OpenStreetMap 13th Aniversary mapathon in Latin America

Posted by mapeadora on 22 August 2017 in English (English)

The OpenStreetMap Latin American community communicates constantly in a Telegram chat in addition to other social networks, on technical issues, methodological challenges or local communities dynamics, projects, achievements, sometimes opinion debates, etc. The dialogue has led subgroups to form, as Geochicas last fall 2016, and collective projects to emerge around a conjuncture or a shared interest. A chat allows everybody to join a dynamic in process. Integrating, learning along the way or just observing, soaking up, and also identifying as a community. I think the anniversary mapathon was a great opportunity for this in the LATAM community.

A happy coincidence led this community to plan a continental scale mapathon, on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of OpenStreetMap.

From Mexico, after 2 years of repeated massive training efforts in universities and other civil and government communities, the tendency of the OSM Mex group is to make a pause and dedicate more, for a time, to the improvement of the map through remote mapathon promoted in the existing community.

On the other hand the group Geochicas, from their debates on the different ways to produce information and improve the database of OpenStreetMap in a sense that benefits women, and taking advantage of these activities to empower women in the community, we also decided a few months back to organize at some point a large remote mapathon on areas where women experience an acute level of vulnerability. Vulnerable areas, in general, would benefit from mapping and women, in particular, would receive an even greater impact as a result of overall improvement of information, as well as promoting a parallel and permanent mapping of equipment and points of interest considered useful for women. This second category of data, being more difficult to collect without a fine local knowledge, it seemed more feasible to organize a general mapathon of vulnerable settlements.

We started in the LATAM chat to talk about the 13th anniversary of OpenStreetMap. Several people, among whom Humberto Yances and the women of Geochicas, mentioned the possibility of making a LATAM mapathon where the communities of all the active countries would be coordinated during August.

Due to the inclination of some participants towards the humanitarian dimension, also worried from Mexico by the great lag in the map of the South of this country, regularly affected by cataclysms, we agreed to promote the topic of vulnerable irregular settlements, among others.

Humberto Yances took a proactive role in the methodology and coordination of this mapathon, guiding groups in the collection of priority polygons using pre-existing links with specialized organizations in the continent and in countries, in housing or in vulnerable areas, such as in particular Techo Internacional; Organizing and guiding the participants to construct a series of Wikis (see list below) to carry out the operation in an articulated way and with a systematic documentation; And also training us in the use of the Tasking Manager Colombia so that each group could realize its projects and will drive the mapping in their respective communities.

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In Mexico, we used information from Techo México as well as from the IMPLAN of Ciudad del Carmen that represents an area of high vulnerability to hurricanes, with rapid and disorganized urban growth affecting natural areas of mangroves, where @Mapeadora has direct contact. For the long term, we added another project with the municipalities of the country with a high level of social marginalization, established from CONEVAL (National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy) in 2010. Cuauhtémoc (@eldesbastemap) worked hard to prepare the information and @mapeadora created and manages the Tasking Manager.

During August, the projects of the whole region were promoted in the networks and also through face-to-face mapping activities with students and other communities. Thread on twitter

In Mexico, we started August with a mapathon at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico with which we have a solid collaboration, and we reached the participation of 90 students, guided by @Mapanauta and @Beny Carbajal. Alt text


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  1. In terms of community and networking, learning is invaluable. The mapathon represents a collective project that strengthens ties and is a powerful vector of knowledge transmission.

  2. On collaborations with institutions specialized on housing and climate vulnerability (international or national scale), with Municipal Institutes, we have been able to understand better the needs in terms of data management and use, the urgency to improve information as it deals with resilience and disaster prevention, and the great opportunity to provide more specific support and make links this mapping work with action in areas of risk (case of the Island of Carmen). The map is a lever for more in-depth collaboration, timely knowledge of territories, and action.

  3. On local community strengthening strategies, the Mexican community is not large or united enough to achieve meaningful participation through a single open call. Despite our desire to temporary stop massive training activities, it was in this way that we were able to obtain a relevant participation, implying another difficulty: a strong need for guidance.

The most common edits difficulties are:

  • Lack of habit in the observation of the imagery, which discards many important objects, such as natural elements, rivers, etc.
  • A difficulty to correctly map buildings with an orthogonal shape because they are only partially seen in the imagery
  • A low tolerance towards despair, having to map a dense built area, or opening cells with few objects to map.
  • A low understanding of the need to articulate the contents of the cells with each other which leads students to use the cell boundary as the strict limit of objects.

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We also find meticulously covered tasks: Alt text

We understand that involving a large number of beginners in such an extensive mapping operation means important monitoring, validation and cleaning work on our part.

This leads to several strategies (please share comments and experiences)

  • The first concerns the balance between objects quantity and quality. In the current conditions of the Mexican community, privileging quality over quantity in the first instance would mean to give up progress on the map.
  • If we decide instead to involve large groups of beginners who will be trained with the hope they’d be part of the active community of OpenStreetMap, and accepting the cost of significant monitoring and correction work by very few people, forces us to look for new ways to save time on other tasks and optimize teaching methods.

We now consider it is necessary to integrate mapping exercises into the school programs where we collaborate in a continuous way, articulated with courses on cartographic tools and not only establishing incentives and valuations but also qualification mechanisms by the University. We are devising a scheme to coordinate with the teachers, to think about the most functional mechanisms to monitor the editions on complete semesters and to qualify each mapper, besides creating some certificate validated by OpenStreetMap and the partners of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Humanitarian support has the potential to generate strong interest in students, which, in addition, strengthen professional skills by learning the use of mapping and monitoring tools, and eventually analyzing cartographic databases.

Resources for viewing changes during mapping

Monitoring Tools

Location: Algarín, Mexico City, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, 06880, Mexico

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