Hewlett Foundation Grant Summary | Ebola Epidemic Response

Posted by:
Mhairi O'Hara
Date posted:
Nov, 19 2015
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Inspired by our response to the West Africa Ebola epidemic, a grant was generously donated by the Hewlett Foundation to HOT. This funding was aimed at improving the ability of HOT to fulfill its large scale and long running Ebola response, as well as have the capacity to respond to future events. It was determined by the community that the grant be divided and focus on three projects, addressing the development of the online tools Field Papers and the Export Tool, as well as building the numbers of Activation Coordinators.



Field Papers

Developed by Stamen Design, Field Papers creates printable maps that can be taken out into the field, notes and sketches applied directly, which can then be photographed or scanned back to the site to capture edits. This tool is used heavily in the field, especially in countries where hand-held devices are sparse, such as those affected by the Ebola epidemic. The Hewlett Foundation grant, in collaboration with Stamen Design enabled the redevelopment of Field Papers, which was actively developed over 2 years ago. The aim of the project was to incorporate additional page sizes to the tool, as well as ensure stabilisation and internationalisation by re-writing the codes framework and enabling it to be translated into numerous languages. Internationalising the tool ensures that Field Papers is accessible to a much wider audience which already includes numerous stakeholders from the government, to NGO, to the private sector and individual community members. This is particularly important for those in developing nations where English is not a native language and the technical capabilities are limited as a large part of the tool is paper-based and images can be globally recognisable. Being able to use the tool empowers individuals to not only learn how to map, but enables them to contribute towards disaster mapping efforts in their own backyard without the use of expensive GPS equipment. The Ebola response effort saw more than 5 million objects modified and more than 8,000 places edited in the cities of Guéckédou, Kissidougou and Macenta in Guinea by the 8th August 2014, partly with the use of Field Papers on the ground not only to collect, but to also verify OSM data and ensure the delivery of accurate maps to humanitarians response organisations.  Please see the HOT website and Stamen Design blog for further details.


Export Tool

The HOT Export Tool creates custom OSM exports in a number of file formats for various regions around the world. The site allows the user to  choose an area of geographic interest and select key features for export, which can then be used on a variety of GIS tools such as ArcMap, QGIS, Google Earth, the OsmAnd mobile app and Garmin GPS devices. The ability to easily obtain updated OSM data ensured that spatial trends could be identified and tracked along with changes during the Ebola response, allowing key areas to be focused on. Similarly, exporting and transferring the OSM road and building data to other devices provided guided navigation in the field enabling people and supplies get to where they were most needed. A number of predefined Export Tool jobs related to the Ebola response were created and hosted online for humanitarians on the ground working in the field to easily obtain data extracts for routable navigation data. It was decided by the community that the tool should be redeveloped in order to address feature requests and bugs, as well as streamline the tool so that it would be more efficient, intuitive, dynamic and sustainable for the future. As the tool provides free map data for everyone, improving its usability through a more intuitive and internationalised interface also improves the ability for any individual, including those who are not GIS specialists and where English may not be their native language, to obtain the information they require to make their own decisions and contribute. Some of the new features include additional file formats, an interactive feature tag tree and more frequent data updates. Please see the HOT website and the dedicated GitHub repository for further details.



Activating is at the core of HOT and it encompasses how the organisation responds to disasters and public health emergencies such as the Ebola epidemic. The creation of pre and post disaster data of affected locations is crucial for numerous stakeholders from government, to NGO, to the private sector and individual community members to take preventative steps as well as provide relief. Coordinating the OSM community to map affected areas involves many moving parts and can take its toll on its volunteer coordinators, especially when responding to a large-scale and long lasting event such as the Ebola crisis. HOT has officially activated for over 40 events and will continue to respond. Therefore a project aimed at building the number of local volunteers, and their overall knowledge and skills to successfully support an activation was deemed vital by the community. A protocol document and training center was developed by HOT, which included a ‘Sprint’ that was held in Washington D.C., USA where community members captured the necessary knowledge and experience, as well as two pilot ‘Workshops’ in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Jakarta, Indonesia to put the training center into practice and conduct a review to capture the participants feedback and adapt the curriculum for future effectiveness. With over 700 volunteers contributing to the 56 Ebola related mapping projects on the HOT Tasking Manager over the extended timeframe of the activation, the dedicated coordinators worked hard and were spread thinly. The activation training centre will enable HOT to increase the number of its coordinators and the capacity to respond locally across time zones so that volunteers are not worn out and citizens can learn how to support events in their own regions. There are already 100 registered users of the online training centre to date, with the numbers growing. Please see the HOT website for further information.



Every project is continually evolving, and needs to be able to adapt especially as new individuals come on board from around the world, making HOT a truly diverse working environment. HOT and the work it does would not exist without its volunteers and partner organisations that contribute to the activations. Without our partner organisations, we can not target key areas to map, and without volunteers, the mapping would not exist. During the extent of the grant period, the key lesson learnt amongst many others is that HOT has to keep striving to onboard its new mappers and ensure that clear open channels exists between partner organisations and the global community:

  • Provide clear, concise and simple instructions for those wanting to get involved
  • Translate online tools and other reference materials into as many languages as possible
  • All voices no matter how small should be heard and taken into account
  • Open up channels for consistent communication between remote mappers and coordinators
  • Open up channels for consistent communication between field mappers and coordinators
  • Open up channels for consistent communication between partner organisations and coordinators
  • Capture feedback from all channels and disseminate to community
  • Ensure the wellbeing of all involved, at all levels and at all times



There were numerous lessons learnt from the activities and projects undertaken during the Hewlett grant, and ensuring that these are captured, shared and applied to future work will enhance the future success of HOT projects and their overall goal to empower local communities through collaborative mapping. Some of the internal organisational methods adopted to ensure that these lessons are captured and shared include weekly update reports, project reviews and continuous discussion of key points. Plans to share the lessons with the community and apply it to future projects also involves a multitude of methods, which includes but is not limited to an online training center, blog updates, workshops, mapathons, conferences:

Organisational Level

  • Weekly reports | Collect and disseminate updates on projects
  • Project review | Full review of project to capture key lessons
  • Management meetings | Discuss key lessons and direction of projects
  • Future projects | Apply lessons learnt to future projects

Community Level

  • Online training | Launch the free e-learning portal for training courses
  • Online presentations | Produce an activation video-clip to introduce new mappers on the dedicated HOT YouTube channel
  • Updates to HOT blog | Provide a summary of lessons learned on the HOT blog
  • Workshops and Mapathons | Collect and disseminate feedback from participants
  • Conferences | Share lessons learnt through presenting and distributing flyers at various conferences and summits
  • Projects | Ensure that lessons learnt are applied to all future HOT projects

Individual Level

  • Develop Field Papers and Export Tool | Use the tools and contribute to their development by logging and addressing issues at their dedicated GitHub repositories
  • Activation Coordinator training | Sign up and take the Coordinator course at the free HOT e-learning portal and assist future activations
  • Join a Working Group | Go deeper and be constantly involved by joining one of the HOT Working Groups
  • Register on the Mailing List | A first and easy step to get help or ask how to get more involved is to sign up to the mailing list
  • Start mapping | Start contributing and help the most needed by mapping in crises or after natural disasters by visiting the Tasking Manager