In the second blog of our series exploring the impact of Festival de Datos, read about a new partnership between Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, which developed out of a workshop at the Festival. We will be working together, along with National Statistical Institutes in Latin America and the Caribbean, to strengthen and improve map data in the region.

What is the status of our protected environmental areas? Why are some of our best-performing educational centers situated on the south or north of a particular avenue in the city? Where are the damages caused by natural disasters concentrated, and which areas are experiencing the persistent effects of climate change? The decision-makers in Latin-America and the Caribbean encounter these questions, among others, when looking to design effective services and respond to crises. Frequently, they make decisions based on poor, outdated or costly information.

On November 6th 2023, during the Festival de Datos, Humanitarian OpenStreetmap Team (HOT) and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data organized a workshop inviting representatives from National Statistical Institutes in Paraguay, Colombia, Chile, Suriname, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica to explore how better map data can help address these questions. During the session, we explored the needs of the countries in the region regarding cartographic information to tackle their joint challenges.

Why we need better maps

Our countries face challenges in accessing or creating maps for their censuses and for monitoring population dynamics. Most countries have outdated laws, geographic information and methodological frameworks; they all use open databases from public services and satellite images. Because of these traditional methods, they cannot access reliable environmental data, such as water-related data for land planning and deforestation monitoring for mining, or up-to-date demographic data, such as information on communities, social and cultural characteristics in secluded regions. In addition to regulatory adaptation, new technologies and data sources are needed to provide a clearer picture. However, there are no common platforms within the countries.

In this context, OpenStreetMap (OSM) can help. OSM is an open geographical platform that allows anyone to contribute to the map and use it freely. Due to its open and participatory nature, as well as its versatility, OSM has been recognized as a digital public good by the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA). It’s an open code and data platform that can be adapted to the privacy contexts, personal and humanitarian data related to each region. The openness allows a diverse group of actors to work together to expand the platform, which can be used as infrastructure in the development of various projects. 

For example, many countries could use OSM to update their own  internal databases (a common issue to measure the Open Data Inventory, or ODIN) or to focus their efforts in strategic sectors such as agriculture. Furthermore, our countries face specific dilemmas concerning deforestation, illegal mining or land ownership – areas where, typically, the data is insufficient to monitor the scale of the challenges. Citizens could actively contribute data, and making this information visible from the local perspective will enhance the decision-making process. Various applications within the framework of OSM allow it, and could be easily adopted.

From this workshop, three interesting questions arose for the region:

  • How can the region position itself as a united front in regard to the significance of open data in the face of the emerging spatial data market? Platforms like OSM are actively working as entities that provide quality spatial information, but much more could be done collectively within the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • How to build capacities so that the use of data is not only for cartographic purposes, but also for producing statistics? The connection between cartography and statistics is clear; certain countries merge the institutions overseeing these two areas. The potential for innovation in terms of data production, integration, use and visualization offers important opportunities for collaboration among the statistical institutes in the region. 
  • How can countries in the region progress towards integrated and open geographic information systems that support statistical activities with new data sources and approaches? Some nations have already made noteworthy strides; nevertheless, the open geographic information systems could still integrate new ways of working and new sources of information originating from citizen engagement. 

In summary, three key needs for the region were identified at our event. These were:

  • Increasing the use of participatory and citizen-generated data to create better maps.
  • Enhancing the granularity of cartographic data.
  • Strengthening capacity among the population and the public sector  for using new data sources and skills. 

Integrating OSM and its tools, in collaboration with the Global Partnership,  means the possibility of incorporating cost-effective open technology, which will strengthen the cartographic landscape. The purpose of this partnership is to build knowledge, collaboration and capabilities in the countries of the region. As a digital public good, countries can develop common and shared strategies to address these challenges and promote collective learning. The creation of reliable maps is just the first step in engaging our populations in understanding their own territory, its challenges, and the actions that can help to address them. 

HOT and the Global Partnership will be exploring opportunities with countries to strengthen capabilities in cartography, mapping and statistics in the region over the coming year. We will  work with countries facing challenges to get up to date and reliable information to face key development challenges.