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The power lies with the community, a look into digital mapping technologies

September 5, 2022
February 6, 2023

In this interview Loop’s Tarisai Jangara catches up with Geoffrey Kateregga, who currently serves as the Community Manager in the Eastern and Southern Africa Hub of OpenStreetMaps Team.

Geoffrey is an active member of the OpenStreetMap Africa community - a network of local OpenStreetMap communities from all over Africa organising the State of the Map Africa.

This community shares resources and collaborates to grow and produce a complete and detailed map of Africa in order to advance the quality, completeness and sustainability of geospatial data in Africa. The aim of this is to ensure there is accurate local information to inform emergency responses and future investments. 

What is an OpenStreetMap?

Geoffrey: Open Street Map (OSP) is a community-driven digital, free and editable map where different people contribute their data. Basically, when one starts to contribute to the data they become a member of the community. Contributing to OSP goes beyond knowledge sharing towards learning from each other by connecting with partners and making sense of data. It is about building diverse and vibrant communities that can take part in the map making process and are empowered by the mapping results. 

What is the significance of OpenStreetMap?

Geoffrey: OpenStreetMap gives power to communities. Communities do not have to wait for someone from elsewhere to come and add their personal information to the map. An individual  is able to see the data gaps in their countries and are able to fill them. Using OSM, we have helped community leaders in refugee communities to map vulnerabilities and assets in the places they live, filling in key data gaps and “blank spots” on the map. 

In Uganda we have refugee settlements and we are working with the refugees to add themselves on to the map. In this process they are really able to show what is happening on the ground in terms of services and which organisations are offering humanitarian assistance. I think showing what is really happening on the ground provides evidence and data that helps people to craft their own narratives by sharing what is important to them.

Appreciating the power of community generated data and how it can help fill data gaps is important. Trust in this data comes from participation by getting everyone involved. At times OSM data is far better than what is available from government sources because the data is community reviewed. If someone adds something that is not correct, another community member can come and correct the information in the same way that Wikipedia works.

It's about local ownership and community.

From your perspective, how might the power dynamic change if/ when feedback mechanisms - like Loop are adopted at scale?

Geoffrey: I think new technologies like Talk To Loop can learn from OSM about the Power of building a global community. Talk To Loop should build a community around its platform and make sure that people who are giving the feedback are part of this community because that’s really where the power is. Similarly, Open Street Maps can use Loop to help engage openly across communities and across languages.

Loop has Accountability Champions which can be organisations like ECOWEB or individuals like the youth volunteers in the Philippines who took elderly people’s feedback during Typhoon Odette, ran to the top of the hill where they could get phone connectivity and submitted feedback through Loop on their behalf.

For more details on how to contribute to OpenStreetMap, visit

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