Interview: OpenStreetMap in Lesotho
11 Jan 2015
After a bit of a new year’s hiatus today we resume our interview / country profile series by profiling some of the great work going on in Lesotho, known as the #MapLesotho project.
As #MapLesotho is not one single person or group, the answers below are from a selection of people involved with the project and hopefully give some insight into the different perspectives and motivations of people involved.
DC – Dave Corley (OpenStreetMap Ireland)
CS – Ciaran Staunton (Fingal County Council)
HM - Hlompho MKT Mota (OpenSource Lesotho)
1. Who are you and what do you do? What got you into OpenStreetMap?
DC - I’ve gone through this previously in the Ireland country profile interview so I won’t bore you with a rehash :)
CS - An Irish NGO IRISH ACTION AID are embedded in Lesotho with education, child development and healthcare projects are based in Fingal, North Dublin. They made a connection between the Ministry for Local Government and Chieftainship in 2012 and Fingal County Council were seen as the ideal technical partner to help our Ministry. OpenStreetMap was what FCC recommended as the solution to create a FREE, RECENT and REUSEABLE store of spatial data for the country.
HM - My name is Hlompho MKT Mota, I am a part time student of Computer Science and planning to initiate an opensource foundation. I was introduced to OpenStreetMap by Ciaran in an attempt to create relevance of the Open approach to and Technology to normal Basotho.
2. What is the #MapLesotho project? What is the goal, who is involved? How did it get started?
DC - I think Ciaran can talk much better to how it all started. As for who is involved, there are many from Ireland and Lesotho working on a daily / weekly basis updating the map based on the tasks in the HOT tasking manager. There are also many others from around the world participating in remote mapping. In addition there are one or two providing regular progress updates, specifically Soren Johannessen who, since the mapathon in July, has given weekly updates like clockwork.
The goal is the same as any national effort in the OpenStreetMap sphere i.e. “a complete map” or as near to it as possible while at the same time growing a local community.
CS - The project arose because the Physical Planning Department in Lesotho had run up against data and software licencing difficulties in carrying out their legal functions. Specifically they needed to move (as many Governments have) into the sphere of open-source and open data, and the Fingal County Council people were a valuable partner to have in that having led the way in the Local Government sector Ireland on these matters.
HM - #MapLesotho is a project that is intended on creating a digital map of Lesotho on the OpenStreetMap System. The goal is to create a map that has as much information in relation to the country. At the current moment the project is being aided by a number of volunteers that partnered with Town Planners in Lesotho and the IrishAid agency. From what I know the project started with the first training of a number of town planners that were engaged with the process of creating the map even though I’m not sure when.
3. What are the unique challenges and pleasures of OpenStreetMap in Lesotho? What aspects of the projects should the rest of the world be aware of?
DC - One of the biggest challenges was almost literally starting from scratch. Lesotho was one of the few places left on the planet that was poorly mapped when I got involved in the project. I think there was only something like 50,000 nodes for the whole country at the beginning of 2013, that’s the equivalent of a small town in most other parts of the world. In saying that though, that challenge was also one of the biggest benefits from my point of view. I started scouring the net looking for what I could use to help us map the country e.g. imports, out-of-copyright maps (we love these in Ireland). I found I could get my hands on some map sheets from Texas Library and could also get a placenames file along with some other bits. However as the map was so bare, I couldn’t rectify the map sheets and couldn’t do the import as there was nothing to reference off to see if I was anywhere near where I should be when placing a placename node.
This is what provided the impetus for the big mapathon in July 2013. I split the country into 2 parts. The first task focused only on major urban centres where we asked for buildings, roads etc. to be mapped. The second, much bigger task was focused on rural mapping only, so roads, rivers, streams and villages. This task is currently nearing completion at 89% as I write this. The second task is the important one in terms of progressing the map further in Lesotho. It will allow for georectification of old maps which will in turn be used name features we map and also to ensure accuracy when doing imports.
I have a 3 year plan that spans from 2014 to the end of 2016 which will, by the end of it, result in a complete map for the country, with every building mapped and every river, town, street, school, church etc. named. The end result should also leave a legacy of local community with the knowledge, expertise and confidence to develop OSM and related resources further in their country.
CS - Lesotho hasn’t yet enjoyed the full benefits of cheap, reliable broadband penetrating the entire marketplace. People certainly are transacting and interacting online, especially through mobile devices. However, higher capacity is required to allow people interact with OpenStreetMap in sufficient numbers to have a critical mass of interest. I expect that will change very shortly.
HM - The very idea of contributing to a change that is relevant is the highlight. Even though this is an open system, there may be wrong contributions that can be made and mistakes which may slow down the rate of change. The biggest challenge would have to be poverty whereby mechanisms of job creation may have to be introduced in order to make the project more enduring.
