OSM facilitation collective at the international conferences “Understanding Risk (UR) West and Central Africa” and “SotM Africa” in Ivory Coast

Nov 2019

As part of its activities in support of open source digital mapping, with the support of two senior experts of the Free Geographers, the Directorate of Economic and Digital Economy of the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) supported the participation in the work of these two international conferences of a large collective of OpenStreetMap cartographers from the French-speaking world of the South, who despite their actions and community dynamics within their territories, are often underrepresented in this type of event.

Two joint conferences with common interests and continental scope organized in Côte d’Ivoire

The Understanding Risk (UR) conferences bring together practitioners of risk science straddling humanitarian action and development aid, who are major users of OpenStreetMap data for the characterization of the vulnerability of territories and prime movers of actions to support communities of the OSM project through, for example, the Open Cities Africa program initiated in 2018 in some cities on the continent by the World Bank. “Understanding Risk (UR) West and Central Africa,” held November 20-22, 2019 in Abidjan, was the first bilingual with simultaneous English-French translation organized in Africa, with the aim of facilitating exchanges between participants.

The State of the Map (SotM) conferences are the major community events of the OpenStreetMap project, an important meeting point as well as an indispensable place of exchange during presentations, round tables or workshops that cover all aspects of the life of the OSM project. It covers all aspects of the OSM project, from the latest mapping projects related to a given theme or geographical area, to software tools, innovative techniques or methodologies, governance issues and all types of topics related to the dynamics of this active and diverse community. The “State of the Map (SotM) Africa“, the second of its kind at the continental level, after the one in Kampala in 2017, not counting regional initiatives such as the 2015 SotM Burkina Faso, was organized by a local committee assisted by a continental committee, with the support of several sponsors. It was held over three days, taking over from the UR conference by sharing the same venue on November 22, then moving to the next two days organized in the historic town of Grand Bassam.

A Francophone collective of 18 people representing 10 nationalities

Support was provided by the LLg experts for the registration of the entire facilitation collective to the UR conference or for the visa formalities for the Malagasy expert. Given the size of the group of experts involved, the limited availability of traditional accommodation in Grand Bassam, but also to give priority to access to common spaces, the senior experts, in charge of the logistical preparation, preferred accommodation in different apartments rented on the Airbnb platform, both in Abidjan and Grand Bassam. This solution also made it possible to accommodate other members of the OSM communities who were geographically close and able to travel by road to Abidjan from Bouaké, Lomé or Cotonou. Of the eleven experts supported by the IOF, coming from Chad, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, France and Guinea, seven other people were added: four members of the OSM community of Bouaké as well as one and two members of the OSM communities of Benin and Togo, respectively, bringing the total number of the collective to eighteen individuals, compared to the total of nineteen people invited by the organizers of SotM Africa via scholarship.

For the vast majority of the members of this collective, this was their first participation in both a conference implemented by an international organization and a SotM conference of continental scope. A working room was also reserved in the Information Technology and Biotechnology Village (VITIB) to host the post-conference feedback session that took place on Monday, November 25.

Multiple interventions reflecting the experiences and community commitments of the French-speaking South

During the two conferences, the members of the facilitation collective were able to share the OpenStreetMap experiences that they have created and grown in Haiti and in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa. Their communications reflected the richness of OSM practices in the French-speaking South by associating the actions carried out since 2010, in part with the support of OIF-DFEN since 2014, which have allowed the emergence and strengthening of French-speaking OSM communities in the South through specific training actions or specific projects such as CarteInnov, underpinned by original facilitation mechanisms, as well as aspects of governance of the OSM ecosystem in relation to its foundation or in its collaborative mapping practices. Thus, the various presentations of the members of the collective during Understanding Risk and State of the Map Africa 2019 addressed the following themes

  • an awareness of OpenStreetMap, its adaptation and its declensions in French-speaking Africa through community and academic projects in progress and a panel of discussants from different French-speaking OSM communities (workshop Discovering the world of OpenStreetMap);
  • two practical workshops on field data collection methods (KoBoToolbox and Field Papers);
  • Presentations dedicated to projects based on both OSM and its African francophone communities (Cohesion in Bouaké, Ivory Coast, CarteInnov in Haiti and in sub-Saharan African countries of the Francophonie, API transport in Togo, Map and Jerry in Benin, mapping of water points in some rural areas of Mali);
  • community projects (OSM Niger, State of the Map in Benin);
  • OSM and gender, OSM and the Sustainable Development Goals;

OSM governance (Foundation rules, current state of governance in the French-speaking communities of the South);
position papers and critiques of current practices (Reclaim the streets, Mapathon Mapathon). All of these communications constitute true sessions on the Southern and African Francophonie that reflect the richness and diversity of the activities taking place there.

It is also worth mentioning the day dedicated to OSM for transport (OpenStreetMap4Transport) organized by AFD on Saturday, November 23 as a platinum sponsor of SotM Africa, with the help of Libres Géographes. This theme, which was very well attended for this type of event, allowed some of the members of the facilitation collective to share feedback on OSM mapping of public transport carried out by African OSM communities (Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Senegal and Guinea), Whether they are financially supported by international organizations or whether they act on a voluntary basis, and to review good governance practices for any actor wishing to collaborate harmoniously with OSM collectives, in compliance with OpenStreetMap ethics and the rules of its Foundation.

The demonstration of the transversality of the experiences of the French-speaking OSM communities and their capacity to implement projects around OSM, but also of the limits to make their voice heard in an English-speaking ecosystem

Concerning community-based activities, the presentations of the facilitation group showed that they are no longer carried out by one person in particular, or by a group constituting the heart of a local community of national scope, but increasingly by cross-cutting groups from sometimes distant French-speaking communities, driven by the desire to replicate locally what has worked well elsewhere and to extend the exchanges that have arisen, in particular, during the train-the-trainer actions supported by the OIF-DFEN. This trend is particularly evident around workshops dedicated to female beneficiaries aiming to increase their proportion within OSM communities (GirlsMap initiative) or around community activities of public transport mapping.

Regarding projects financially supported by a partner or donor, the two UR and SotM Africa conferences have shown the capacity of individuals and experienced community nuclei to respond to the expectations of these structures, whether they are national or international actors (international organizations, international NGOs, public structures involved in decentralized cooperation). For the members of the Francophone Facilitation Collective, the two conferences served as a pivotal point for the establishment of new relationships both with individuals or structures working on risk management at a local or international level and with other members of the global OSM community, both Francophone and Anglophone, who were present at these conferences. Nevertheless, for many members of the facilitation collective, these conferences were an opportunity to measure the limits of their attempts to interact with non-English speakers, and the frustration of not being able to really exchange with them.

In the end, we can only note the importance of the impact that this activity of organizing the presence of cartographers from the North and South in these SotM conferences or facilitating their involvement in the governance of the OSM project, particularly at the level of the OSM Foundation (OSM), has had.