Mapping by the Margins

New Cultures of Contribution

Mikel Maron @mikel




July 13, 2012

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in the next 20 minutes


OSM and Wikipedia: some comparisons

OSM in marginalized communities

OSM & Government

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free and open mapping community

OpenStreetMap, the cornerstone of Map Kibera and I believe, any open community mapping, is a free and open map of the entire world, created by anyone, used by anyone. Tens of thousands of volunteers create geographic data, in a way similar to Wikipedia. Amazing data source, amazing community. OSM serves so many needs, including business. Companies like Foursquare and Apple are using OSM data in their maps because the data is of tremendous quality AND it gives them the maximum freedom to make maps to fit their needs..... Building databases of financial global data - Not as easy as creating @openstreetmap (Which is not that easy either) (why it works ... totally open and transparent, not particular to geodata, every kind of data has its pecularities)

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How it works

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Some numbers

Founded: 2004

Registered Users: > 600,000

GPS track points: ~ 3 billion

OSM Nodes + Ways: > 1.5 billion

Editors per month: 20,000

OSM Foundation Members: >300

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OSM in Haiti

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Foursquare, Nestoria, Apple...

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OSM and Wikipedia

Some comparisons

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OSM is a Database

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One map, in database translation







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Disputes: naming, some tagging

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Distribution not destination

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Software Ecosystem

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Not much process and rules

Nothing like the 5 pillars

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no employees

~100k $/ year


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National, thematic and local chapters

fluid boundaries, not separate sites

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OSM in Marginalized Communities

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Map Kibera

slum dwellers edit the same database as you

(they work in same database as anyone)

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Kibera according to the government

officially a forest

(they work in same database as anyone)

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Kibera according to Kibera

a community

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But why is Map Kibera interesting?

technology tricks us to connect across real boundaries

Map Kibera has generated a lot of interest, and really since leaving Nairobi at the end of 2010, we've been trying to figure out why, and see how the techniques adapt to new contexts. One answer, I think, is similar to how the space of the Open Data community provides a vocabularly and practice that reaches across people from very different domains of technology and policy & governance. The greatest potential of open community mapping projects are their great ability to level, to create a common, accessible way to communicate and relate that reaches across social, economic and political boundaries. Technology is shiny and beautiful and inspiring, and can create spaces where those real life differences are still relevant, but surmountable.

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For centuries, data tools only belonged to the powerful

now anyone can see like a state

This marks a departure from centuries of practice. Traditionally, maps, data, and mass media are tools of the powerful. They provide means to bring legibility to the domain, reading and writing the details of people's lives in order to enable the activities of the State, we hope, to benefit the people. These data and stories carried authority and absolute information. But in just the past few years, this has been completely upended, giving literally anyone the potential to make their own world legible, for their own purposes ... and we are only just starting to see what kind of political system or development relationships may result from that.

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Why is Map Kibera interesting?

perhaps our expectations are too low

There are other misunderstandings. I think a lot of the attention Map Kibera has received is due to low expectations. Slum dwellers are not experts, in fact just basically educated with little formal experience, on the edge of poverty. Are we surprised that a slum dweller can master technology if given the chance ... yea, and why is that? Why are the poor poor? Is it their intrinsic fault? Well, there are huge global forces beyond anyone's control, that are accelerating urbanization and slums, projected by UN Habitat to be a population numbering 2 billion by 2030. We better have higher expectations of the poor and undereducated, and invest time and effort, or else we're all in trouble.

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Mapping is not only Data

stories are more subjective, but no less important

With how we practice "mapping", the focus is more than simply on data. People love maps and data ... but this can be a distraction from the full story. Map Kibera is more than mapping, there's also a strong voice, the Voice of Kibera and Kibera News Network. Communities are also becoming their own journalists and story tellers. Now data can seem objective, but stories typically are not. Allowing for this kind of community empowerment, requires a remarkable release of control. People might say something you don't like, but something which needs to be heard. Without this, data alone, even if open, can potentially be nothing more than simple information extraction.

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What is a "Community" anyway?

not a thing, but a relationship and engagement

It's easy to misinterpret "community". Any community is hard to understand, and not precisely defined. But it certainly means people living in that place. Outsiders, whether foreigners practicing development, or even officials or local students, necessarily bring with us a remove and different perspective. Ensuring that it is the actual community, whatever it means in a particular place, is not something which can be put into a formula, but takes a deliberate trusted engagement. Communities are not monolitic, have divisions and struggles. This is where it's important to recognize that technology is only an enhancer at best, at worse a risk for a community, and not the end goal.

