research results generated from academic research on OSM. For example, the OSM wiki pages on academic research are likely not to be up-to-date (with the majority of entries from the years 2010/2011, and little after 2014), but nevertheless quite cluttered, containing many non-English entries, and therefore difficult to search effectively. On the other hand, the academic research community has often little information on what are important concerns for the OSM community. As a result, very often academic research is carried out on OSM in complete isolation from the OSM community itself. There has been substantial interest from the academic research community into OSM since at least 2006/2007. This interest shows no signs of abating. One must acknowledge that the incredible success story of OSM is an intriguing source of potential research for academics.


Our initiative has therefore two main objectives:

  1. Improve communication structurally and in a sustainable way between both the OSM community and the academic research community. This includes communication about research needs within OSM, communication of research results from the academic community to the OSM community, and shared goals and interests.
  2. Learn about the interests and needs of the OSM community to enable co-created research


Our approach has two stages: First, this blog post aims to deliver some basic information on what we plan, why we want to go forward with it, and how we hope to reach our objectives. Further, it aims to gather feedback from the OSM community through comments, and invites members of the OSM community to contribute, and propose ideas for research studies. As a second stage, we envision a more structured survey that proposes research ideas based on suggestions from this blog post’s comments , e.g. through voting or multiple-choice questions, that offers some open questions to allow for free-form comments, and asks for ideas on how to keep any wiki pages on research ideas and results more up-to-date. However, we are open for suggestions for different approaches!


We aim for the following outcomes, to be shared with both academic research and OSM communities:

  1. A short report or evaluation of the procedure itself.
  2. Publish the highest voted or most often requested research ideas on the OSM community pages.
  3. Establish a mechanism that allows the update of these ideas and feedback any results, e.g. through finding champions or supporters from both the OSM and the academic research communities, or linking with discussion board on OSM research.

Some more info on why are doing this: Academics/Researchers must write papers and do research as a key component of their ‘day job’. OSM community members want to continue to make the OSM map/database even better, map new things, write OSM software, etc. There surely exists some research problems that the OSM community is interested in investigating - these research problems could also be of great interest to the Academic/Research community. This provides great potential for a collaborative platform between Academia and the OSM community to work on problems of mutual interest. Moreover it provides the potential for a new form of collaboration where the results of the research are directed back to the OSM community for discussion and debate BEFORE they are published in academic journals or conferences. We believe that this vision of co-created research between the two communities will be of interest to everyone involved.

Joost Schouppe, OSM Belgium Frank Ostermann, ITC, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, University of Twente, The Netherlands Peter Mooney, Dept of Computer Science, Maynooth University, Ireland.

Note: this post was announced on the talk mailing list here


Comment from imagico on 24 August 2017 at 18:28

First of all: great idea, in a recent discussion on osmf-talk i suggested that there is a lot of room for improvements in the way OSM presents itself to scientists and i am glad you are starting an initiative along these lines.

Your main focus seems to be academic research where OSM is a subject of study - either as a community or as a database. Apart from that we should not forget that there is also academic research where OSM is used as either a data source (like for cartographic research or any kind of geo-sciences) without the data itself being a subject of study or as an infrastructure to enter data that has been recorded during field work. Both cases are generally of interest for us as well. For example we should think about how to better recruit scientists doing field work as mappers for OSM.

One type of research i think is generally valuable when done diligently is studies on the quality of OSM data in comparison to other data sources. This is however relatively unattractive for researchers.

One attractive but difficult topic that comes to mind is studying saturation effects and maintenance problems in well mapped areas. I mean looking at what happens in an area when mapping of certain type of feature reaches completeness (like buildings, roads, addresses). How editing activities change, if the data is kept up-to-date, if there is further improvement either semantically or in geometric accuracy and on what factors this all depends.

Comment from Alex-7 on 25 August 2017 at 10:23

It is an interesting initiative. There are serious unsolved problems in the GIS domain.

For example, making the OSM map addressable while billions of people do not have addresses because their streets do not have names at all (and will never have).

There were several attempts to solve this problem but we are not there yet. Perhaps a talented scientist is needed to solve it; someone like a mathematician Grigori Perelman. However, such a scientist should be aware of the problem existence in the first place.

Or building an universal up-to-date quality 3D map. The low altitude oblique aerial photography technology is developing very fast and is getting affordable but it is barely used in the OSM. We keep working with satellite imagery which sometimes is quite outdated.

So it’s high time for new brave scientific ideas.

Comment from Geospa_gal on 5 September 2017 at 13:11

As a researcher who is currently actively involved in undertaking research about the mapping activities of the OSM community I fully appreciate the problems outlined above so really welcome and support the objectives as stated.

My own recent research activities have been met with a mixed response from the community and whilst I welcome all feedback, improving communication between researchers and the OSM community would be a really worthwhile process. Enabling a greater understanding and appreciation of the motivations and perspectives of both groups can only be to the benefit of OSM as a mapping platform.

I look forward to updates on this initiative!

Comment from !i! on 9 September 2017 at 09:39

Hi, I maintained / collected the research wiki page long time ago. I had the same impression, that both communities could benefit from each other and that it makes sense to centralize an exchange.

What I learned is: there is an permanent lack of time to do things right:

  • researcher are looking forward to release their paper and don’t share the infos / ideas before or lack of time to publish the raw data / prototypes / … after the presentation. No time to maintain esp. to maintain sourcecode
  • mappers want to contribute geodata but not maintain / cleanup wikipages, contact researchers or follow the scientific magazines. They don’t follow all the channels or like to contribute to one survey per week

It isn’t bad at all, but IMHO both perspective should be accepted and keep in mind :-)

Comment from LivingWithDragons on 14 September 2017 at 12:00

I see the wiki Research page as somewhere that OSMers can quickly point an academic towards as the initial greeting. In doing so, I also encourage them to edit it to add their name/study (even if it’s in-progress).

Perhaps we need to tidy up that page to make it more welcoming, we could move the long list off to a secondary page.

I’ve recently been thinking about my review of “The Book of OSM” when I claimed “Highly recommended reading for academics starting OpenStreetMap projects”. When you start a university course, there’s usually a “required reading list”. Maybe the OpenStreetMap community should have it’s own list. It might also include actions, such as “create an account and make some local improvements to the map”.

Comment from dalek2point3 on 5 October 2017 at 02:10

This is great idea. Thanks. I just wanted to mention the Wikimedia Research Newsletter as exactly addressing this challenge in a really nice way.

Log in to leave a comment