The project that I chose to assess initially (as I had heard a lot about it) was the #MapLesotho project and more specifically, the Urban Planning Project* extension. This part of the initiative hopes to see all buildings and structures mapped and verified so;
- Humanitarian organisations can gain flexible and free access to support their logistics
- Public Sector organisations in Lesotho can have electronic access to a single source of spatial information to support national environmental goals
- Citizens and stakeholders in Lesotho need a spatial evidence base to support their engagement and understanding with the physical layout of the country
Initially I visited the Wikipedia page to get an overview of the particulars of the project (i.e. the tech element and requirements) before registering my details with Open Street Map (OSM). The Wikipedia page contains a lot of relevant information about the semantics utilised for the feature classes also so it was important to look at this first to ensure that standardised vocabulary was used throughout.
One of the issues with Voluntary Geographic Information (VGI) is the authenticity and standardisation of the process. You are not relying on professionals to provide details, you are relying on members of the public who may have no prior knowledge of how GIS and mapping works so it is important to establish the semantics and parameters for the project to ensure that there is some degree of consistency throughout. This will also mean less time during the validation process.
Once I registered with OSM I was given a running tutorial on the editing process. I began editing initially trying to use the JOSM extension file to ensure more symmetry in the drawings but I reverted to the standard iD editor process instead as I felt I should start small and build from there (also some of the extension files wouldn’t load on my laptop for some reason). I’m hoping to develop on the JOSM skills doing work on the Parish Townland project (option 3 in our assignments) at a later date.
For additional support in using the tool editors, there were number of websites available however this one was quite comprehensive.
The map itself is broken into a series of achievable grids that can be given to you at random or can be selected by the user. I decided initially to be given an area at random and then chose to edit areas that extended beyond my own zone after saving the initial changes. Once the grid is completed, it can be verified by a member of the #MapLesotho team and edited to amend any mistakes or to include additional information. As the editing tool on the map is open to change it means that all information can be reviewed to guarantee authenticity and reliability (similar to Wikipedia). This however does bring some troubling considerations to light and begs the question as to individual agendas in the mapping process and the potential for damages and liability (an issue briefly outlined by CIPPIC’s Decodify Podcast)
There are three basic editing elements that you will use for your mapping project:
- Node (an individual point with a spatial element)
- Line (open ended and composed of two or more nodes)
- Area (closed off series of nodes)
These editing elements will be used to create your feature class essentially (i.e. buildings/lakes/terrain etc.). A node can be used to denote a specific location like a bus stop, and can also be used as a reference point for elevation. A line can be used to draw a road, river, stream and boundary. The area tool can be used to denote buildings or land parcels. Interestingly a line tool can also technically be used to carry out this activity once the final nodes are enclosing the area. It is just important to know when one method is necessary or less time consuming to the process.
Before editing you can increase visibility by selecting your view layer.
To begin editing select the edit tab and start to trace over an object using nodes. If you would prefer to tract a building using the line tool this is possible but the area tool may be more symmetrical and less time consuming.
As the aim of the project is not necessarily the artistic element but merely the democratization of the data it’s important not to be too worried about how perfect your buildings are. Just enjoy it! It however you are not happy with how a building is rendered you can edit individual nodes by selecting the feature again and editing it. Once selected a number of tools will appear allowing you to edit, reset or delete the whole feature.
Once you have traced a building you can attach various levels of data and assign a feature class to the element. In this case as I was not sure what building type I was actually drawing I selected “Building” as my feature option and left out any additional information. Depending on the feature class the levels of information you can add vary considerably. In this of a building however you can assign a feature class, the name of the building, the address and if you like, co-ordinates. The potential for sharing this kind of information however again brings us back to the ethics behind certain freedoms of information. Not everyone would like the details of their residence posted on a pan-global interface that can be accessed at any time. This ethical issue is something I would like to explore as part of my own research, along with the issues relating to accountability where false information is intentionally entered that could lead to potentially damaging outcomes.
It is important to make sure you are saving your edits as you progress through OSM’s open editing process. Once you have completed your editing process, click save and a list of all of your points will be visible on the left pane. ORiginally when I saved out of the project I was provided a link to view my own contribution to the project. When I navigated to the screen however none of my edits were visible and in a (total adult and rational) blind rage I closed up the laptop and didn’t go back to it until the next day. All could think was thank god I had done screen grabs for my assignment post. Otherwise I would have had no proof of the work I had put in (limited as it was).
What I didn’t know was there is (obviously) a time lag on the edits. And as I learned, if in doubt, go back to edit mode to see what has already been carried out and what is left unfinished before throwing a (totally adult and rational) tech-tantrum.
*Upon undertaking this project the Rural Planning Project was about to come to a close and I actually have to admit I was gutted to not be a part of ‘making history’ as it were. I think however my skills are better focused on tracing over buildings rather than trying to assess the directionality of rivers and streams which incidentally (judging from our lecturers demonstration in class) it turns out I am terrible at (or legally blind…I’m undecided). Still, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to be involved in this project along with so many other people, who unlike me were coming at this from a position of altruism and not as the result of an assignment.
The above video shows the mapping carried out in the initial year of the project launch
Generally speaking I found the whole process quite user friendly. However, what I found most engaging about the project was the idea of Voluntary Geographic Information and other offshoots like Participatory GIS (pGIS) and Public Participation GIS (ppGIS) and its role in the democratization of information. Generally speaking GIS has been presented to me as a formal tool utilized in the effective planning, communication, and diffusion of ideas and strategies at governmental levels. what I had not considered was how these voluntary methods were imperative to crisis response strategies and disaster relief. I had always presumed information was filtered through professional means and had not considered the role of the individual on the ground. this to me makes GIS an entirely shared and communicable experience. The #MapLesotho project is one of many that have selflessly sought to democratize tools and information relevant to the local community. Long may this continue.
It never really occurred to me either (or at least not consciously) that a lot of conservation efforts within the local heritage sector relied predominantly on community participation and energies. It made me wonder about the overall relevance of VGI/pGIS and ppGIS to ongoing conservation efforts and whether it was a formal consideration at national levels. This is something I would like to explore in my MA. I would like to engage in a qualitative assessment of a community mapping project on a local burial site in Cork City Centre which I have already begun surveying. In this way I can assess the potential for OSM for more detailed recording of information and the levels of contextual data that can be included.
I still feel my overall contribution to the #MapLesotho Project was relatively small given the enormity of the project. But maybe that’s the point. Given the increasing trend in voluntary mapping projects however I don’t think this will be my final involvement in projects of this type however.