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Learning from Community Development

people deserve to know the facts about their lives

Open community mapping has more in common with community development approaches than ICT4D. There is an established practice of participatory development, which does in fact include non-technical and non-open mapping ... what can we learn from them? It's about relationships, and understanding, and different approaches to power. Communities do not "scale", they "grow". And in the process, who owns the results? With the data collected in the commons, do the communities that created the data really have access and use of the information? We must hold our projects strictly to this kind of accounting. Does data "do no harm"? What kind of data puts communities and individuals at risk? For instance, GroundTruth only facilitates mapping of public infrastructure, not demographics.

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Kibera's census figures

170700, 250000, 1 million....

rufus nailed it ... issue tracking for open data. better slide

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Keys to Community Mapping

* open data and open community

* people are doing it themselves, using whatever tools are most appropriate

* it's connected to their immediate needs, and immediately available

We need to define the key requirements of Open Community Mapping. Allow me a first draft. It's open data and in an open community. Communities are doing it directly themselves, using whatever tools are most appropriate. And importantly, the activities are connected to their immediate needs, and freely available in convenient forms.

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Only Possible with Open Community Data


There are concrete things that can only be accomplished with this kind of openness. HOT has supported the Haitian OSM community in the transition from disaster response to community building. TapTapMap shows the routes of informal public transit in Port au Prince. Soley Leve maps illustrates the expansion of grassroots slum upgrading in Cite Soleil. This transition would not be possible without real open community mapping.

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OSM in Government

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Data Imports

open govt data flowing one way

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South Africa

listening to the community

Chief Directorate: National Geo-Spacial Information ("CD:NGI") (part of the South African Department of Rural Development and Land Reform) to make some of their mapping datasets available to the project. The agreement does not include data collected and held by municipalities. In terms of the agreement we have to let CD:NGI know of any inaccuracies in their data or changes to the data imported from CD:NGI. All data we use must be tagged with "source=CD:NGI".

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Surrey Heath

govt is part of the community

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govt leverages the community

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institutional and community collaboration. story telling.

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Closing Thoughts

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When Networks Meet Hierarchies

everyone, be gentle

In these next steps, as institutions become interested in communities, we need to take heed. Open source communities and marginalized communities do share some characteristics; they can be distorted and affected by the great gravity of the spotlight and funding. This is still a young, small practice which needs space to grow. Most of the main practitioners are in the room today. How can we build a space where these network structures can really hold a proper conversation with institutions on how best to shape the practice? Not another community of practice website, but a living dialogue?

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One idea: overshare our challenges

let it all hang out

But perhaps we should practice more what we preach. In OpenStreetMap, things go on the map immediately, there's no filter, it goes public and the feedback comes. The same with how we train citizen journalism, don't wait for perfection, but get it out. This kind of learning by doing results in very quick improvement. And for our practice of community mapping, it's too easy to fool ourselves, and too risky to fully disclose our challenges. In development, perhaps we should overshare, and be our own worst critic, in a space where that won't have reprecussions for getting the next contract. How else can we get better?

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Open Data Licenses

proprietary wolves in sheep clothing

OpenStreetMap, the cornerstone of Map Kibera and I believe, any open community mapping, is a free and open map of the entire world, created by anyone, used by anyone. Tens of thousands of volunteers create geographic data, in a way similar to Wikipedia. Amazing data source, amazing community. OSM serves so many needs, including business. Companies like Foursquare and Apple are using OSM data in their maps because the data is of tremendous quality AND it gives them the maximum freedom to make maps to fit their needs.

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Communities are not Crowds

There are risks, but to me, probably not the same ones you imagine. Those mappers are not a "crowd". Crowd-sourcing is a term which distorts much of what happens with new technologies. We are not a faceless, wild mob ... this image is what sets up the confusion you hear again and again about trustworthiness of community data. Really, successful open projects are communities, complex communities of people who have real, trusted relationships, both online and offline, people who care about their common endeavor in a considered way. That doesn't describe a crowd.

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Fundamental Power Shift

people can improve their lives themselves

Essentially, the excitement of community mapping is beyond the data that's being created, but the possibility of a fundamental shift in the power dynamics of how government is practiced. If people know the facts about their own lives, and the means turn information into action, they have more power to call to account those institutions which are supposed to serve them, and ultimately, to improve their lives themselves.

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Mapping Party Sunday

"I map dead people"

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Thank you

Mikel Maron


Thank you for listening, and I look forward to building from this talk into conversation over the next two days.

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