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A Local Knowledge Dilemma? - A Data-Driven Alert for OSM

Posted by nukeador on 5 December 2023 in English. Last updated on 6 December 2023.

This is a cross post from the HOTOSM blog.

As Community Strategist and Research Lead at HOT, I would like to take a closer look with you all at the evolving landscape of OpenStreetMap (OSM) contributors, especially in the context of local knowledge and its crucial role in our mapping efforts.


Our recent study reveals a trend in local knowledge contributions in OpenStreetMap: a small but dedicated number of local mappers, making up just about 3% of contributors who are in the area mapping, is responsible for approximately 75% of the detailed mapping contributions.

This significant finding underscores the vital role of local knowledge and expertise in creating comprehensive and accurate maps, especially in humanitarian and unmapped/under-mapped regions. Despite a general decline in new OSM contributors, the impact of this core group of local mappers remains profound and indispensable for the future of the project.

We would like to engage researchers and mapping communities to unveil what are the implications of these numbers and the opportunities to use them to better support mappers.

The Spark of Inquiry: Simon Poole’s Analysis

Our journey began with Simon Poole’s important observation: a 20% drop in new OSM contributors. This sparked intense discussions within our team and motivated us to investigate further, particularly focusing on regions where HOT is actively involved.

Our findings validated a consistent decline in the number of contributors in most of the 33 countries analyzed over the past five years. However, intriguingly, the volume of mapped elements, like buildings and roads, has been on the rise. This disconnect between contributor numbers and mapping activity led us to delve deeper into the nature of these contributions with deeper analysis.

Why Understanding Local Contributions in OSM Matters

Grasping the dynamics of local contributions to OpenStreetMap is more than just number crunching – it’s about ensuring that maps reflect the lived realities of communities worldwide.

In regions facing humanitarian crises or high poverty levels, local knowledge in mapping becomes invaluable. Accurate maps created with local insights can significantly aid in delivering effective aid and developing sustainable solutions. Our focus on this aspect underscores the need to nurture and support local mapping communities.

Pioneering Methodologies: Towards a Better Understanding

One of our main challenges was to distinguish between local and remote contributions. With the support of Caleb Fagunloye, our Data Analytics and Insights Intern, we developed a pilot methodology focusing on data contributions indicative of ground surveying or field mapping. This innovative approach, though not without its limitations, allowed us to isolate mapping contributions that are likely to come from local knowledge.

We took Rebecca Firth’s illustrative humanitarian mapping framework and isolated the contributions in levels 2-4, essentially excluding edits to the map that could be made using satellite imagery.

We then looked at the users (usernames) who made these changes to try and understand who was adding local knowledge to OSM in these countries in 2022.

Key Insights: The Role of Local Champions

Average: Percentage of contributors and changes they made

  • Our analysis showed that a small proportion of contributors (~3%) were responsible for the majority of local knowledge changes (~75%). This highlights the significant impact of a few highly active local OSM champions.
  • However, this also points to a potential vulnerability in terms of sustainability and depth of community engagement. What happens if these key contributors reduce their activity?

Here you can see a table with the full data for some countries we analyzed, note how just a few contributors are responsible for most of the changes:

Country Total changes to elements (2022) # contributors who made these changes % (#) of contributors responsible for 50% of the changes % (#) of contributors responsible for 75% of the changes % (#) of contributors responsible for 95% of the changes
Nepal 50239 713 0,4% (3) 1,8% (13) 12% (86)
Senegal 2338 172 1,7% (3) 7% (12) 43,6% (75)
Kenya 7415 313 1% (3) 2,6% (8) 28% (87)
Mexico 38556 1078 0,5% (5) 2,6% (28) 21,1% (227)

Some of the numbers here were very surprising. For example, three people in Kenya, Senegal and Nepal were responsible for 50% of all the local knowledge changes to OSM in those countries in 2022.

Forward Path: Expanding Research and Engagement

  • We welcome improvements to the methodology! The more solid it is, the better our understanding of the OSM community landscape will be.
  • Our early research has opened avenues for more comprehensive analysis, especially focusing on the long tail contributions of casual mappers and social science / anthropological explorations
  • We think we still need to understand this analysis in other locations and analyze the evolution and trends over time.
  • HOT will keep the peer to peer support to individuals and communities to implement collective and collaborative actions, improve resources and skills and enable tech to empower and facilitate these local knowledge edits.
  • We have also published a notebook with the code to replicate this user extraction and analysis, for the countries and years of your interest. It shouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes to get some results.


