Mapping Remotely for International Humanitarian Work
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
My name is Alex Bogedain. My major is Geography with minors in GIS, Landscape Studies, and Math. I graduate this December and anticipate going to Graduate School in the Spring for either a Masters in Geography or Landscape Architecture. I am a Virtual Intern for the USAID Geocenter, the Technology Officer for the Texas Tech YouthMappers Chapter, and am Vice President of the Geography Club at Texas Tech. I am active on OpenStreetMap under the username 'aboges26' and map frequently around Lubbock, Texas, and in support of YouthMappers, USAID, and HOT tasks across the world. I am a proud father of my 3 month old son and 3 dogs and I take them hiking in the canyons and mountains of the southwest every chance we get!
As a volunteer geospatial data creator who works on remote mapping for international humanitarian projects, the task can seem daunting when thrown into a foreign place. For beginners and OSM savvy self-taught mappers, starting to map in an area can be a very difficult task. For any level of experience, it is best to consider the following when starting to map in a new place:
1. Keep it basic - As a "remote mapper", we have limited access to intimate details of locations and need to make the building and road types as basic as possible for future correction by locals.
2. Connectivity - A map at its most basic form is a visual representation of human connectivity. Everyone needs shelter, food, and work. Regardless of the development of an area, this essential network will need to be portrayed.
3. Do not be afraid to zoom in - The best geospatial data is the most accurate, the most accurate is mapped at a close scale. For roads, do not get sucked in to mapping miles and miles at a very close scale, but do not be zoomed so far out of the road's width that you possibly map over other features. For buildings, zoom in to the point that the building is entirely shown and if you zoomed in once more it would not be entirely visible.
4. Get a mouse with a scroll wheel - Sure the versatility of a laptop enables you to map wherever and whenever, provided your battery is charged! But the trackpad can be a pain and slow you down, invest in a mouse to take with you and you will not regret it.
5. Square and Circle - Make sure to "square" rectangular features and "circle" the circular ones. Most commonly used for buildings, but as well for features such as roundabouts and parking lots, utilizing the square and circle feature makes your data look good, and more importantly, provides a more accurate representation of the features you map.
6. Keep on task - As with mapping anywhere really, it is easy to get sucked into minute details and run off on tangents. Be sure to stick to the overall goal, whether it be mapping all the buildings or mapping all the roads, and you will finish sooner than you expected (and can then map all the things that you were disciplined enough to resist)!
7. When in doubt, ask questions - 99% of the time, someone else has been there, done that. Whether its someone in academia or in the OSM community, there is someone who can answer any question you have when it comes to mapping. In OSM reach out to the users who have mapped in the area, in ID editor it displays the usernames of those who have mapped in the area in the lower right corner of the viewing window; in academia, reach out to professors or members of your university's YouthMappers Chapter.
8. Keep on clicking - As you map, remember that every click you make puts something on the map that will be available for everyone as long as electronic systems are maintained. So be proud! 1,000+ years from now the geospatial data you create could still be accessed, modified, and used!