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News — 05 November, 2013

Straighten Our Ways – Ulaanbaatar Project Week 5

Having taken advantage of the warmer temperature the latter part of Week 4, we had plenty of data to edit and upload. Unfortunately this was another adaptation to our plan as it is typically best to map, edit, and upload the same day on larger missions where internet is relatively easy to access. However planning around the weather was our case, leading to some of the same partners during data collection unable to attend the same sessions this week to edit and upload together. It always makes editing more difficult if it is not your own handwriting, sketches on field papers, etc. Some of the mappers even attempted to assist, and in worst case scenarios worked alone on, uploading data they did not collect.

Additionally, with not editing much in a week a lot of refresher was needed to clarify those trickier tasks like GPX, geo-locating pictures, uploading field paper snapshots, … to properly place and tag things like businesses, construction sites, and even the recycling bins and manholes. Making things more difficult is not yet having the wiki (or much of any OSM content) translated into Mongolian (see this page if you can help). So with Severin and I doing most of the searching for the odd tagging scheme and the recapping of when to create a POI or use more/less nodes on a building/road, and the gracious help of the few proficient English speaking students; we made some initial progress uploading data from the field.

Of course another aspect of collecting raw survey data is: now you have seen how things actually look, rather than how they appear in the imagery. Whether that is something big like a change to major roads or a new building/construction project; or that you could not see a smaller building, that you now know is there, in the shadow of another. And the subtle things like gates or fences that obviously obstruct the residential way that is currently unobstructed in OpenStreetMap, will need fixed. Regrettably the effects of availability and communication barriers took their toll a bit getting some of the key messaging about field collection to everyone; but after a few sessions of uploading and seeing what is important to collect in the field, we continued to make strides in data collection this week. At least four teams of two are now proficient enough to collect, edit, and upload without much (if any) assistance and some began to naturally help the others.

This was significant as Severin and I looked at our remaining time on the project. With only two weeks left, if we were going to build an OSM community we had to force the issue. We arraigned the first mapping party of what we hope becomes (is) OSM-Mongolia at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST)’s Central Library Building for Friday. I think it was a bit of a shock to the students as they would now become the teachers. Of course we were there to help organize and answer questions, but they would need to convert our presentation to them into their presentation to Mongolia. But it was a shock to me as well; my time is actually up, I’m writing this post back in Colorado, USA - this would be my last day working in Mongolia.

Although I faced many challenging moments on the project, and the setup and process I had envisioned before arriving was pretty far from what I actually experienced, I am simply impressed. What members of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) do in the field is rough, physically and mentally; and I imagine this project was luxurious compared to others as far as accommodations and working in a city - (A reminder that this was my first assignment with HOT as Junior Coordinator). I can say I was not fully prepared, for the weather I was fine (most of the time); but will probably always look back and think I could have done something different to make this project an even greater success. Given the circumstance, I believe I did a good job supporting Severin with some tough decisions and quick actions to succeed where we may have fallen short. Most of all I am impressed with everyone I met and worked with. The Ulaanbaatar City and World Bank staff was welcoming and helpful, and the MUST students are amazing.

It could have been a mapping party anywhere in the world; people sharing their knowledge of, and passion for, OpenStreetMap. With short notice and all we had a great turnout, 2 professors and about a dozen students from the University of Ulaanbaatar. We also had several other visitors throughout the week, including some private sector representatives that were interested in using OSM (Web Content, Apps) and may in turn financially/materially promote/support the project (Asia Server?). We hadn’t figured out if the new mappers would be returning for the remaining weeks of the project before I left on Saturday; but for all of you – try to absorb as much of Severin’s OpenStreetMap knowledge as you can before he leaves - it was a pleasure working with, and learning from you. Also to all of our HOT colleagues, and anyone who wants to be a part of helping OSM-Mongolia continue to grow; their new Mailing List is Talk-mn at (will be mostly in Mongolian, although you may get a reply with English or Russian).

Bayartai, will miss you; looking forward to reading Severin’s remaining posts from OSM-Mongolia!