The training and outreach around OpenStreetMap that Nicolas and I are doing in Haiti as part of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (aka HOT) is going well, primarily because of the effort the OSM community has made over the past few months to support the response efforts happening here. The focus of the HOT mission (which is funded by ECHO and facilitated by MapAction) is to make sure that OpenStreetMap remains a valuable, relevant datasource and tool so it can continue to be used in the ongoing earthquake recovery efforts. Nicolas and I (in addition to the remote HOT community) are attempting to do this in three ways:

  • Establish connections with and train representatives from the UN Cluster system (which includes international NGOs), the Haitian government, and Haitian civil society on how to use OpenStreetMap data and collect data to grow the toolset.
  • Make sure that Haiti’s OpenStreetMap data continues to be the best mapping data available of its kind. This includes identifying key datasets to import and establishing mechanisms that allow data collected on the ground in Haiti to flow into the OSM database.
  • Better identify what mapping data Haiti needs for recovery efforts and assess how OSM tools can be improved to meet these needs.


So far most of our efforts have focused on the first point. We arrived last Sunday night and were in planning meetings with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and KPK (Ushahidi-Haiti) within a few hours of landing in Port-au-Prince. We’ve spent a lot of time this first week getting to know the GIS teams from the OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), IOM, World Food Program, MINUSTAH, World Health Organization, and UNICEF, and we’ve also been working closely with CNIGS, the Haitian government’s geo-spatial agency.

In many ways our outreach efforts have been far easier than we anticipated. The GIS teams here have all heard of OpenStreetMap, and most of them are already using it to some extent. There is real incentive to work with us because OSM has become a key dataset for the humanitarian community. People are coming to trainings because they want to learn how to use the data more effectively, give us feedback on how we can improve the tools available to them, and strategize with us about to best fit OpenStreetMap into their workflows.


We conducted our first training Saturday afternoon with staff from OCHA, WASH Cluster, UNICEF, MapAction, and USAID, and in it we walked through the how to use GPS, Walking Papers, and JOSM for field-surveying. There were a few hiccups caused by a faulty USB cable, unpredictable internet, and about twice as many participants as we anticipated, but overall it was great to give these folks - some of them active OSM data users - a better understanding of how to contribute to OpenStreetMap and more insight into how it all works.

This week we’ll be doing either training or data collection exercises every day. If all goes as planned, we’ll train Cluster and CNIGS staff Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, we’ll head to Jacmel, a flood prone city outisde of Port-au-Prince that was also hit by the earthquake, to collect updated information on camps, road names and conditions, and locations of schools and medical clinics. We’ll be using OpenStreetMap as a data repository, and we hope that CNIGS will be able to lead the surveying efforts after the trainings we do this this week, with Nicolas and I there primarily to observe and support as necessary. Through the training and surveying in Jacmel, we hope to learn more about how the OpenStreetMap community can better meet the needs here, and expose a lot of people to OpenStreetMap tools.


On the data side, we have two main goals. The first is to come up with a list of the most accurate set of baseline datasets so we can import them to OpenStreetMap as necessary to make sure it has the best data available. At the moment, no one here has such a list. We’re working with OCHA and CNIGS to create one and hope to have it completed in the next few days.

Second, we want to find ways to import and regularly update the data that’s currently be collected by people on the ground. UNICEF sent out 100 surveyors on motorcycles last week to collect data on school locations, information on medical facilities is constantly being updated, and there are at least three different groups collecting data on camps, so this is a big need. Kate Chapman, Karl Guggisberg, and others are regularly importing new data to keep medical facility locations current, and we hope to set up something similar for schools and camps. Part of the problem is that there are different data models between surveys and surveying groups, so we need to come up with basic standards. We did this with OCHA and IOM last week when we quickly decided on some baseline attributes for camps that both used. We’re now in a good position to import new data, using Nicolas’s efforts around the Humanitarian Data Model as a guide. I’m hoping we can have similar success with schools, water kiosks, and health facilities.

Moving Forward

As far as better targeting OpenStreetMap tools and data to the players working for the recovery effort, we have a ways to go before we will be ready to provide concrete ideas, but the trainings we conduct this week and the surveying mission to Jacmel should provide a good insight here.

For now I can highlight one initiative that’s underway to show the kinds of things we are thinking about. World Food Programme Logistics is interested in using OpenStreetMap road data and contributing to it. They use the UNSDIT data model, which describes key information about streets and other transport features. For them to contribute to OSM, we’ll need a bridge between OpenStreetMap data and UNSDIT data. Work on this is already underway by a number of people in the remote OSM community. CNIGS is also interested in setting up a similar service. There’s a lot more we need to learn, but this is one example of how we can better target OpenStreetMap to help out in on the ground recovery efforts.

Many of the people we’ve talked to over the last week have expressed sincere gratitude to the community for all of its hard work. The project has been a great opportunity to build upon these efforts and find ways HOT can continue to partner with responders here in Haiti and during future emergencies. We’ll continue to post updates as we can.

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