by annie on June 10, 2011
By Kate Chapman
OpenStreetMap aims to provide a free map of the entire world. OpenStreetMap’s main goal is not specific to crisis response, it just happens that free, updated geodata can be invaluable when responding to disasters. Currently many contributors update OpenStreetMap data after a disaster for the intrinsic value of helping others. By making it easier for users to premap areas and adding some game appeal, perhaps the mad rush to create geodata after something bad happens can be lessened. Games could also serve as a coordination point when information needs to be updated during and after a crisis as well.
After the earthquake in Haiti over 600 people from all over the world helped map infrastruture information. That detailed map data was then used by many groups such as the World Bank, the United Nations and some first responders. Training of volunteers occurred through in-person events and Youtube videos describing how to trace roads and identify Internally Displaced Person camps. The majority of actual coordination occurred on wiki pages. This method worked, but was not without flaw. There isn’t a good way to easily give new members simple tasks to complete and if mistakes were made often the person causing the error never received the feedback to improve their mapping skills. These issues could be potentially lessened through games which could create a central place for coordination. Individuals could start with a very simple task that helps towards the larger goal and then eventually gain the ability to do more complex tasks. For example most new people when tracing satellite imagery start with adding roads. Next they might begin determining what type of road which is slightly more complex. From there then are less clear types of information for example if a hospital appears to actually be in use. By being able to provide feedback mappers can learn these skills and progress to do more advanced tasks.
Currently there are a couple software projects that intent to help with coordination and quality issues. MapCraft seeks to make it easy to divide up the “map cake” to give everyone a piece to map. Quality OpenStreetMap allows users to check the mapping work already there. Both are examples of potential workflows using the map to organize who is working on what task and provide a geographic overview. It is possible to take some of these tools further or create a new coordination tool from scratch. Care will need to be taken to avoid gaming of the system and to ensure the quality of the data remains high. Most individuals will be working on good faith, but there are sometimes instances where players are more concerned about the points they earn than the outcome. If these items are considered hopefully it will make responding to a disaster event more efficient and get more people contributing.