The pilot methodology above is far from perfect. For example, we know that it is possible to add ‘local knowledge’ data to the map remotely (MapRoulette campaigns and imports are two examples).

The tag list used for the analysis also has some known flaws, such as road names being excluded even though they are likely to indicate local knowledge.

It is also really important to say that a Kenyan or Mexican mapper who only does mapping using satellite imagery is still a very valid member of that community of contributors! Although we did this research because we believe in the value of local knowledge in the map, it is not a judgment on other mapping methods!

Also note that the analysis includes people who are mapping on their employee capacity for a corporation/organization, who tend to contribute in high volumes. Taking this into account for a follow-up study and finding ways to exclude them from the numbers, might provide a more realistic picture of paid and not-paid contributions.

Open questions from SoTM EU presentation

This analysis was presented by Pete Masters during the recent State of the Map Europe 2023 and some interesting discussion followed.

  • The situation was familiar for members of more mature OSM communities. Those with now very active local knowledge contributors recognised that, in the past, a small number of very committed mappers did the majority of the field mapping and surveying.
  • Could these ‘core mappers’ end up being gatekeepers and discourage newer mappers from developing their OSM contribution?
  • Where should we allocate resources in supporting local knowledge contributors - new people to OSM, mappers who have shown inclination to add local knowledge or the core mapper group? Do efforts tend to focus on new mappers to the detriment of other groups?
  • Why do mappers do what they do? One hypothesis is that people contributing high quantities of local knowledge data do so because they have a purpose for that data. Is this true? If not, what drives core mappers?
  • How does this analysis look spatially? Does a core mapper in Nepal mean that their home town is very detailed with towns further away increasingly lacking in local knowledge?
  • How does 2022 compare with 2023 or 2021? This is a snapshot, not a trend at the moment.

A Call to Action

Our journey doesn’t end here. We see this as a stepping stone towards a more extensive, nuanced analysis of OSM contributions. We invite community leaders, social scientists, and OSM enthusiasts to join us in this endeavor. Your insights and expertise are invaluable in shaping the future of open mapping.

Cross-posting from HOTOSM blog.

As we dive into the second half of 2023, we are thrilled to share the progress made by HOT and the Community Team in leveraging OSM data for informed decision making.

Hello! I’m Rubén Martín, HOT’s Community Strategist and Research Lead, and in this post, I aim to highlight our recent achievements and extend an invitation to OSM communities, contributors, organizations, and individuals interested in OSM data to collaborate with us on analysis and research endeavors.

Focusing on Actionable Insights: A Data-Driven Approach

At HOT, our data approach goes beyond satisfying curiosity; we strive to generate actionable insights that enable us to better support the communities utilizing Open Mapping to address local needs. Over the past months we have, together with our dedicated Data and Analysis Intern, Caleb Fagunloye (along with support from Benni Herfort at HeiGIT) made significant progress in two key areas outlined below:

  • Better understand OSM Contributor Data and validate assumptions around contributors decline.

  • Explore and experiment how to make OSM Data more accessible to non-technical people.

OSM Contributions Decline


Earlier this year, Simon Poole’s observation about a 20% decline in new OSM contributors in 2022 caught our attention. Recognizing the potential implications of this decline on HOT’s support to local communities, our Regional Hub teams were eager to investigate further.

After internal consultations, we embarked on an analysis to validate and understand these claims. Our approach involved examining historical data from previous years, considering not only the number of contributors but also contributions data and editing patterns on the map.

We selected four countries in each region where HOT has an Open Mapping Hub (Asia Pacific - AP, Latin America and the Caribbean - LAC, Western and North Africa - WNA, East and South Africa - ESA) where HOT had a strong support history and four countries with low or no presence. Additionally, we included a few countries in Europe and the USA.

By analyzing the number of active/new contributors and elements added to the map between 2017 and 2022, we aimed to provide a Big Picture Analysis that offers general insights to inform further research. While this initial analysis does not look into the root causes or propose specific solutions, it serves as a starting point for deeper exploration.

Key Insights from the Analysis:

  1. Over the past five years, there has been a decline in the number of contributors in most countries analyzed.

  2. The volume and pace of mapped elements, including buildings, roads, amenities, and health facilities, has consistently increased in most countries analyzed.

