The Shuttleworth Foundation provides one year grants to individuals so they can focus fully on a project for one year. This focus allows those individuals to move their projects forward and make significant progress. I am applying for a fellowship, as well as continuing to follow my personal guideline of posting everything openly whenever possible. The application process requires submission of a video, a CV and to answer 4 questions about how things are currently and what one wants to do to create change. Find the answers to the questions and the video below, I’ve also uploaded a PDF copy of my resume.
The hard thing about posting this openly for me was the video. It is the first video of its kind that I’ve ever made completely on my own.
Describe the world as it is. (a description of the status quo and context in which you will be working)
OpenStreetMap was started with the goal of “Free editable map of the entire world(1).” Progress continues to this goal, but this is not without challenges. Currently there are over 600,000 OpenStreetMap accounts, but the majority of people that make an account don€™t actually edit. This highlights basic usability issues with the software, which are even more prevalent in some culturally diverse regions. Additionally very few women ever contribute to the OpenStreetMap community.
A few major barriers within the OpenStreetMap community are arcane communication methods which are only friendly to technical people, the loud hostile voices of a few towards organizational change and cultural barriers that almost require fluency in English to really participate in the greater community. I believe these issues are what leads to new contributors leaving before they really got started and not very many women participating in OpenStreetMap.
The two main editors in OpenStreetMap are called JOSM and Potlatch2. JOSM is a desktop application and Potlatch2 is a Web based application, which appears when one clicks €œedit€ on the OpenStreetMap.org website. Both allow powerful geographic editing, but each has its own usability issues. Over the past year the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team has been working to create an OpenStreetMap community in Indonesia. When interns in that project were translating JOSM into Bahasa Indonesia one of them began laughing, the reason? They had to spend quite a bit of time researching the phrase €œOrthogonalize Shape,€ to translate it. These are final year students in a geography department that are fluent in Indonesian and English, translation of geographic software should be a relatively easy task for them. The majority of the features in JOSM and Potlatch2 are only used by a small amount of users; they manage to clutter the system and make it impossible for beginners to get started.
Fostering change in the OpenStreetMap community will be difficult. It is a large, highly technical community which operates in an informal manner and decentralized manner. My experience with the OpenStreetMap community over the past 3 years will be required to help with adoption of change. Though it will not be easy, I believe these difficult changes will be necessary to truly create a free map.
What change do you want to make? (a description of what you want to change about the status quo, in the world, your personal vision for this area)
Geographic information is powerful. OpenStreetMap exists for that very reason, that much data is either unavailable, out of date or inaccurate. I want to put this power in the hands of more people. One should not need to have a high level of technical proficiency to map their community. One should not have to speak English to map their community. One should not have to be male to map their community.
There have been multiple academic studies looking at the contributor discrepancies in OpenStreetMap. Such studies have approached OpenStreetMap at an academic research project manner, without the goal of fostering change in the environment being studied. Surveying the OpenStreetMap community can be challenging, best practices and workflows for collaborating with the community are not documented. Sharing of these methodologies could make such studies more effective. Community concerns regarding studies within OpenStreetMap are the information will not be shared openly back with the community and that those performing the studies are not participating in the community they are researching. As a current participant in OpenStreetMap and one that makes any information I create open, I believe I can alleviate these fears and use my studies to create change.
What do you want to explore? (a description of the innovations or questions you would like to explore during the fellowship year)
OpenStreetMap as it is today is a mix of social and technological questions. In many open-source projects the technology and the social interactions can be tightly tied together and OpenStreetMap is no different.
For creating a more usable map for everyone I would like to investigate multiple technological questions:
What are the best ways to internationalize data?
Are there other technology issues around adoption of OpenStreetMap that aren’t well known because they are specific to the way certain cultures relate to technology?
To help introduce people to the map there are social questions I think that must additionally be answered:
What are ways that have been previously used to instigate change within open communities?
Who are allies to change through technical contributions or to drive social movement?
What are the social barriers to change? Are individuals or sub-communities creating those barriers? Are there ways to gain their cooperation?
Further questions are around the intersection of social and technology:
How do different technical and geographic groups communicate differently within OpenStreetMap?
When communication occurs between groups where does it take place?
Based on this discoveries I would like to create tools and documentation to help ease the path to OpenStreetMap adoption. I have already been involved in the creation of better learning tools both LearnOSM (2) and the free OpenStreetMap book (3). While these are a start, they are actions without heavy initial analysis or measurement of impact.
Can more effective tools and guides be created with more understanding of the issues?
Does new technology need to be created or can existing tools be utilized?
What are you going to do to get there? (a description of what you actually plan to do during the year)
I believe basic usability is one of the core issues causing the discrepancies within OpenStreetMap. There has been some work in this area previously. I would review this work as well as perform further studies to look at discrepancies between women and men utilizing OpenStreetMap software as well a culture disparate groups. A review of these types of studies in other open-source communities would also be conducted and I would see if it is possible to draw commonalities.
Surveys and Interviews
In addition to usability studies I will conduct surveys and interviews within the OpenStreetMap communities to investigate where their success lies. How did regional groups get started, what was the spark for them to continue to grow? I would also introduce new groups to OpenStreetMap and perform follow-up to determine why they either have or have not continued to contribute.
Based on usability tests, surveys and interviews I will modify tools, create new training materials, host events and explore different types of communications platforms. Using these methods I will see if uptake in diverse OpenStreetMap contributors is influenced. Based on those evaluations I will expand some methodologies and try new ones. The goal to create a diverse free and open map.
I hope my application is useful to others looking to apply and hopefully I’ll be reporting back here with good news!