Introduction to Openstreetmap and Humanitarian Mapping

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This is a summary of a standard talk that I give to groups that are interested in Openstreetmap and some of the benefits for using Openstreetmap in local development and as an aid for local governance. It will give an overview of a small selection of tools and websites associated with Openstreetmap. I will start with the very basics but will quickly move into more technical detail. I have found in the past it is best to list the links to associated websites to allow everyone to play with these tools to realise that Openstreetmap is far bigger than just drawing a map. For the introduction this page centers around the UK and Scotland I will then look at some projects in developing countries. Please do not change this page unless links are out of date or there are better examples that I have not heard about. There are going to be many links to websites and short videos on this page please open them up on a new screen or tab in your web browser. I will be giving basic instructions on what to look for there, so you will be referencing this page quite a lot.

Openstreetmap (OSM) is mainly a data project. The data is used to create maps. The default map can be seen on the main page

Please open up a new tab and go to:

Zoom into an area that you are interested by using the slider on the left hand side or the wheel on your mouse.

On the bottom right hand corner is the word Permalink. Click this once and you will see the URL change to something more complex. This is openstreetmap combined with the encoded Latitude and Longitude. This enables you to copy the link and send it to others. takes you to Edinburgh Castle

The data can be rendered in different ways. Click on the "+" sign on the top right hand cornter and choose "Cycle Map" This will show the same data but has been rendered to show the things that cyclists need. Hill Gradients, Cycle Shops, Cycle routes, pubs and toilets.

If you click on the Export tab, you will be able to save the map image to a file which you can use on posters and flyers. The default setting is a png file but you can also choose jpg files. For the more adventurous, if you zoom into an area which has a small amount of detail and export the Openstreetmap XML data, you will receive a text file with XML data for that area enabling you to see what the raw format looks like.

Examples of mapping quality in Scotland

In each of these examples you will find the potential of how a good map can be beneficial to each group, having a good map of NHS resources or Scotlands industrial estates are especially good examples. The map of Craigmillar golf club was an attempt to get golfers interested in OSM because we all know that they like to walk and chat to others

Examples of Scottish Government bodies using Openstreetmap as a base map

Next on the right hand side click on the word Documentation This will take you to the Openstreetmap Wiki. Openstreetmap is easy to use but difficult to master mainly because of the seemingly caotic crowd sourced community. It can take patience but there is usually help at hand. It is a very worthwhile experience learning how to work with such a large community.

Statistics on Openstreetmap

We love statistics on Openstreetmap

Totals The number at the top shows how many people have Openstreetmap Accounts - As of November 2012 we expect to reach 1 million people by early 2013

General Statistics

Newest Statistics Page

The Openstreetmap Watch list Nov 2012 not presently working allows you to see what areas have changed over the last day, week, or ever. Zoom in to the higher resolutions to see the grids, then click on the grids to see who changed what.

You may find out how you compare to others you can find your Ranking You can use my name Central America (capitals are necessary)

Or you can find out who has done more by going to OSM-Fight Which compares two users

Comparison with other map providers and sponsorship of OSM

There are other Crowd sources solutions, the most famous being Google Map Maker The main problem with Google map maker is that you will be working for google and creating data for them. Recently they have imposed restrictions on the usage of the created maps. On the positive side they have some good tools and some very good satellite imagery.

Mapquest has recently devoted a large amount of money to create Maquest Open Their editor directly edits Openstreetmap data, although more focused on the U.S.A. They understand the benefits of joining in with the community to expand the map data to the rest of the world

Microsoft Bing have allowed OSM to use their Satellite imagery. This has been a great boost to OSM in adding detail.

Both Microsoft and Mapquest are realising that the potential for making money through Advertising etc, they will also be keeping an eye on Google who dominates the market. The licence that OSM data is under is available here It essentially says that the data should always be free, but it is also free to be used by Commercial Companies. The copyright license is there to protect your data yet allow commercial companies to participate with us.

