Behind the Scenes of the First State of the Map Africa

In this guest post, Mapillary Ambassador Geoffrey Kateregga shares the background and backstage of organizing the first continental State of the Map conference in Africa.

Where the is a will, there is a way. That is the kind of spirit we had when we thought of organising the first ever State of the Map Africa. We knew from the start that it wasn’t going to be a very easy task, but the belief everyone had and the effort put in kept us going till the very end. It’s an effort that finally paid off when we held the three-day conference in Kampala, Uganda, from 8—10 July 2017.

The thought of organising State of the Map in Africa came from the first time I attended a State of the Map conference two years ago in the US. It was such a strong sense of community and you got to meet great people who are interested in doing the same things as you. It was very motivating and made me think we can also do this in Africa: get together, share experiences, and learn from each other.

OpenStreetMap is really on the rise in Africa, it’s often not just a better alternative to any other map but the only alternative there is at all. There are over 30 active local OpenStreetMap groups in Africa, and some of them are doing better than others, so there’s definitely potential to collaborate and help each other. Specifically, we had three objectives for the first State of the Map Africa conference:

  • to promote continental collaboration on OpenStreetMap;
  • to establish OpenStreetMap Africa as a network that extends beyond the conference;
  • to showcase the possibilities of OpenStreetMap to different organisations, businesses, and governments.

State of the Map Africa State of the Map Africa (photo by OSM Africa CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The planning

In total, we had 40 planning meetings happening every week online via Mumble, an open source text/voice communication software that could handle the number of participants and the fact that not everyone had great internet connection. With ideas flowing in from all corners of Africa—West Africa, Southern Africa, Northern Africa, and Central Africa—it was a good sign that we were to have a successful conference.

The first task at hand was to select the venue for the conference. The call for venues attracted four applications from Ivory Coast, Uganda, and Madagascar, which gave us a very good start. The Venue Selection Committee gave the opportunity to host the first State of the Map Africa to Kampala, Uganda.

Distributing the planning into committees helped us divide up the tasks. In addition to the Venue Selection Committee, we had the Fundraising Committee, the Scholarships Committee, the Programs Committee and Local Organising Committee. Every week, each committee had to meet and plan, then report back to the General Planning meeting to keep everyone on the same page.

This process continued till the last week before the conference. We were also grateful to have several people from the wider OpenStreetMap community and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, who had participated in organising State of the Map conferences before, come in and give very valuable advice to us.

Achieving diversity

To make it a real African Conference, we had to ensure that we get as many people as possible from different countries in Africa to participate. This was the main task of the Fundraising and the Scholarships committees, so when we talked to potential sponsors for the conference, we made it clear that this was our number one priority. And thanks to the generous support from GFDRR, HDX, YouthMappers, Mapbox, JRC, HOT, Michelin, and Mapillary, this became a reality as we had people come in from 24 different African countries, most of them on scholarships.

State of the Map Africa Participanting African countries at State of the Map Africa

The next big objective was to make sure that the program for the conference was valuable to the participants and in line with the theme: OpenStreetMap for sustainable development in Africa. We had a wonderful program thanks to the Programs Committee, with a good mix of presentations—from those telling the success stories of OpenStreetMap in Africa, to technical ones demonstrating the full capabilities of OpenStreetMap in solving local problems, to those demonstrating best practices.

OpenStreetMap communities in Africa are going through a revolution at the moment, and one thing you cannot miss is the rise of YouthMappers chapters in Africa. This was evident as we had a big presence of YouthMappers at the conference, flying in from eight different countries. Their session was one of the highlights of the conference, where students from 15 different universities shared their plans and activities around OpenStreetMap.

State of the Map Africa YouthMappers session

Among the many practical sessions, we also had an outdoor activity, a Mapillary Photo Walk. We used the opportunity to do a tour of the venue, Makerere University, while also mapping it on Mapillary in the process. We had 360° cameras as well smartphones, capturing all the main roads through the university. You can see the output of the exercise below. At the end of the photo walk, we had a demonstration on how OpenStreetMap data can be improved with help of Mapillary.

State of the Map Africa Mapillary Photo Walk group

The results of the Photo Walk, starting from the main building of Makerere University

Makerere is one of the most prestigious Universities in Africa and we couldn’t ask for a better venue for the conference. OpenStreetMap in Africa has grown tremendously through collaborations with universities, which made it the obvious choice for us.

The Makerere University Sports Ground served as the venue for a football match between OSM Uganda and OSM Rest of the World. The Rest of the World team ended up winning the match 2:0 and although I was on the losing side, I must say this was one of the best experiences for me. It was the first one at an OpenStreetMap conference and totally worth it. Another memorable social event, of course, was at the Wink Bar and Restaurant which ended up in a dance, giving us the rare opportunity of seeing how mappers dance.

State of the Map Africa OSM Rest of the World vs OSM Uganda football match

Final thanks

I will pen off by thanking the following people who played a tremendous role in the planning of the conference.

Alexandre Sige, OpenStreetMap Morocco
Gertrude Namitala, OpenStreetMap Zambia
Amadu Ndong, OpenStreetMap Togo
David Luswata, OpenStreetMap Uganda
Deogratias Kiggudde, OpenStreetMap Uganda
Jess Butler, OpenStreetMap US
Claire Halleux, OpenStreetMap Congo
Natalie Sidibe, OpenStreetMap Mali
Enock Seth Nyamador, OpenStreetMap Ghana
Innocent Maholi, OpenStreetMap Tanzania
Emmor Nile, OpenStreetMap Ethiopia
Willy Franck, OpenStreetMap Cameroun
Marc Mashawe, OpenStreetMap DRC
Cristiano Giovando, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
Paul Uithol, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Most of the above people are members of OpenStreetMap Africa, our network of OpenStreetMap communities in Africa, and the organisers of State of the Map Africa.

Our major objective is to map each and every corner of Africa. The conference is just one of the ways we set forward to achieve this, so between now and the next conference, our work is revolving around supporting each other, sharing resources and experiences, and joining hands to grow strong OpenStreetMap communities all over the continent.

In case you missed the one this year, watch out for the next State of the Map Africa and we invite you to help us plan the next one when the time comes.

Webale, thank you!


PS! Geoffrey also talked about State of the Map Africa at the recent State of the Map US conference—see the video here.

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