Where It Could Go from Here: Using OpenStreetMap in an Increasingly Connected World
Updated: Jan 4
It is becoming clear that open source data, specifically OpenStreetMap, is an important tool in our progressively linked world. In the past, geo-technology was (and still can be) be expensive, exclusive, and often only utilized by professionals or academics. However, mapping tools like OpenStreetMap are allowing users from all over the world to contribute to data.
My name is Haley, and I am currently a graduating senior at West Virginia University. The focus of my studies are Geography with an emphasis in Geographic Information Science (GIS) and Remote Sensing. Along with my other studies in GIS, I spent my last semester here at WVU as a virtual intern with USAID’s GeoCenter.
Initially, I chose Geography as my major for one reason: I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that I was interested in world (and also had a great love for the outdoors). After initially stumbling my way through my first few semesters, I found something that I loved: GIS. What started as a half-hearted choice turned into something that I knew I could use to help impact the world in some way, even if it was small. Although I was gaining experience working with the latest geo-technology and learning about the current on goings in our world, I still had no experience with open source tools and data, much less even knew what is was or what it entailed. Eventually, feeling the desire to be more involved, I started attending meetings at our local YouthMappers Chapter, Maptime Morgantown, and began to learn what open source data is capable of.
OpenStreetMap is a way for regular users to access worldwide geographic data. What was once extremely limited is now accessible for users all over the world. Anyone from amateurs to professionals can contribute in some way. One incredible OpenStreetMap tool that I have been able to utilize to fulfill my desire to help further development around the globe and aid humanitarian efforts is HOT OSM, which is a collaborative mapping tool that allows users to contribute edits to areas impacted by natural or humanitarian disasters. How unbelievable is it that from my couch in my apartment in West Virginia, I am able to contribute to tasks such as the President’s Malaria Initiative in Kenya or the Indoor Residual Spraying campaign in Suna East, Kenya? These are real contributions that will impact real lives, and anyone with internet access and a desire to help others can do it, from anywhere in the world – even their couches. The HOT OSM community is a continuously growing and committed community of mappers. It is certain that OpenStreetMap will only continue to grow and further impact the humanitarian efforts around the world in the years to come, drawing in more and more people with a passion for humanitarian work and global development.
Through my efforts as a GeoCenter Intern for USAID and as a member of YouthMappers, I have been able to connect with other mappers all over the world, and I have received an incredible amount of support and training by connecting with experienced professionals. These are skills that will be vital in my future professional career in GIS. OpenStreetMap is continuously changing and growing, and it is a tool that would benefit anyone with any interest in mapping or global development. I look forward to being a part of what OpenStreetMap becomes and the impact it creates.