(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 👇


Comment from mikelmaron on 24 February 2021 at 04:03

I like the phrase “community health”. Sometimes this has been referred to as “sustainability”, but health has an element of ongoing care, rather than casting out to survive.

I’m a broken record on this, and I’m very biased, but I’ll recommend again reading the Sustainability in OpenStreetMap paper, and talking to the author, my wife Erica Hagen.

Comment from PlayzinhoAgro on 28 February 2021 at 17:24

I was really excited about this initiative that is the best way to develop a healthy community … A step that would be good would be to create more content in the native languages, there are very few HOT content for example in Portuguese. I have been working to map my region following HOT principles I am still trying to organize to create a “hub” I would love your help we currently have our own task manager:

Sorry i use google translate

Comment from nukeador on 11 March 2021 at 13:02

Thanks for the comments.

Mikel, I’ll check the paper, thanks for that.

PlayzinhoAgro, yes, localized content is key for inclusion. We are already having some internal conversations at HOT to frame a localization strategy plan. I suspect we’ll have more time during the second half of 2021 to advance on that and we will definitely reach out to contributors and communities to be part of the process.

Feel free to follow the current Humanitarian Open Mapping Community Working group channels:

Comment from RAytoun on 7 June 2021 at 10:22

Hi Rubén and welcome to HOT,

I am adding here the response I sent to Bo Percival. My point is we are losing sight of HOT and confusing it with OpenStreetMap. Many of the points mentioned above are in actual fact best suited for directing at the OpenStreetMap community.

I think it is too easy to lose sight of who we are in the face of demands and criticism and the drive to achieve our Audacious target. We need to step back and assess ourselves and focus.

We are HOT - Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.

With our HOT hat on

1. Our specific function would be to prepare basic mapping for the First Responders on the ground in the aftermath of a disaster so that they can do their job effectively and efficiently - Save lives. This mapping is extremely time sensitive and we need to try and get the best possible standard to them in the shortest possible time.

2. We follow on with completing the coverage and cleaning up the mapping so that the Humanitarian Aid can work out the logistics of doing their job of sustaining the communities devastated by the disaster.

3. We encourage the local population to take responsibility for adding ground truthing and local knowledge to this basic mapping to improve the richness of the data and make it more usable for the local community.

This mapping is specifically intended for the purposes stated above and should not be mistaken for a high quality work of brilliant cartography.

With other projects or campaigns, the size and length of the activation and the specific requirements of the teams on the ground will dictate what we map and how quickly it is needed.

It was never HOT’s intention to produce high quality sustainable mapping. That is the remit of the OpenStreetMap community. What HOT is achieving in most cases is good maps that make it possible for the teams on the ground to do their job.

Our immediate concerns are getting good mapping to the people that require it in time for it to be of use.

Comment from mikelmaron on 7 June 2021 at 10:34

@RAytoun I appreciate your focus and all the work you do to help in response to mapping disasters!

However, I must strongly disagree with your framing of HOT. There’s nothing contradictory in centering HOT’s work in OSM. In fact, that’s exactly why we created HOT.

HOT is not separate from the OSM community. The OSM community is made of people and groups who edit OSM. HOT and people who take part in HOT activities are firmly part of OSM.

Quality mapping is definitely HOT’s remit. Of course OSM improves over time. But every edit should be as good as possible, and it’s not a stretch to expect an activation to make quality a top objective.

Lastly, disaster activation is a big part of what HOT does, but not the only thing.

Comment from RAytoun on 7 June 2021 at 15:21

@mikelmaron Thank you for those points and I agree with you.

At every opportunity I make mappers aware that we are a part of OSM and all our mapping must conform to OSM requirements. Part of the training I give is pointing out that all our mapping should be about having all the buildings, roads, waterways and landuse in alignment with each other.

As a cartographer that is the best advice I can give considering that the GPS we use only has a 5 metre accuracy at best, the available satellite imagery can be anything up to 30 metres out (highlighted in the seams of the tile joins), plus the resolution of some of the imagery is too grainy to get a perfect shape or size of a building. Add on to that that some imagery is being updated annually and each time it gets compiled they change the imagery autoadjust and the previous mapping no longer fits. So when we talk about “quality mapping” we need to understand what that is and how to realistically apply that within the time constraints of a disaster.

You will also note that I do not ignore the local communities and I actively promote their involvement to adopt the basic mapping that can be achieved by remote mapping, to ground truth what has been mapped so far and to add the annotation and depth of information to the mapped features.

Regarding your comment “Lastly, disaster activation is a big part of what HOT does, but not the only thing.” I agree, which is why I emphasised With our HOT hat on” indicating among other things.

Different mapping is different things to different people and one size does not fit all which is why we are now seeing OpenSeaMap, OpenSnowMap, OpenCycleMap, etc. A while ago I proposed to the OSM community that OSM should consider different layers that can be switched on or off to allow for specialised mapping to be overlayed on the OSM base map but this was not viewed favourably. We have lost a lot of real cartographic value and diversity by not allowing for that.

I see little mention of the Missing Maps project in the planning narrative which is about premapping an area to put vulnerable people on the map and prepare for possible disaster and this is where the local communities of OSM mappers can influence and update the depth of data that is of value to their communities. And yes HOT is also a part of that.

Thanks again @mikelmaron for giving me the opening to elaborate further regarding my previous post.

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