  3. The number of contributors does not show a significant correlation with the volume of elements mapped.

  4. There are unexplained peaks in mapped elements may be attributed to mass imports or corporate mapping

1. There is an overall decline in number of contributors over the last five years

The analysis showed a general decrease in the number of contributors in most countries year over year since at least 2017, except for some countries in ESA. There was a significant decline in the number of contributors in AP and LATAM countries, while Caribbean countries had a mix of stable and unstable charts.

The WNA region had the most volatile charts, with significant increases and decreases over the observed years. Spain remained flat, while Czechia and the United States also experienced a decline in the number of contributors.

2. There is a consistent Increase in elements being mapped

Most countries experienced a consistent increase in the number of buildings, roads, amenities, and health facilities being mapped every year. This means that elements keep being added to the map at a growing pace.

3. Number of Contributors have no significant correlation on the volume of elements mapped

The number of contributors have no significant correlation on the volume of elements mapped. While the number of contributors is important, it may not be the only or most important factor in determining the volume of elements mapped.

4. Unexplained Peaks in Elements Mapped, Possibly Due to Mass Imports or Corporate Mapping

We observed unexplained peaks in the number of elements mapped, which could be attributed to mass imports or corporate mapping. The peaks coincide with Apple’s active mapping efforts using GPS, LiDAR, and cameras to collect data, and Kaart’s automated mapping technology.

These corporations have the resources to make mass edits to OpenStreetMap, resulting in the unexplained peaks. Further investigation is needed to determine if these peaks are indeed the result of mass imports or corporate mapping.

You can check the complete graphs for the countries we analyzed or explore the raw data.

Open questions and next steps

Based on the insights gained, we have identified at least three key questions that warrant further investigation:

1. Who is mapping the most?

Understanding the different levels of contributors can lead to better support for their specific needs.

  • Which types of contributors are not well retained?

  • How much of the total do the most active contributors’ edits represent?

  • How is AI-assisted mapping affecting the contributors/contributions ratios?

2. Beyond remote mapping

How does the analysis change when we focus on changes requiring on-the-ground/local knowledge, excluding corporate mapping?

Tools like StreetComplete and the new Field Tasking Manager signal spaces where more research and analysis would provide a lot of valuable insights.

3. What can we learn from fruitful countries?

Such as Timor-Leste. Are there dynamics that can be applied to other countries?

Given our belief in the significance of local/on-the-ground knowledge for solving local challenges, we are currently conducting a follow-up analysis to explore potential differences with the initial research findings.

We would love to keep collaborating with HeiGIT and other organizations and individuals so OSM Data can bring value to everyone who is using and editing the map.

Increasing accessibility of OSM Contribution Data

Parallel to our analysis of contributor data, we also pursued the goal of improving the accessibility of OSM data, ensuring that individuals without technical or data analysis backgrounds can easily find answers to their questions.

If I’m part of the local Kenya community and I want to know how the number of contributors evolved in the past year, is there an easy way I can get a straight answer about this?

Inspired by the ChatGeoPT project, which employed Large Language Models (LLMs) and AI to query OSM data using natural language, we sought to replicate this approach using the ohsome-api, optimized for contributors and contributions data.

In a controlled three-week experiment, we aimed to address this challenge. However, we encountered significant obstacles when utilizing the commonly used LLM (gtp-3.5) to interact with the ohsome-api. This model lacked training on utilizing the API effectively, hindering our progress.

Nonetheless, we identified tremendous potential in pursuing this avenue in collaboration with other individuals and organizations interested in OSM data. We are actively exploring conversations with HeiGIT and others to refine and fine-tune LLM models, ideally open-source, to accomplish this task.

Get Involved: Let’s Collaborate!

We invite you to connect with us, whether you are an OSM community member, contributor, organization, or an individual passionate about OSM data. Together, we can unlock the value of OSM data, fostering collaboration and enabling meaningful insights for all.

If you are interested in exploring these opportunities, please reach out to me at ruben.martin at hotosm dot org. We look forward to engaging in fruitful discussions and driving impactful change through collaborative OSM data analysis.

English version

Esta es una continuación de mi anterior post de presentación del estudio.

En Humanitarian OpenStreeMap Team (HOT) queremos utilizar mejor nuestros recursos para apoyar el movimiento más amplio de Apen mapping humanitario. Por eso estamos llevando a cabo un estudio para entender cómo apoyar a los colaboradores y a las comunidades en países con necesidades humanitarias, de desastre o de desarrollo.

