Along side the OGP meetings April 17-18, we spent two days opening local geo data with OpenStreetMap. There’s a lot of excitement in Brazil around OpenStreetMap, which you can see in its recent community growth. Members from Track Source, Transparency Hackers, Sunlight Foundation, and others joined us and we spent some good time collecting street name and point of interest data in Taguatinga and Cruzeiro of Brasilia DF.
This comes as open spatial data is an even more critical asset for businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations. Situating information in its geographic location is a powerful method of analysis and a growing flood of open data wants to not just sit on a background map but actually be correlated with spatial data. This way, we can do much more than add dots on a tile map – we can start to analyze traffic, plan cities, and prepare for disasters. This is the real power of OpenStreetMap. It’s not just a tiled map, but is actual data that’s free to download and use for any purpose, and cheap to contribute to.
The availability of such a high quality, openly sourced repository of geographic data changes the landscape in which traditional GIS departments operate and presents a completely new way for governments to interact with citizens. Geography is not the hegemony of governments anymore. It’s now also in the hands of citizens who can decide what’s on the map. They make those decisions not in city hall, but on mailing lists and wikis. This begs the question of how can GIS departments be part of this community? How can they transform themselves from the guardians of geo information who they are today to active community members, both contributing to and benefiting from the open repository for geographic data that OpenStreetMap is? At the OGP meetings in Brasilia, we have only started to explore this question, which is a rather large question indeed. This is why in the meantime, we’re happy to share how easy it is to contribute.