Headed to the International Open Street Map Conference to Talk Map Data in Africa


3 min read

This weekend I’m headed to State of the Map 2009 , the 3rd Annual International Open Street Map conference in Amsterdam to present on the recent import of over one hundred thousand miles of United Nations road data in Africa, part of the work done by Development Seed’s Spring 2009 GIS for Humanitarian Relief Team.

The talk has three main goals. First, I want to talk about why open GIS data is so important to us at Development Seed. Second, I want to provide a status update on the data import for roads in Africa that we did this spring. Finally, I’m most excited to talk about next steps we’ll be taking with this project.

We’ve been using maps for years now to tell compelling stories, visualize data, and help organizations better coordinate their work. In every mapping project we work on, the quality and range of data available has the potential to make or break the outcome.

Too often we run into problems where good data is squirreled away on someone’s hard drive, baked into a pdf, or released with licenses restrictive enough to make it unusable. In most of these cases, data silos waste the time and money of both the organization that creates them and the end user. By starting to break down these silos, Open Street Map reduces operational inefficiencies and makes the organizations we work and partner with more effective.

Now that the first six countries we worked on are more or less complete, it’s a good time to talk about what we’ve learned and some of the mistakes we made along the way. We spent a lot of time looking at screens like the one below, fingers crossed, hoping our data would be successfully imported. With more experience under our belts, I think we can help others avoid some of the problems we ran into.

Both Africover and DEPHA have a lot more data that could be imported into Open Street Map, and there are a few other promising sources that we’ve yet to mine.

But large data imports conducted by small teams only go so far. The real generative power of Open Street Map comes from the tens of thousands of people using GPS to map their neighborhoods, tracing aerial photography, tagging roads, and adding points of interest. In places where Open Street Map has really taken off, the quality and level of detail of the map is simply astonishing.

There’s some exciting possibilities in the works on this front and I want to talk about a few of our ideas for helping to build the Open Street Map community in Africa. If you want to stay up to date on what we’re doing in this arena, there’s a new listserv for OSM in Africa that you can join here.

This will be my first time at an Open Street Map conference and the schedule looks just fantastic. I’m really excited to get immersed in some serious open map data geekery and catch up with a lot of folks I’ve only had the chance to interact with online.

My slides are posted below. I’ll be tweeting about the conference while I’m there and will post a round-up once I’m back. Hope to see you in Amsterdam!

The Africover Import: Lessons Learned and Next Steps

View more documents from rsoden.

What we're doing.