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News — 04 August, 2016

Mapping the Unmapped: A Summer Fellows Foray into the OSM Community

(Written by Cleo Stern, AidData Summer Fellow 2016 with the HOT team in Kampala, Uganda)


We hadn’t been in Kampala, let alone Uganda, for more than 12 hours when we found ourselves on a bus to Kabale.  We were told to be ready at seven in the morning to travel eight hours to Lake Bunyonyi where the HOT team would be providing OSM training to tour guides from Edirisa and Uganda Wildlife Authority. We traveled with our colleague Geoffrey Kateregga, looking at Uganda roll by the first time. Given our preconceptions of what work and life would be like in Kampala, Taylor and I couldn’t have imagined all the amazing things we were about to experience. While the pre-training skills provided at the AidData Summer Fellows bootcamp kicked into overdrive, our first weekend at Lake Bunyonyi also created a sort of mythos that set the tone our work and framed our time here.


Taylor and I came to Kampala to work with HOT Uganda as AidData Summer Fellows.  The summer fellows program connects NGOs and multilateral organizations with students from of variety of universities in the United States.  As Fellows, we draw upon our experience with open data and open mapping platforms such as OpenStreetMap and other Geographical Information Systems to visualize aid flows from donor countries to recipients.  With these tools, relevant stakeholders can assess the accountability and transparency of development programs.


Usually, Taylor and I work from HOT Uganda’s office space at Hive Colab, a collaborative workspace for programmers, techies, and us. We split our time creating maps to document HOT’s global presence, writing blogs, conducting trainings at the ResilientAfrica Network Lab (RAN Lab), attending conferences around Kampala, and connecting with local and regional partners to bridge relevant work. On the weekend we rush to pack our bags and set out again for trainings and mapathons around Uganda. This work is where we most connect our dual identity as AidData Summer Fellows and as mappers involved in a greater community.


At a Mapathon in Mbale, we witnessed the establishment of the Youth Mappers Club at Uganda Christian University. There was that first journey to Lake Bunyonyi, where we hiked around Lake Bunyonyi with the UWA guides while we used OpenMapKit to geolocate camps, homes, trails, and the economic activities that fuel the Bufuka highlands. Then there were the three days at the Kampala WASH Symposium where we made amazing connections with local and international stakeholders in the water and sanitation sector. During the symposium’s expo, attendees from both large and small organizations were surprised by OpenStreetMap’s ability to address the common and complex challenges faced in the water sector. Dar Ramani Huria, a HOT mapping project, perfectly encapsulated the power of OpenStreepMap to strengthen flood resilience in Dar-es-salaam, and illustrates the flexibility to use maps in Uganda, Africa, and the



This is the first time I am working abroad, albeit for far too short of a time. It astounds me every day how much Taylor and I have experienced with the HOT Uganda Team.  One of my favorite takeaways from this summer has been how open source data emphasizes the importance of local knowledge, bottom up strategies for mapping and engagement, as well as the capacity of communities to foster change, growth and development.  Luckily, we still have so much to look forward to. Coming up is an important trip to Karamoja where we will do a pre assessment for future community mapping projects that will improve resilience in the region. As we get ready to pack our bags once again, we survey the expansive breadth of HOT’s work in awe and gratitude for being able to be little specks on a map that stretches to the furthest reaches of Earth. We know, we made the map.