Thinking About How to Do Research Properly about OpenStreetMap

Posted by mapmakerdavid on 19 February 2019 in English (English)

Hello, fellow OSM contributors. I’ve been thinking about how to properly conduct research regarding OSM. Here’s a summary, thus far:

In dealing with challenging issues such as disasters and climate change, crowdsourced geographic information is useful in mapping for and with local communities at risk. In the Pacific, this was done broadly through OpenStreetMap (OSM), a project by a global community of online and local volunteers who make, use, and share a digital, editable, and free map of the world. Also, there is a Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) that combines crowdsourcing and community mapping through a project called Missing Maps.

But at what point and under which conditions does the crowdsourced geographic information become useful in community mapping, and for whom?

In approaching the problem, I am using representational, pragmatic, and ethical approaches to understand the quality, usability, and equity of the information. Such approach will not only extract, examine, explore, or evaluate the information, but also embed it in situations that are simultaneously social, spatial, and scientific.

To accomplish the research, I will continue to engage as an OSM volunteer with online and local communities that were hit by major disasters and assisted by HOT, and the broad OSM community: Tacloban (Philippines) and Christchurch (Aotearoa New Zealand). Tacloban is still in the process of rehabilitation after it was hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Christchurch is updating community-based strategies about resilience after it was devastated by powerful earthquakes in 2010-2011. A third engagement elsewhere in Oceania is possible.

The primary output of the research is a digital and focused ethnography of online and local communities involved. A secondary output, an auto-ethnography, will complement it. The likely contributions of the research are: (1) a social-spatial-scientific framework of crowdsourced geographic information; (2) common usability issues in the case of combining crowdsourcing and community mapping; and (3) inequalities about the labour behind, consumption of, and access to the geospatial data and technology of OpenStreetMap.

It’s the nth time that I’ve written/rewritten it, so it will still change. That change will happen a lot once I do more work with the local communities. I’ve also been thinking about the word “crowdsourcing” because there’s a lot of work (including non-mapping work that’s work nevertheless) involved in making the whole OSM project work. These questions and concerns will be the focus for my PhD study in Geography, as I continue to contribute to the community in different ways. And it will be slow and will take a long time. If you’re interested in a conversation about this, then please let me know! :)

OSM is very personal to me because when there are major typhoons (cyclones) approaching my country, the Philippines, the OSM community is very generous in helping us map the places affected by disasters.

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