GeOng 2008 Forum, UNSDIT & Open Data

Few weeks ago I spoke and helped run a workshop on OpenStreetMap and GPS utilization at the GeOng Conference, in Chambéry, France – organised by CartOng, on behalf of Mikel, who wasn’t able to attend. The forum was about the role of geodata and GIS in humanitarian work & crisis response. We also had a “pico” mapping party after the conference.

The conference’s language was in French, although pretty much all of the slides were in English. The conference website’s Agenda contains links to many presentations.

CartOng is an NGO based in Chambéry which “provides information management services through mapping and GIS to humanitarian relief organisations. It also promotes the use of geospatial data for managing displaced populations.” At the moment, they have someone out in the Haiti helping them in the field… more on this later.

The forum saw NGOs, commercial & open source companies, various agencies in the United Nations and universities come together. It was the first of it’s kind, and I think that everyone got a lot out of it. From the opening speech by the co-presidents:

The objective of GeOnG, organized by CartONG, with strong support of UNJLC is
at first and foremost to broaden the network of GIS specialists, information
managers of the Francophone community involved in emergency operations and
development. So that we get to know each other and learn from each other,
thereby facilitating future missions on the ground. We often talk of preparing for
disasters, but we must not forget that the fast provision of geodata is an
important factor for making an operation and rapid deployment successful.

At the risk of repeating ourselves and re-quoting the CNIG, sharing of information is particularly important to avoid duplication of efforts and minimize costs. To achieve this, political will and efforts of all partners must be in place. Efforts need to be made by working, through financial contributions and through making Geodata available, of course. This furthermore comprises sharing of contents to be made available to all, including tools and methods, while recognizing that some are already used in case of crises/emergencies.

There was a very real concern and interest in data sharing and making data open, which is one of the ways that OpenStreetMap can help with. When a crisis hits, the responders do not care about whether the data is open or not, they care if its useful and available. If necessary, they will “beg forgiveness” later. But whilst this is needed, doing this every time however could be wasteful, as each agency appears to be coming across the same problems: finding the data, managing it, putting it into the correct format, sharing it with others.

Another key theme for the two days was that of standardisation of data in a good useful format. In an emergency, knowing that a particular road is officially designated a “B-Road” is not that useful, what people want to know is “can I drive a truck down it?”. To address these concerns, the United Nation Spatial Data Infrastructure for Transport was devised. Devised by the UNJLC from the bottom up with the help of the actors in the field, it’s been designed to help address this.

The schema is open. I really think that OpenStreetMap can benefit from the work done here. For example, the weight classification and bridge classifications. Using the form shown above (which I also think is an excellent way to help people collect data with openstreetmap) – all forum participants went out for a “parcours” around the town, and were asked to map route condition and any obstacles. It was a useful practical exercise. The next day, we downloaded the data and showed it as kml in google earth, as part of a workshop, although we did have a powercut!

In Haiti, there is work going on to provide OSM with data with the UNSDIT format, which would be excellent. OpenRouteService is planned to be able to use the data from the OSM database to provide routing solutions for Haiti. More on this in the days to come. We are also talking about putting OSM on phones (maybe using GPSMid) to help navigate around in emergency areas – often phones are the only thing that works. Being able to text a message saying “at lat x lon y, the bridge is down” would be very useful – and you wouldn’t even need a GPS. It’s a great example of the ecosystem around open geographic data – these tools did not exist before open data became available, it’s a great feedback loop – more data = more uses = more users = more data (works if you subsitute “more” with “better” too).

The schema also works both ways, OSM contributors could also benefit by having regular use of the data, and benefit from useful classifications of features, should they choose to adopt them.

Interesting presentations included, the work of UNOSAT (pdf) with some very good cartography, and excellent examples of the type of outputs they do. Working with remote sensing to produce accurate and timely maps. Camptocamp showcased (pdf) a range of opensource gis solutions, and their products, including MapFish – which interestingly can use Google Gears to enable offline editing of vector data – very interesting. UNHCR’s geoportal (pdf) – here they touched upon another important issue – many of their users out in the field have slow internet speeds, or no connectivity. I think this is a real challenge for GIS and for OSM – to have offline capabilities with the ability to synchronise these with a central server. Overall a good conference, I think everyone got a lot out of it.

Afterwards, we went up into the mountains and stayed overnight in a “refuge”.

Beautiful views, clear skies, great company, singing and playing Uno in front of the fire, and drinking home made schnapps. I spent the remaining week in Lyon, Avignon and Annecy – doing some mapping and seeing the sights. Avignon’s map is looking a bit fuller now, especially around the Old Pope Place.

Great place to get lost wandering around the narrow streets – and the GPS worked suprisingly well in the narrow alleys.

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11 thoughts on “GeOng 2008 Forum, UNSDIT & Open Data

  1. Pingback: Brain Off » UNGIWG, meat on the bones. OpenStreetMap and the UNSDI. :: Mikel Maron :: Building Digital Technology for Our Planet

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