[OSM-talk] Feedback from the Red Cross, UN people, and Esri: YOU (OSM) are GREAT!!!
jgc at arkemie.com
Wed Apr 11 16:47:12 BST 2012
Last week, I was at the conference "GIS for the United Nations and the
International Community", a conference organized by UNITAR's Operational
Satellite Application Programme (UNOSAT) and Esri, April 3-5, 2012, at
the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva, Switzerland.
The main message I'd like to get back to each and everyone of you, from
the almost unanimous feedback I received and witnessed while I was
there, is that OpenStreetMap is rather well known and very much
appreciated among the people who attended the conference. It is
difficult to carry across the kind of recognition and gratefulness that
I felt for the work of OSM volunteers, and no expression can be
exaggerated to convey it. I am not saying that Ban Ki-moon knows about
OSM as much as he probably knows about Google, for instance, but at
least the UN people connected in some (possibly remote) way to GIS know
about it, and some are really well aware of the strengths (and also of
course of the weaknesses) of OSM.
Even in the panel that I attended in the first panel session,
"Geographic Information in Postcrisis - Transition to Stability and
Redevelopment", where OSM was not explicitly on the agenda, it came up
in the knowledgeable and lively discussion that followed, with some
strong opinions expressed about the "commercial" character of the
licence (from the point of view of this mostly humanitarian audience),
and the restrictions it implies, a topic that deserves more development
and to which I'll come back later in another post.
The next day, I was a panelist in "Open Data and the Crowd:
Collaborating for Action", a panel moderated by Ryan Lanclos, Esri,
where I had been invited at the last minute to represent H.O.T. It was a
really very interesting panel, with Lars Bromley, UNITAR/UNOSAT, Jihad
Abdalla, Emergency Officer at UNICEF/EMOPS, Andrej Verity, UNOCHA, and
Frédéric Zanetta, IFRC. UNOSAT had made their own experiments about
crowd-sourcing, and were well aware of its difficulties. I presented OSM
in general, and in particular the remote mobilization for Haiti (with an
extract of Tim Berners-Lee video at TED 2010) followed by field projects
there, with the example of the STM_020 project in Saint Marc, Haiti,
where I had just spent a month (I'll also come back to this later). I
think, judging from later interventions, that I managed to get across
the message that OSM is first of all a community (rather than a
"crowd"). A similar point was also later expressed from the audience,
with someone saying that organizations should "engage" with the "crowd",
not "use" it. In his conclusion, Andrej Verity encouraged the audience
"not to be afraid" to engage "the crowd".
After this panel, my personal feeling was an exhilarating one that
apparently everyone, from the panel and the interventions from the
audience, had a desire to move forward, iteratively improving
cooperation processes, and solving problems as they might arise.
In the next panel that I attended, of particular interest was the
presentation by René Saameli, of the ICRC, of the mapping of Walikale,
DR Congo, to support the Red Cross water supply project there, jointly
by remote OSM volunteers, who digitized the satellite image acquired by
the Red Cross, by local Red Cross representative and correspondents, who
collected field information, like names of streets and suburbs or points
of interest, on Walking Papers (with no need for GPS units - which would
be too costly if this process is to be repeated on a large scale), and
remote OSM volunteers again, who entered WP info into the database, to
produce a complete and accurate map of the town. Analyzes, such as
population repartition estimation based on digitized buildings, could
then also be conducted. The ICRC was so pleased by this project, as well
as previous joint work with OSM (like for mapping Osh in Kirghiztan
during the 2010 troubles there) that he declared that they are preparing
a Memorandum of Understanding with HOT, and envision the possibility to
have volunteers who would be both "Red Cross" and "HOT", as the Red
Cross and OSM are both mainly volunteers movements. Big credit goes to
Frédéric Bonifas for building this trust relationship over the years.
Here is an interview about this collaborative mapping:
Getting closer to the Red Cross and its millions of volunteers
worldwide, for those interested, could be a way to bridge the missing
link between the potential of OSM tools and the (mostly unmapped and
unconnected) local communities of the developing world, where they could
be really useful to make a difference.
And this could also be a popularity boost for OSM, by making lay people
aware of the link between maps and humanitarian action.
Like René said off the record, it could be a reply from "humanitarians
with boots on the ground" to the World Bank/Google agreement that made
some noise earlier this year.
The closing session offered summaries of the panels that had taken place
in parallel. A summary of the summaries was: "Free the data!" (instead
of keeping it in silos where it is difficult for others to access and use).
One of the visions that Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri,
shared, is that over more than 40 years in the field of GIS, he had
witnessed a few revolutionary technological changes: remote sensing,
GPS, and now, crowd-sourcing.
The main points of Esri's presentations that might be of interest here are:
- the recently released version 2.0 of ArcGIS editor for OSM
- the general move towards "the cloud", with the ability to share
hundreds of thousands of maps online, even for those without their own
- the possibility to easily create (point) map layers from spreadsheets
(containing geo-coordinates columns) ("as easy as drag and drop"),
- data collection tools on mobile devices (directly derived from data
They also recalled that they have a program to supply software licenses
to nonprofit organizations, which could apply to HOT (at least).
HXL (Humanitarian eXchange Language) is a draft standard, initiated by
OCHA, designed to address the problem that "information sharing is
becoming the bottleneck to efficient aid".
This conference allowed me to meet people from the Red Cross, MapAction,
UN-OCHA, USAID/OTI, ACTED,... and GIS and information officers from
South Sudan and Pakistan. By the way, who would like to help organize a
mapping party in Islamabad?
I also had the pleasure to meet Stéphane Henriod, who is interested in
natural disasters data and in contributing to OSM in Tajikistan, as you
may have seen on the HOT list, and Robert Colombo, who was "the guy in
the audience always asking many good, thought provoking, questions" (and
had activated SBTF, GisCorps and HOT to collect health facilities info
for Libya, from his position at WHO in Tunis). And it was, as always, a
pleasure to be able to chat with Fred Moine, who must now be back in
Haiti for IOM. Thanks to Mikel for introducing me to the panel
moderator, and to Nicolas for introducing me to his contacts who were
likely to be at the conference.
But maybe the best surprise for me was an "African citizen" (who works
in the UN) who came to me after my presentation to tell me that he
thought that OSM could be a development and democratization tool that
African youths, who have for instance contributed to the recent
democratic change in Senegal, could use to organize themselves and to
manage their own communities. This matched perfectly the vision that we
had in Haiti with Nicolas... So let's make it happen!
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