En este post resumiré lo que ha ocurrido en el primer trimestre (Q1) de 2021, lo que hemos aprendido y el plan para los próximos 3 meses (Q2).

Entendiendo el movimiento de Open Mapping Humanitario

Nuestro objetivo y los principales resultados del primer trimestre fueron los siguientes

Se ha puesto en marcha el trabajo de investigación centrado en las necesidades globales/compartidas.

  • Las partes interesadas están de acuerdo con el alcance del trabajo
  • Se ha entregado un conjunto de preguntas básicas/globales priorizadas.
  • Se ha realizado una exploración inicial de las posibles fuentes de datos.
  • Se ha elaborado un plan para el segundo trimestre a partir de la información y los conocimientos adquiridos.

Puede ver más detalles en el resumen público del proyecto (en).

Q1: Centrarse en cuestiones globales

Decidimos centrarnos primero en descubrir las preguntas e incógnitas que definimos como “centrales/globales”, que afectan al movimiento global de open mapping humanitario. Como resultado, terminamos con una lista de categorías y una lista de preguntas(en) que pensamos que necesitamos entender, sabemos que tendremos que reducir el alcance de las preguntas para que sea factible.

  • Quién: Preguntas sobre las personas presentes en las comunidades, sus conexiones y su organización.
  • Actividad: Preguntas sobre las colaboraciones y sus tipos.
  • Dónde: Sobre la ubicación, los idiomas, las herramientas, los canales y las plataformas.
  • Motivación y retención: Sobre incentivos, satisfacción y barreras.
  • Impacto: Sobre los datos y la percepción del impacto.
  • Inclusión y acogida: Entender cómo se siente la gente de segura, su diversidad o la resolución de conflictos.

Una cosa importante que hicimos aquí fue diferenciar entre las preguntas más generales sobre las comunidades y los grupos (a nivel de la comunidad) y las preguntas a un nivel más individual (a nivel de los colaboradores).

Lluvia de ideas

Uno de los ejercicios de “lluvia de ideas” que realizamos para llegar a lo que necesitábamos entender

También tratamos de entender si había posibles fuentes de datos existentes que pudieran ayudarnos a responder a algunas de estas preguntas en el futuro o si no las había si tendríamos que crear nuevos datos nosotros mismos.

Qué aprendimos

Después de todo este trabajo, reflexionamos sobre las necesidades de pasar a una nueva fase para recopilar los datos o crearlos si faltaban.

En ese momento quedó claro que este trabajo requeriría una profunda colaboración con las comunidades y que esto no era posible con los actuales niveles de participación de HOT, ni sólo con las relaciones existentes con las comunidades en determinadas zonas y regiones.

Esto cambió nuestra visión de los próximos pasos, dándonos cuenta de que para que esta investigación tuviera el impacto previsto debíamos mejorar primero la creación y gestión de relaciones.


Miriam González, presidenta de la junta directiva de HOT

Q2: Centrarse en la construcción de relaciones más fuertes

Para el segundo trimestre, hemos iterado nuestro plan de proyecto para dar cabida a la parte de construcción de relaciones. Nuestras intenciones para este trimestre son:

  • Centrarnos en establecer un sólido proceso de construcción de relaciones internas con las comunidades y los colaboradores, y comenzar (o continuar) la creación de relaciones clave en África Oriental y Asia y el Pacífico.
  • Abordar primero las cuestiones a nivel comunitario, en colaboración con los contactos comunitarios clave en estas regiones.
  • Crear conjuntamente con las comunidades un plan optimizado para involucrar a los colaboradores locales en las preguntas a nivel de colaborador más adelante.

Queremos asegurarnos de que no llevamos a cabo una investigación sin tener una excelente capacidad para llegar a todos los que quieren ser escuchados, y por eso creemos que las comunidades deben participar en la definición de este proceso, aunque nos lleve más tiempo del que habíamos previsto inicialmente.

Cómo participar en este trabajo

El equipo de Humanitarian OpenStreetMap intentará ponerse en contacto con las comunidades y los colaboradores en las próximas semanas para establecer mejores relaciones, y más tarde comprobar el plan actual y las preguntas.

También puedes unirte al Grupo de Trabajo de la Comunidad a través de nuestras salas de chat en Slack, Matrix o Telegram (todas con puente), contactar a través de communityteam at o comentar directamente en este post.

