Sustainability in OSM, building a more stable ecosystem in OSM for Development and Humanitarianism

Hagen, E.
Publication language
Date published
10 Dec 2019
Research, reports and studies
GIS & mapping, Crowdsourced, Open data

The world of OpenStreetMap is unique, and its use in development and humanitarianism is still evolving. Globally, the OSM community has links to and similarities with a number of areas: the free and open source software movement (FOSS), the open data and civic technology movement, ICT for Development (ICT 4D) and related areas such as humanitarian tech, and, of course, geography, "neo-geography", and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). It also bears a relation to data for development, and digital data collection. And, ultimately, OSM is a kind of wiki - a "Wikipedia for maps".

When OSM is used for development and humanitarian purposes it also tends to face some of the same challenges as development work which is non-technological - challenges of interventions and initiatives in resource-poor locations around the globe. In such cases, the ultimate aim is to have a positive impact on economic and social development in the country, or, to mitigate, prevent, or address emergencies. One of the toughest challenges is to sustain these impacts in the long term, beyond short projects or interventions.

This white paper will explore the many facets of OSM in development and its "sustainability". It examines the definition of sustainability, reviews existing literature about sustainability in ICT 4D, and four dimensions of "sustained benefit" which can help us to understand factors that will influence longer term success of work involving OSM in development. The paper outlines challenges for seven different actors which typically work with OSM in developing economies. It details challenges that tend to arise for these actors in achieving sustainability in the four dimensions. It then suggests a way forward for funders, practitioners, and others to move toward greater benefits for all given the constraints of OSM globally, the ethical considerations of digital open mapping, and the challenges of open source and open data projects generally as technology matures.