State of the Map Asia - The annual Asian conference of OpenStreetMap (OSM) users, hobbyists, and campaigners in Asia was a gathering of users and developers from a variety of backgrounds ranging from non-profit humanitarian agencies to commercial multinational companies and government agencies. The conference in Nepal was important in the sense that two years ago, Nepal suffered from a devastating earthquake and during the time of the earthquake the use of crowdsourced information was phenomenal in rescue and recovery efforts. More than 9,000 people volunteered in creating the geographic information needed for immediate rescue and recovery which demonstrated how useful citizen generated information is for open map infrastructure.
The two-day long conference started with two pre-conference events one organized at International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and another at the conference hotel. Both events hosted students and academics as well as people from private and government institutions who were enthusiastic about leveraging the power of OSM to solve everyday problems. The mapathon which was jointly organized by the World Food Programme, MapAction, MissingMaps, ICIMOD, Nepal GIS Society, and Kathmandu Living Labs had over 70 participants mapping roughly 25,000 buildings of the Saptari district in Nepal. The area was one of the most heavily affected areas by flooding. Maan Chhetri, the organizer of the mapathon at ICIMOD said that the data from OSM would be used to obtain damage statistics caused by the flood and will be used to create a flood inundation map. In the meantime, a group of experts mappers were validating the map data in the conference hotel.
The main conference started with welcoming remarks and an overview by Dr. Nama Raj Budhathoki, CEO of Kathmandu Living Labs and founder of OSM in Nepal, where he welcomed every delegate and participant from over 20 different Asian countries. Dr. Nama also stated the need and importance of collecting and organizing the world’s knowledge. The primary session began with the keynote speech by Kate Chapman, president of the OSM foundation, who urged everyone to join the foundation as well as expressed her belief that OSM is changing the lives of people through the means of map cakes or OSM printed dresses.
Another distinguished keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Lee Schwartz, the Geographer of the United States. In his presentation, Dr. Lee stated the importance of maps because they are useful, usable, and shareable for further uses. Dr. Lee also stated that present day volunteers should be incentivized as the next generation of open mappers who can be the real superheroes and thus wearing the YouthMappers t-shirt he took off his blazer and left the stage with his “cape on” in his own words. In the final keynote session of the conference Prof. Taichi Furuhashi from the Aoyamagakuin University, Japan, highlighted the development of OSM in Japan and various tools and applications of OSM.
The keynote session was followed by a talk given by the distinguished speaker Hon. Dr. Gangalal Tuladhar, a member of parliament, who stressed the need and importance of open data for parliamentarians for proper governance. Another distinguished speaker Hon. Dr. Swarnim Wagle, Vice-chair of National Planning Commission of Nepal, said that the three key aspects towards the path of development are 1) voluntarism 2) use of off the shelves technologies and 3) urge of people to force change through collective action.
The state of the map of various countries (Bangladesh, China, India and Indonesia) were presented among the participants which clearly demonstrated the growth in use of OSM and its dynamic applications. After the Lunch break country presentations, we learned about the state of the map in Japan, Jordan, Korea and Mongolia.
After the country presentations, different parallel sessions were held: a MAPS.ME Workshop facilitated by the CEO of MAPS.ME Eugene Lisovsky, the Map Data Integrity talk facilitated by Prof. Melinda Laituri of Colorado State University, and the lightning talks from OSM champions in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Next was the Government Panel moderated by Nisha Thompson, the Director of Data Meet, during which the featured panelists came from universities and government agencies of Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.
The YouthMappers session, facilitated by Maliha Mohiuddin from Bangladesh and other YouthMappers leadership fellows from Bangladesh and Nepal, presented the various activities conducted by their YouthMappers chapters. Questions about establishing new chapters and the need for expanding the network in Asia were discussed. Also, the introduction of OSM in university curriculum were discussed in the session. In other interesting parallel sessions included “Building an interactive visualization”, a workshop facilitated by Jothirandh Guthula from Mapbox and another parallel session in which Pradip Khatiwada from KLL interacted with different OSM users and organizations of Nepal.
The second as well as final day of the workshop also had several lightning talks, presentations, and workshops. The first session of the day began with country presentations from Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, The Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Vietnam presenting the state of the map of their respective countries. The challenge, as well as hardship, of people in Pakistan is that citizen mapping is illegal but their story of using OSM to help map other parts of the world was applauded by the crowd. Lightning talks were held in the topic of OSM as a Communication tool which featured the use of OSM in disaster relief and rescue, to tell stories and to prepare a multi-lingual map of the world. Similarly, other parallel sessions included OSM validation workshop facilitated by Poornima Badrinath from Mapbox and Youth as Mappers session facilitated by Prof. Melinda Laituri which featured students, young people, and YouthMappers.
In the Secondary Cities in Action session facilitated by Prof. Melinda Laituri, various presenters updated the state of different secondary cities of Asia which featured Pokhara, Nepal and Denpasar, Indonesia. In the OSM Data Manipulation workshop veteran freelance developer Rob Savoye showed the diversified application of OSM data in various projects.
The Future of OSM in Asia and Beyond moderated by Dr. Nama Raj Budhathoki included several speakers, Eugene Lisovskiy who expressed the future of OSM in autonomous vehicles, machine learning and the growth of AI with neural networks. Marek Kleciak focused on the importance of map for development of country like Nepal and his self-initiated project – project Illam. Heather Leson discussed the need of data to gain insights and its ability to be used during the scenarios like disaster management and to uplift the quality of development. The final session before the closing session of the conference was titled Nepal Earthquake Session chaired by Dr. Govinda Raj Pokhrel, the CEO of National Reconstruction Authority with panelists representing key stakeholders in terms of data, disaster management, and civic technologies.
In the closing session, Dr. Govinda Raj Pokhrel described the challenges faced during reconstruction and the current scenarios of the people affected by Nepal earthquake in 2015. Finally, the conference ended with Dr. Nama asking all the participants to write their dreams of how they want to see OSM in the future and what their actions will be to make the dream come true. After everyone happily noted the idea and philosophy presented by Dr. Nama, the conference ended with a rooftop photoshoot and we promised to meet again next year in Bengaluru.
The two-day long conference felt like it went by in a blink of a second. The conversations and anecdotes of like-minded people working for the betterment of community gave me the feeling that I am also a treasured part of the community. Their stories of courage, ambition, and satisfaction inspired me to work on my own journey and have motivated me to work for the community. I never thought that attending a conference would change me in so many ways and thus I would urge that youths like me, as well my fellow YouthMappers, participate in events like this one to listen the stories, because someday you will be the one to tell yours.
Saurav Gautam is a YouthMappers Leadership fellow from Pokhara, Nepal. He has just completed a Bachelor's degree in Geomatics Engineering from the Institute of Engineering, Pashchimanchal Campus. He is the pioneer president of the GESAN YouthMappers chapter and likes to work on solving issues using open source geospatial technologies. He can be found trekking in the mountains of Nepal in his free time.