  • ¿Qué te parece el plan?
  • ¿Son las preguntas y las categorías lo suficientemente importantes?
  • ¿Hay fuentes de datos en las que no hayamos pensado?
  • ¿Nos falta algo?
  • ¿Cómo crees que este proyecto puede ayudar a tu trabajo o a tus comunidades?
  • ¿Tienes alguna otra sugerencia sobre cómo hacer que los colaboradores y las comunidades participen?


Versión en español

This is a follow-up of my previous post presenting the research work.

At Humanitarian OpenStreeMap Team (HOT) we want to better use our resources to support the wider Humanitarian Open Mapping movement. That’s why we are running a research project to understand how to support contributors and communities in countries with humanitarian, disaster or development needs.

In this post I’ll summarize what happened in the first quarter (Q1) of 2021, what we learned and the plan for the next 3 months (Q2).

Understanding the Humanitarian Open Mapping Movement

Our goal and key results for Q1 were:

Foundational work for the research with focus on global/shared needs is kick-started

  • Stakeholders are aligned on scope of the work
  • A set of prioritized core/global questions and unknowns is delivered
  • Initial exploration of potential data sources is delivered
  • A plan for Q2 is shaped by the insights and learnings gathered

You can see more details on on the public project brief.

Q1: Focus on global questions

We decided to focus first on discovering questions and unknowns that we defined as “core/global”, which affect the wider global humanitarian open mapping movement. As a result we end up with with a list of buckets (or categories) and a list of questions we think we need to understand, we acknowledge we’ll have to reduce the scope of the questions to make it feasible.

  • Who: Questions about the people present in the communities, their connections and organization.
  • Activity: Questions about contributions and their types.
  • Where: About location, languages, tools, channels and platforms.
  • Motivation and retention: About incentives, satisfaction and barriers.
  • Impact: About data and impact perception.
  • Inclusive and welcoming: Understanding how safe people feel, their diversity or conflict resolution.

One important thing we did here, was to differentiate between more general questions about the communities and groups (community-level) and question at a more individual level (contributor-level)


One of the brainstorming exercises we ran to come up with what we needed to understand

We also tried to understand if there were potential existing sources of data that can help us answer some of these questions in the future or if there were none and we’ll have to create new data ourselves.


After all of this work we reflected on the requirements to move to a new phase to gather the data or create it if missing.

It was clear at this time that this work will require deep collaboration with communities and that this was not possible with HOT’s current engagement levels or relationships with communities in certain areas and regions.

This changed our vision for the next steps, realizing that in order for this research to have its intended impact we needed to improve our relationship building and management first.


Miriam Gonzalez, HOT’s board president

Q2: Focus on building stronger relationships

For Q2, we have iterated our project plan to provide room for the relationship building piece. Our intentions for this quarter are:

  • Focus on establishing a strong internal relationship building process with communities and contributors and start (or continue) building key relationships in East Africa and Asia and the Pacific.
  • Tackle the community-level questions first, in collaboration with key community contacts in these regions.
  • Co-create with communities an optimized plan for engaging local contributors on the contributor-level questions later on.

We want to make sure that we don’t run a research without having an excellent capacity to reach everyone that wants to be heard, and that’s why we think communities need to be involved in defining this process, even if it takes longer than we initially planned.

How to be involved in this work

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team will try to reach out to communities and contributors in the next weeks to build better relationships, and later check on the current plan and questions.

You can also join the Community Working Group via our chat rooms on Slack, Matrix or Telegram (all bridged), contact via communityteam at or comment directly to this post.

  • What do you think about the plan?
  • Are the questions and buckets/categories important enough?
  • Are there existing data sources we haven’t thought about?
  • Are we missing something?
  • How do you see this project helping your work or your communities?
  • Do you have other suggestions on how to get contributors and communities involved?


(English version)

Como continuación de mi post del mes pasado: Uniéndome al movimiento Open Mapping, quiero compartir con todos mi plan inicial sobre cómo voy a aportar valor a este espacio.

Por qué

El Equipo Humanitario de OpenStreetMap (HOT) tiene un claro deseo de construir y apoyar a las comunidades de Open Mapping, aumentando su capacidad y autosuficiencia, al tiempo que garantiza que todos tengan la oportunidad de participar.

Desde el Equipo Comunitario lo haremos “Estableciendo un marco de salud comunitario y aportando mejoras”

Para empezar a hablar de salud, estrategia y mejoras tenemos que definir lo que entendemos por salud comunitaria y eso tiene que estar fundamentado en un análisis claro de los datos.