Special note on Ordnance Survey

The Ordnance survey make some of the best maps in the world. Many OSMers have been inspired by their maps. They were legally obliged to make a profit from their maps, hence it took a lot longer for them to release some of their data. This brings to mind that there may be a collision similar to that of Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia. My personal opinion is that we need to have both, to create a strong mapping community. To compare the two I usually give the example that Openstreetmap would never be used by people buying and selling their house, to lay out the plans for a gas pipe that supplies all of the UK with gas. I would hate to think that a gas pipeline from Norway gets diverted to Egypt by a 13 year old boy because he can get on his computer and change a map. However there are lots of maps that OS will never make. A good example is which is a map giving locations for wheelchair access, the OS just does not have the resources. The OS has also had restrictions on mapping outside the UK. The OS has some excellent tools for creating maps see OS Openspace The creation of maps is an ongoing experience, things always are changing, with the slow increase in the quality of our data and the availability of software/web tools I hope that both OSM and OS can find common ground to help each other. It is also interesting to note that because of the restrictions on getting data in the UK proved to be one of the big motivators to create Openstreetmap.

Derived maps

Openstreetmap is a data project. From the data we can derive lots of other types of maps and data. Here I give a few examples of what they look like

  • MapOSmatic allows you to choose and area of the world and create a map with grid coordinates and a A-Z listing
  • Walking papers or Field Papers are basic paper maps. Their main purpose is to create a paper map that you can use to survey and area then scan the paper back in and be used within the online web editor called potlatch.
  • There are so many derived maps that for an challenge someone created Openwhatevermap
  • An interesting transparent overlay map here :Click on the "+" sign for more options
  • For Even more examples for the Edinburgh area go here (Link out of date)

Although not directly connected with this talk, if you go to Wikipedia Edinburgh page on the top right hand side you will see a set of coordinates. Click on this and it will take you to a range of available maps.

Mapping Parties

Openstreetmap started with people walking or cycling around with GPS devices to create a rough outline of what their city looks like. You can see an example of what this looks like with this video.

Since this time we have received access to more Satellite imagery and data from either Ordnance survey or out of copyright data from old maps which we can trace. We still do mapping parties. It may seems like we are going a bit train spotterish. However not everyone can afford the time to go on exploring the great jungles or deserts of the world. There is still the urge to explore and see what is just around the corner. From looking for ancient monuments to mapping local community groups. From finding that unused cycle lane to discovering different business's or even just going for a walk. We take a day go out for a walk, meet up for lunch, a little bit more mapping then beers. Its a cheap day out. For those that get a little more jiggy with their data when they get home they can start adding music and it ends up being this

Mapping parties are held in lots of places, a lot of people just do their own thing. People have been importing large data sets and the results can be seen with OSM 2008 a year of edits. Although the video is from 2008, the video proves shows what was happening. At that time there were a fifth of the people that are signed up today. P.S. if you see a little blip around Nicaragua that was me : )

Editing the map

The map data is made up of Points, lines, Areas and areas within areas. That is it. We give these different data "tags" which show what they are. It is confusing at first to decide what to put in however most people copy what other people have already done. A basic selection of tags is shown on the Map Features page. Not all the data will show up on the main map of Openstreetmap. There is just too much information to render everything. If your data does not appear then you may need to start looking at rendering your own personal map.

Most people start by using the online web editor called Potlatch. If you go to the main Openstreetmap page click on the edit button and you will have access to the data. For those that are more used to editing data there are a selection of editors. The most popular is a program called JOSM. There are others QuantumGIS, Merkaator. ArcGIS has a many capabilities as outlined by this video Interview with ESRI founder Jack Dangermond on OpenStreetMap

The teaching of Editing is really too large for this talk however I would suggest the website . If you would like to start immediately here are some videos

Video Tutorials

There are quite a few video tutorials on the web of varying degrees of quality. We do have a short list which covers the basics. There are many others on the internet so if you find some good ones please add them to the Video Tutorials List


A lot of people ask me about the frequency of vandalism of the data. I does happen, but rarely. Mappers tend to keep quite a close eye on their area and are fairly quick to see if something is wrong. Usually most vandalism is created by people new to the community and are just learning. A short e-mail and pointing to the reason why something is wrong is all that is needed. There was one case where a young man was consciously bringing in errors. However after finding that all his work was being reverted back to the original he soon became bored and then went on to be a really good mapper.

