The first ever White House Mapathon held on 21 May 2015, served to highlight the growing importance of crowdmapping and open geospatial data and how these square with the commitments in the Administration's Second Open Government National Action Plan. Opening remarks from Senior Advisor for Open Government Cori Zarek, US CTO Megan Smith, Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman, and US State Dept Geographer Lee Schwartz each noted the significance of this first event and framed the evolving relationship between government, open data, crowdsourcing, and open source methods. It was a formal acknowledgement that open mapping data provides a great service to government agencies, here and abroad, and in many cases, helping them to improve delivery of services and be more responsive to citizen needs.
The core event of the White House mapathon was the resoundingly successful mapping activity. This event exposed many new people to crowdmapping, how it works, and what makes it successful. Like all mapathons, this was a hands-on event. For many people, this was their first exposure to using open source mapping tools and first time contributing to an open source data project. Every attendee was encouraged to contribute to OpenStreetMap by joining one of three different mapping projects:
- Department of Energy sponsored an activity to map power utility service areas using geolocated outage reports so that disaster-impacted residents, tourists, first responders and relief workers can better access information for power outage responses.
- As part of their ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative, the National Park Service sponsored a project to improve tagging of parks and thereby fine-tune the planning resources and contextual information for the “find your park” segment of the program.
- Participants were also invited to map through MapGive, a flagship initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Open Government Plan, which links digital diplomacy with collaborative mapping. MapGive mappers focus on creating and maintaining useful base maps for humanitarian response and sustainable development.
The event also served to highlight the growing number of government agencies moving to take advantage of the crowd-sourcing methods to support their operations and drive an approach to information strategy. As HOT’s work around the world demonstrates, government agencies are realizing that crowdmapping projects have the potential for very beneficial transformations in the relationship between the government and the public.
The White House mapathon showed that governments, and other institutions, are eager to to learn from crowdmapping events and to realize the benefits of open data. This summit was an acknowledgement that crowd-sourced open map data is valuable for essential government activities, including humanitarian response, service delivery, and civic applications. It also hinted of the possibilities of innovation in the relationship between citizens and their government institutions. Many of us floating in the OpenStreetMap ecosystem consider open government to be our natural collaborators in free map data and believe that citizen mappers have a role in helping create good, responsive civic institutions. To that end, we hope to see more open mapping events like the White House mapathon.