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HOT Voting Member Nomination

Posted by michael63 on 16 November 2015 in English (English)

How I got in touch with HOT

Having always been interested in maps some of my favourite activities apart from hiking is producing topographic style maps from OSM data particularly for areas where hardly anything else is available. When I had a couple of months time available while changing my job about three years ago I wanted to give something back to OSM from where I got so many useful data for free.

Being a software engineer I did not simply want to contribute to some of the tools involved but rather spend my spare time doing something different. Browsing the wiki I read about HOT. I was instantaneously fascinated by the idea to combine the expansion of the database with another goal - provide help to communities in urgent need for this. And the concept of micro-tasking made the start quite easy: you can contribute basically any amount of time available.

After having spent one year with the usual mapping of roads and buildings in the beginning I turned my attention to more difficult tasks and thus got in touch with Séverin Menard and his activation in CAR. This should be the first in a series of import tasks where I contributed and extended my skills.

Apart from directly working on our data I was working together with Nick Allen on learnOSM translating large parts of existing documents to German while also updating some existing English documentation.

What HOT means to me

HOT is an opportunity to provide assistance to people in need in various areas of the world even if one is not able to provide help on site. It offers a much more direct involvement than just donating money: after a couple of days into an activation, white spots on a map turn into a maze of tracks and roads making sure that the vulnerable people on the ground can be given assistance.

One of the core values for me is that people with very different background (both in terms of professional experience/education as well as geographic origin and cultural tradition) are working together for a common goal and always willing to help each other. The community is as diverse as are the tasks to be managed. Local communities can gather and verify data on the ground and train new contributors while others working remotely like me can improve base data, take care of documentation or communication.

Irrespective of the amount of technical expertise and available time, everyone can contribute to the common goal, these contributions will be welcome and in the end result in better maps for places where they are desperately needed.

Future plans

Based on my professional experience as a software developer I know that quality assurance is often neglected (as is documentation) but nevertheless of utmost importance. Having gained experience in mapping I started to validate in a number of projects. It soon became obvious to me that new contributors often make the same systematic errors again and again or simply get things wrong because they are not aware of local conditions in a region (e.g. classification of highways).

The humanitarian partners who rely on the data expect a high degree of accuracy in the data provided by HOT. If HOT is to keep its reputation we will have to make sure that the data collected in an activation are validated by someone with a minimum degree of experience and responsibility. If data generated by a contributor are clearly wrong then this must be communicated in a way that it is not perceived as plain criticism but as constructive guidance for improvement. We can not afford to deter inexperienced contributors by harsh criticism but need to keep them going and help them. My personal experience so far is extremely positive: the more detailed I explained errors they made and how to avoid them in future the more enthusiastic was their response often connected with request for further guidance.

The activations see an increasing number of new contributors which is amazing but In my opinion also causes one of the challenges for HOT: maintain the quality of the data with a growing number of contributors, many of them with little mapping experience.

I would like to see our documentation/guidelines on validation expanded. I also see a need to include feedback from validation in our existing documentation for contributors. This could happen e.g. in the framework of learnOSM. Such a loop will in the end improve the quality of our mapping.

Why become a voting member?

I would consider my election as a recognition of my contributions delivered so far and even more as a motivation and obligation to serve even better in future. I already outlined my ideas concerning data quality and related documentation. I feel that it is an essential goal for the future development of HOT and thus connected with the responsibilities of a voting member.