How many roads are mapped in the UK: Analysis

In the UK Openstreetmap is currently finding all the roads and road names for the country. This is important because is will be the first data set that can be verified against other databases. Once that database is to our knowledge is close to being finished we can then compare the Street names to Local Council data. Local Councils are the ones that officially control the names. We can then compare this to our data and give feedback to the Ordnance Survey

One of the main tools is

ITO Analysis Summary

If you scroll down to the bottom of the page you will see the totals

If you Scroll back up to the top on the right hand side click on the word Map this will take you to a visual guide as to how complete our task is. If you then click on the 'Area Completeness' and choose 'roads missing' It will show you which roads are not marked on Openstreetmap. This layer of coloured squares can be brought into JOSM as a WMS layer.

Going back to the ITO Analysis Summary page, Click on the name of a region that has some roads missing and it will take you to another page Bradford is a good example which shows many road to complete. You can click on the map with the squares on it or the individual road which will show you the location of that road. If we look at the example of City of Edinburgh We can see that in the OSM Database we have checked the name and found that the Ordnance survey is incorrect. We have added a tag to our data (not:name=**Whatever it should be**). This gives us a list that we can give back to the OS so they can check their data. The procedure for this feedback has not yet been implemented. The OS quite rightly has to be able to trust our data. However it does open up an opportunity for Councils to access Vector data and with patience we will be able to build on this to help the OS improve their data for everyones benefit.

ITO also has a web application called OSM Mapper which allows you to see who is editing what in a particular place. Two videos give the demonstration Using OSM Mapper - An Introduction and OSM Mapper - Using Advanced Views

There is also a web application which can highlight different types of data like railways,waterways, schools etc it covers the entire world and is well worth looking at ITO Layers map

There are other people doing similar things see Musical Chairs

Finding and Correcting Errors

Getting our data into a consistent state is a challenge that we are learning to do. We have a number of tools that we can use but as the data becomes more complex the tools are getting better as well. Have a look at

Keep Right


Geofabrik Tools With this there are a number of tools available please check the "switch tool" selection box on the top right hand side and the "view" dropdown box top left


There is a lot of open source software that will allow you to Create,Edit,print, and present your maps using servers. I am only going to list a few

From OSGeo we have OSGeo Live This is a bootable DVD with a complete operating system and a number of programs to try out. Because the software is free it can be used to standardise a learning environment. There is a long video outlining the software on the OSGeo Live page. If you have not used a linux bootable CD on your personal computer please don't install it from the CD because it will wipe your system and replace it with theirs.

Openlayers is a good way to start exploring what you can do with web maps and it has lots of examples to play with

Mapnik is a high quality data renderer which is used to create the Default map on Openstreetmap

Maperative is a desktop application for creating maps

Humanitarian Mapping

To start a discussion on the benefits of mapping I must show you a video of what happened with Openstreetmap after the Haiti Earthquake. Play it loud and on full screen. The blue dots are refugee camps


600 mappers with the aid of freshly released satellite images and Ushahidi created a map of the devastated area. They did this in two weeks and became the default map used by all the aid agencies including the US Military.

This response was quicker than for any other disaster and gained recognition from the UN and world bank. See press

Openstreetmap maps can not only be used for emergencies but for gaining insight where no mappers have been before.

Kibera is a massive slum outside Nairobi in Kenya. Due to the nature of the buildings it is impossible to map this by satellite imagery. There is a plan for the clearance of the slum but where will the 170,000 people go. The project has trained local people to map their part of the world.

This has led to the World Bank sponsoring a mapping project in Tanadale, Dar-es-Salam, Tansania. This was mentioned in the Ted Talk Sanjay Pradhan: How open data is changing international aid

Uganda red cross USA


Daadab is a huge refugee camp in Kenya. The refugees mainly come from Somalia where they are escaping persecution and famine. It contains approximately 370,000 people. Some of these people have been there for over 20 years. The Kenyan Government does not want them there because it would directly affect the resources of their country but they cannot go back. If we go to the Wikipedia article then to the map coordinates using Wikimapia we can start to see what some of the details of this area. There have been some studies concerning the increased number of shelters to guess the increase in refugees and other studies that are effectively hidden from the general public because they are left on obscure web pages by researchers. There are also no paper maps that can be distributed to different areas of the camp. We also don't know exactly where all the different organisations are within the area. What we have is a small group of people that are controlling a very large group of people by holding onto the data but not necessarily on purpose. Given that there have been multiple attempts to map this area we need a central tool where everyone can share that data. Data can also be enhanced and be made more useful by have that data collected by the people that live there. There has been very little of Daadab mapped. Openstreetmap are not allowed to use Google Satellite images to create data. Dadaab is similar in size to Edinburgh. But no map.