En el pasado, HOT no ha llevado a cabo un análisis profundo de sus comunidades y redes, y ahora nos enfrentamos al reto de comprender a los colaboradores, grupos y comunidades que operan en el espacio del open mapping humanitario.

Sin estos datos, bases y aprendizajes iniciales, no podemos diseñar eficazmente una estrategia para aumentar nuestra presencia en las regiones foco, definir y aumentar la salud de nuestra comunidad o ejecutar activaciones comunitarias exitosas que podamos medir e iterar.

Alcance y calendario

Nuestro enfoque y prioridad más inmediatos en el primer trimestre de 2021 es el apoyo a los recién creados Hubs regionales en África Oriental y Asia, ya que consideramos que su éxito en los próximos meses es clave para los objetivos de la organización y una parte fundamental de la estrategia y visión de HOT.

Más adelante ampliaremos el alcance de este proyecto para llevar el mismo apoyo a otras zonas, siempre en consonancia con los objetivos de la organización en ese momento.

Nos centraremos en la parte humanitaria del movimiento de open mapping, pero podríamos incluir a otros actores que realizan o están interesados en open mapping si consideramos que ellos o su trabajo pueden aprovecharse o ayudar al uso humanitario de los datos.


Planeamos lograr esto a través de

  1. Conversaciones profundas con los Hubs (empleado y voting members de HOT) sobre sus objetivos, dirección, enfoque y necesidades. Acordar cuáles son las incógnitas o preguntas que necesitan entender para tener éxito.
  2. Comprender dónde están los datos para responder a las preguntas: Explorar los datos e investigaciones anteriores y reunir los datos que faltan, tanto cuantitativos como cualitativos.
  3. Combinar los datos y analizarlos, aportando aprendizajes y posibles suposiciones, entregando un informe.
  4. Aprovechar el informe para elaborar una estrategia comunitaria y proponer experimentos iniciales para poner a prueba nuestros aprendizajes y suposiciones.


El siguiente grupo de personas estará directa o indirectamente involucrado en esta investigación.

  • Responsable: Rubén Martín
  • Responsable final: Pete Masters
  • Apoyo: Hub de Asia, Hub de África Oriental, Equipo de la Comunidad
  • Consultas: Voting members, equipos MERL, Tech, Comms, Disaster Services.
  • Informado: El Board de HOT, los managers, los empleados, los colaboradores y la comunidad de open mapping en general.

¿Cómo puedes ayudar?

Me gustaría recibir algunos comentarios iniciales sobre este plan, en este momento todavía estamos en fases muy tempranas, definiendo y alineando el espacio del problema, entendiendo lo que necesitamos entender.

Mi plan es seguir publicando sobre este trabajo mensualmente y abrir más oportunidades de retroalimentación para la comunidad de open mapping humanitaria.

  • ¿Qué opinas de este trabajo?
  • ¿Qué es lo que más destaca para ti, tus colaboraciones o tu comunidad local?
  • ¿Nos estamos olvidando de algo?

Por favor, hazme saber tu opinión en los comentarios abajo 👇.


(Versión en español)

As a follow-up of my past month’s post about Joining the Open Mapping Movement, I want to share with everyone my initial plan on how I’m going to bring value to this space.


The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) has a clear desire of building and supporting the Open Mapping communities, by increasing their skill capacity and self-sufficiency while ensuring everyone has an opportunity to participate.

From the Community Team we will do this by “Establishing community health framework and delivering improvements”

In order to start talking about health, strategy and improvements we need to define what we mean by community health and that needs to be informed by clear data analysis.

In the past HOT hasn’t run deep analysis on its communities and networks, and now we face the challenge to understand the contributors, groups and communities operating within the humanitarian open mapping space.

Without this data, baselines and initial learnings, we can’t effectively design a strategy to grow our presence in the focus regions, define and increase our community health and run successful community activations that we can measure and iterate.

Scope and timeline

Our most immediate focus and priority in the first quarter of 2021 is supporting the recently created regional Hubs in East Africa and Asia, since we consider their success in the coming months is key to the organization goals and a fundamental part of HOT’s vision and strategy.

We will widen the scope of this project later on to bring the same support to other areas, always aligning with the organization goals at the time.

We will focus on the humanitarian portion of the open mapping movement, but we might include other actors that are doing or interested in open mapping if we consider whether they or their work can leverage or help the humanitarian use of the data.