4. Remote mapping is a powerful tool, as demonstrated many times by the volunteers that swarm an area in response to a HOT activation. But some say it can be a straw fire that then burns out without a strong, local, on the ground community. What are your thoughts and how has #MapLesotho approached this?
DC - I completely agree with your assessment and it was one of my personal objectives that while this project started off primarily to provide govt. planners with geo data to use on a daily basis, without an active community that data would become stale very quickly and would also be a terrible missed opportunity. With that in mind, when we travel down to Lesotho for two weeks in Feb, I will be switching back and forth between teaching the use of JOSM and also getting out there and engaging with the local university students and others with the objective of leaving a fledgling community behind when we go. On a side note, just through the use of chatting to locals on Twitter, there is already a local hacker in the process of setting up his own server. Hopefully this is the first step of many towards a self-sufficient Lesotho OSM community.
Personally, I don’t envisage working on #MapLesotho beyond 2016 as there should be enough momentum at that point for me to move on to something else, #MapSomewherelse ;)
CS - A small group of people (outside the direct input of Fingal County Council) have started to come together and discuss how they will carry on after the remote base-mapping input is no longer relevant. This group consists of the Lesotho Open Source group and the Lesotho Policy Analysis and Research Institute.
HM - The initiative aspect of this #MapLesotho is nothing short of admirable, but I do believe that the local community has a responsibility to making the needed changes to their world. Which is why there should be a bigger objective to the map than just having a map. But in time I believe those issues will be solved.
5. What steps could the global OpenStreetMap community take to help support OSM in Lesotho and similar countries?
DC - Right now, we need a lot of support finishing off Maseru in the urban task. We are really pushing hard to try get that completely mapped and validated before we arrive down there on Feb 6th so if anyone has a few mins to kill, jump on that task, look for the biggest urban polygon, you can’t miss it, grab a tile and start mapping.
As well as that, the folks in Lesotho set a date for their next mapathon on Jan 16th, so the guys in Fingal council are running one in their council chamber for the day too. Last July we had groups from all around the world help out so we’re hoping for another surge in support with others joining in on the day or even holding their own mapping party/mapathon. The tasks are setup, everything is ready to go, we just need a load of people on the day.
CS - Some parties outside Lesotho have very recent, detailed and well rectified orthography. This should be opened up as much as possible. As it is the imagery from Bing is good, though a few clouds in our mountains in the north can stop us tracing a lot of details.
HM - Tricky question but I believe the education and ability to contribute to the map technology and creating a local knowledge group would be a good start. Other problems I believe will be solved in time.
6. OSM recently celebrated it’s 10th birthday, where do you think the project will be in 10 years time, both globally and in Lesotho and Africa specifically?
DC - I’ve previously expressed my thoughts on OSM globally so I’ll focus on Lesotho and Africa. Given that local government planners are utilising OSM in their day jobs, I see the use of OSM proliferating through all areas of Lesotho. Getting government engagement is a tough nut to crack and Lesotho is diving straight in, in terms of utilising both open source software and open data in the guise of OpenStreetMap. At some point over the next year I hope there will be one or two other big announcements in relation to the use of open source, OpenStreetMap data and national planning strategy in Lesotho but that’s for another day.
In terms of Africa, I see OSM sitting on a see-saw in terms of the chance to become the default go-to map/geodata for the continent. Given the level of work being done by HOT, MissingMaps, the US Peace Corp (they are doing great work on OSM in Botswana) and many, many others you are going to end up with a phenomenal set of geo data for a large continent. However, if more is not done to develop local communities to maintain and improve this data, it will turn stale, it will be a crying shame and it will be a total waste of everyone’s time. There are some instances of local communities starting to spring up organically however given the amount of resources being put into mapping Africa as a whole, I honestly feel there should be a greater emphasis put on supporting the creation of these local communities.
HM - The ability to make this project opensource I believe is more than enough. What I see happening is that the data mechanisms that already exist are going to be more enhanced to allow more people and devices to make use of the project. With time they are then going to be able to go beyond one platform, they will reach more places than imagined.
Congratulations to all involved in this worthwhile project. It is a great example of the kind of international partnerships that crowdsourcing can enable. It’s still amazing to me that volunteers on the other side of the planet can so tangibly help others. It’s also great to see the tool made for HOT being reused for this purpose. I hope you succeed in creating a great base map for the future while also creating a thriving local crowd mapping culture.
You can see all the Open Geo interviews here. If you are or know of someone we should interview, please get in touch, we’re always looking to promote people doing interesting things with open geo data.