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News — 05 August, 2019

Launch of Mapping 2021: HOT’s Three Year Strategy

We envision a world where:

  • everyone is counted,

  • map data is accessible and used in decisions that save and improve lives, and

  • everyone can contribute to the map.

In 2018 the HOT community worked together to formulate a vision and strategy to guide our work over the next three years. The three parts to our vision, articulated above, are both simple and incredibly ambitious. The Sustainable Development Goals emphasize leaving no one behind - but at the same time, millions of people are still not represented in OpenStreetMap. This is problematic because OpenStreetMap happens to be the humanitarian and development community’s most prevalent open map data source, and the actions that are taken based on it (or lack of it) directly impact people’s lives. The HOT community made huge strides to reduce this gap in 2018, but we need to get better over the next three years: working faster, producing higher quality data, and – as laid out in the Strategic Plan – adding an area home to one billion people to OpenStreetMap.

Read the Strategic Plan

We believe that the best map of the world we can build is a map where individuals and communities can represent themselves via a global open knowledge platform like OpenStreetMap. HOT certainly had some successes in 2018. To name a few: involving South Sudanese refugees in mapping refugee settlements in Uganda, supporting displaced Venezuelans in the Caribbean, and working toward greater inclusion of underrepresented communities, such as women and girls, by supporting these groups through Microgrants and the WomenConnect project in Peru and Tanzania.

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While communities in dozens of countries contributed to our mission last year, we are still quite far from achieving our vision that everyone, everywhere can do so. Forming this strategy has made us challenge our openness. Yes, our tools and tech are open - but are our processes? What barriers might we be unintentionally creating and how can we minimise them? We saw great interest by the membership to contribute to the strategic process and a desire to support its implementation. We also learnt that while we think we offer various opportunities, these are not always aligned with their interests and needs, and furthermore are not always easy to comprehend. Our vision is that ‘Everyone can contribute to the map’, but who isn’t in the room? How can we find the communities that are not contributing to OpenStreetMap and reduce the barriers they face?

In the first months of 2019, we began piloting new tools, methods, and innovations to break down some of these barriers, including machine learning to ‘supercharge’ the contributions of each map contributor. We are investing in AI and machine learning, not with the goal of de-valuing community input, but rather quite the opposite. There will always be knowledge that AI and machine learning will not be able to extract map data. Machine learning will help us provide hints, suggestions, and tips to mappers that save time and focus on where they can provide the most value: contributing the uniquely human knowledge that only those who live in a place can provide.

“This is not my plan, but our plan.”

Finally, the plan very clearly indicates that achieving the vision is not only about HOT the organisation, HOT staff, nor voting members alone. It is about our entire global community and movement contributing toward the vision in their own ways. This is what makes HOT’s plan unique and different from that of most NGOs. While setting out a single overarching vision, it emphasizes that members and contributors in each country will determine what and where to map, based on local priorities, and how HOT can support these processes. In contrast to ‘top-down’, centralized planning, HOT voting members formed an open working group and consulted with more than 20 members across the globe over more than six months. Consultations were furthermore held among each staff team and with partners outside of HOT, with many ideas from each stakeholder group finding their way into the final plan.

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HOT’s project partner OpenCities helps community members map their city, Accra, Ghana

In summary, this is not my plan, but our plan. We have laid out massive ambitions for ourselves, including adding an area home to one billion people to OSM over the next three years. This won’t be easy. But I’m optimistic because of what HOT has become: a global network and movement of people and organizations working to improve our world through data. I challenge you to think about how to share it with your local community and commit to contributing in some way. Let’s keep mapping our world together to make it happen.