We plan to achieve this though:

  1. Deep conversations with Hubs (staff and HOT voting members) on their goals, direction, focus and needs. Agreeing on what are the unknowns or questions that they need to understand to be successful.
  2. Understand where is the data to answer the questions: Explore past data and research and gather any missing data, both quantitative and qualitative.
  3. Combine the data and analyze, bring learnings and potential assumptions, delivering a report.
  4. Leverage the report to craft a community strategy and propose initial experiments to test our learnings and assumptions.


The following group of people will be directly or indirectly involved with this research.

  • Responsible: Rubén Martín
  • Accountable: Pete Masters
  • Supporter: Asia Hub, East Africa Hub, Community Team
  • Consulted: Voting Members, MERL, Tech, Comms, Disaster Services teams.
  • Informed: HOT’s Board, Managers, staff, contributors and wider open mapping community.

How can you help?

I would like to get some initial feedback on this plan, right now we are still in super early phases, defining and aligning on the problem space, understanding what we need to understand.

My plan is to keep posting about this work monthly and open more feedback opportunities for the wider humanitarian open mapping community.

  • What do you think about this work?
  • What resonates the most with you, your contributions or local community?
  • Are we missing something?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below 👇


(English version)

Me alegra anunciar que esta semana me uní al Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team como responsable de estrategia y estudios comunitarios.

En mi nuevo rol, trabajaré para apoyar el movimiento de mapas abiertos con fines humanitarios mediante la construcción de estrategias e iniciativas basadas en datos e investigación de calidad, así como identificando oportunidades para promover los objetivos del proyecto Audacious.

Ampliaremos el apoyo a las comunidades cartográficas locales con el objetivo de cartografiar un área que alberga a mil millones de personas, agregar lugares con alto riesgo de desastres naturales o que experimenten pobreza en más de 94 países en todo el mundo.

Estamos y continuaremos apoyando el mapeo de los no presentes en ningún mapa, con un enfoque especial en apoyar el mapeo local, en el terreno. Esto brinda un recurso clave para las ONGs, las organizaciones humanitarias, los gobiernos, la sociedad civil y otros actores para realizar intervenciones que seguirán mejorando y salvando vidas en todo el mundo.

Estoy especialmente orgulloso de tener la oportunidad de ser parte de este movimiento de mapeo abierto y ayudar a producir datos abiertos que estarán disponibles públicamente en OpenStreetMap, aprendiendo y conectando con comunidades nuevas y existentes, así como compartiendo y apoyando a través de mi experiencia con comunidades de software libre desde hace más de 16 años. 

Durante mis primeras semanas quiero conectar con diversas personas dentro del movimiento Humanitarian Open Mapping para aprender más y prepararme para apoyar mejor a estas comunidades.

¡No dudes en escribirme (ruben.martin arroba si tienes ideas o reflexiones sobre este tema!

¿Tienes curiosidad por saber cómo participar en el fantástico movimiento de Open Mapping con fines humanitarios?

¡Descubre cómo convertirte en voluntario!

Joining the Open Mapping Movement

Posted by nukeador on 8 January 2021 in English. Last updated on 11 January 2021.

(Versión en español)

I’m happy to announce that this week I’ve joined the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team as Community Strategist and Research Lead.

In my new role I’ll be working to support the Humanitarian Open Mapping Movement by building strategies and initiatives based on quality data and research, as well as identifying opportunities to further the Audacious project aims.

We will scale up the support to local mapping communities with the aim of mapping an area home to one billion people, adding places at high risk of natural disaster or experiencing poverty in more than 94 countries worldwide.

We are and will continue supporting mapping the unmapped, with special focus in empowering local, on the ground, mapping. This brings a key resource to NGOs, humanitarian organizations, governments, civil society and other actors to make interventions that will keep improving and saving lives around the world.

I’m especially proud to have the chance to be part of this open mapping movement and help produce open data that will be available publicly in OpenStreetMap, learning from and connecting with existing and new communities, as well as sharing and supporting through my experience with open source communities for more than 16 years now. 

During my first weeks I plan to connect with diverse people inside the Humanitarian Open Mapping movement to learn more and set myself to better support these communities.

Feel free to contact me (ruben.martin at if you have thoughts or reflections about this space!

Curious about how to get involved with the vibrant Humanitarian Open Mapping movement?

Check how to become a volunteer!