Making groups

One of the big strengths of Openstreetmap is to allow a local group to be formed which has the tools to learn to create their own maps. They will take ownership and pride in making sure their map is up to date. They will be able to say where are the shops, Wells, schools, Aid Stations, Missions, Mosques, markets and Community Groups. This information is vastly more vital that a satellite picture. The terrain around Daadab is generally flat. Large parts of the the camps are based on a grid system but there are no signposts. There are no landmarks to make bearings from. Illiteracy is high.

For someone that is illiterate, a map with symbols which points out where the market is, where the church and the roads are, they can understand it quickly because they already know a lot of the information. Symbols for shop, church, water is easier to understand. If a signpost has a short form of latitude and longitude on it you will be teaching then how to count and give them a sense of direction and organisation. It has been understood for a very long time that the people that have the maps control the power. I you give a local community a map it will empower them. It would also enable Aid workers who have just arrived to get their bearings. People often say to me "they can always ask where something is". If you don't speak the local language or you don't know that something exists then you will find it harder to find out about something. The example I give is 'Gulliver' one of the few art projects that was made by the community of Craigmillar in Edinburgh. It was organised and designed by Jimmy Boyle a famous former criminal. You can see it here There is upward of 20 different community groups working in Craigmillar. What are they, what do they do and how do you find them?


Aid workers often come from many different countries. If you were to go to Daadab and were given a map in Swahili, Arabic, Chinese you would not be pleased if the only language you knew was english. Having a map in a local language or mulitple languages is very important. A good example I have seen is the delivery of books to schools where the books are not in their own language. So you are not only making the scarce resource of teaching difficult you would need to have the teacher teach in a foreign language. You can guess how much is being translated into different languages by looking at how many articles are in different languages on the main page of Wikipedia. With maps the situation is much worse.

A little knowledge

This little section is not about maps, it is about appropriate technology. Sometimes small practical ideas can have a big impact.

For the treatment of water to help with the health of a community like Daadab you can use techniques like SODIS Method This is basically filtering water using a cloth, then putting the water in a clear plastic bottle and leaving it in the sun for 6 hours.

or for light

Litre of Light see Video

Daadab sits right on the equator. The ability to use small scale community solar cookers could reduce the need for firewood.

Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team H.O.T

After the success of mapping Haiti, other emergency areas were attempted. The floods in Pakistan were a good example. This was not nearly as successful, mainly because we were not given access to up to date detailed Satellite images. From this point it was recognised that we needed to concentrate on getting as much information about unmapped areas in preparation for future emergencies and for helping with development. H.O.T. was created. If you have a Openstreetmap login ID then you can sign in to this part of the website and there are tasks available to trace maps in different parts of the world. This is as near as to coordination of effort as openstreetmap goes. It is interesting to note that there are many area's in Scotland that do not have satellite coverage. Mainly around Military Bases. With the Advent of drones it would be relatively simple for these aircraft to fly over area's such as Daadab and release the data.

Final Note

The ability to create detailed maps of your own local community is hugely important to that communities health, understanding and development. This applies to communities in developed countries but is more important in developing countries. The ability to create your own map is empowering to those communities. In Developed nations the ability to help those in undeveloped countries hase been hindered by lack of communication and knowledge. No matter what area of development you look at you will always need a map.

For Openstreetmap to be successful in developing countries it must be successful here first. Creating and refining the tools to make the data consistent and easy to use is what we need to do. To do this we need to get as many different people as possible to join in.

Contacting Openstreetmap

There are two main Openstreetmap groups in Edinburgh and Glasgow These meet up every 3 months for tea and beers. There is a large selection of Mailing Lists. An easy way to keep up with the news ona a biweekly fashion see Opengeodata

About Me

Bob Kerr has been working with Openstreetmap for about 4 years. He is ranked about 300 out of 924,000 people out of the amount of data that has been contributed to the project. His background is Computing but has also travelled in about 45 countries in the world mainly in Africa. He has participated in Aid projects including, Schools, Orphanages, Community projects, Sustainable development, Solar power and ovens, mainly in Central America. He is now retired and is using his time to form groups for openstreetmap, Academia and government for their benefit and the benefit of the Openstreetmap community in Scotland. Contact--Central America 13:45, 7 November 2011 (UTC) or Openstreetmapcraigmillar at