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News — 15 December, 2023

Data for sustainable development: The Data Festival 2023

The Data Festival recently held in Uruguay was the opportunity for the Open Mapping Hub to introduce to organizations and institutions open cartography applications and its humanitarian approach.

After participating in AbreLatam 2023 in Montevideo, Uruguay, the Open Mapping Hub team moved to Punta del Este, where the Data Festival would be held from November 7 to 9, organized by The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, under the auspices of the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the Ministry of Tourism and the Agency for Electronic Government and Information and Knowledge Society (AGESIC), of Uruguay.

This was the second edition of the Festival, since the first was held in Bristol, UK, from March 21 to 23, 2018. On that occasion the objectives were:

  • Convene Global Partnership members, funders, and stakeholders to inspire and innovate

  • Connect expert communities to share progress, and discuss challenges and solutions for achieving the
    Sustainable Development Goals

  • Catalyze action, match-up initiatives, and forge progress ahead of the World Data Forum and 73rd
    UN General Assembly in the short term, and looking ahead to 2030 in the longer term.

For this edition, although these objectives remained, emphasis was placed on others such as:

Rapid innovations in technology and timely data collection, access, and use are needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet the data revolution also raises fundamental tensions around power, privacy, and participation. The Festival aims to strengthen data communities and our collective ability to unlock the value of data for all as we strive to achieve the Agenda 2030.


The Data Festival program consisted of a diverse mix of roundtables, presentations, lightning talks, workshops and networking spaces. From the Open Mapping Hub side, we wanted to respond to this diversity of activities by maximizing interaction with regional actors. We presented sessions focused on dialogue, experience exchange, brainstorming, and interactivity with attendees to demonstrate the uses and applications of open cartography and its tools.

For example, we had a “drill” session on Humanitarian Mapping in reaction to disasters, with a brief introduction to disaster mapping and then moving on to the emergency drill in which attendees assumed the roles of the various entities involved in the support. post-disaster humanitarian aid and act accordingly.

Another of our sessions was an induction to open mapping with open source mobile applications to then map elements outside the conference room, as an activity to raise awareness of the cartographic act. Attendees became familiar with the applications and returned to share impressions and doubts, and possible uses of mapping in their professional field linked to public policy or research.


We also carry out a couple of activities aimed at children, one with basic mapping and another with drone management and flying. As you can see in the photos, the kids not only learned but had fun in the process.

Additionally, we organized a conversational breakfast with representatives of national statistics institutes from Paraguay, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Suriname and Jamaica. The objective was to discuss the challenges in terms of access to basic cartography for their census exercises and monitoring of population dynamics. We also discussed the possible contributions of OpenStreetMap at a general level.


We also had a booth in the main hall that became our operations center and where those interested in open cartography and our projects came, which allowed us to (re)connect with many colleagues. All of this was enhanced by the presence and active participation of our regional director Fabrizio Scrollini and our Executive Director Rebecca Firth, who was interviewed for several organizations:

After the event, Rebecca reflected on the positive change in attitude among the attending government officials, that unlike in the first edition of the Festival where citizen data was was largely overlooked by official actors, now there was a genuine interest in getting involved in data generation processes. She also commented:

How do you make collaboration work when there can be such a big gap between rhetoric and reality in the data sector? The sustainable development data sector is very complex, and there are many opposing forces which exist within it. Examples are; data that is globally available vs locally precise, the defined processes of official statistics vs citizen generated data + data innovations, or humans vs AI, etc etc, the list goes on. These are not impossible challenges, but these forces affect our reality and the mindsets of the people we are engaging with. We need to understand them to provide elegant solutions to them. HOT can ‘bridge’ different ends of these tensions as our approach + tech allows work to happen at all ends of these spectrums. This gives us a lot of opportunity to engage with partners, as long as we approach partners with knowledge of the complexity and awareness of the barriers. The Festival brought many unlikely collaborators together who are open to do this + I’m keen to see how we can build on this momentum at the Data Festival 2025 in Nairobi.

Finally, talking about AI, she mentioned fAIr, our free and open source AI-assisted mapping tool, which aims to revolutionize humanitarian OSM mapping. fAIr leverages AI to detect objects such as buildings, roads and waterways from aerial images, which we hope will become a tool in support of development.

AI, unsurprisingly, came up a lot in almost every session. We had the chance to share our approach to this with fAIr as part of the Closing Plenary, which was positively received. The main question I was left with was: **how can we be more human in the age of AI? How can we make sure our data brings humanity? **Data is often thought of as something that’s pretty cold, hard + logical, and we need to intersect it with humanity and culture to bring the human experience into AI.

In summary, we were very happy with our participation in the Data Festival. We have many conversations left to resume, and we hope that those who saw us and thought of new ideas but did not talk to us can contact us anytime soon… We always support access to more and better spatial data for local actors and people’s well-being. See you at the next Data Festival!


If you want to be part of the community of volunteer mappers of the LAC Open Mapping Hub, write an email to with Subject: Volunteer mapper.

If you are part of an organization that wants to explore how to collaborate on a project, write an email to with Subject: LAC Projects.

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