Observing from afar or joining the action: OSM and GIScience research

At the State of the Map (EU) 2011 conference that was held in Vienna from 15-17 July, I gave a keynote talk on the relationships between the OpenStreetMap  (OSM) community and the GIScience research community. Of course, the relationships are especially important for those researchers who are working on volunteered Geographic Information (VGI), due to the major role of OSM in this area of research.

The talk included an overview of what researchers have discovered about OpenStreetMap over the 5 years since we started to pay attention to OSM. One striking result is that the issue of positional accuracy does not require much more work by researchers. Another important outcome of the research is to understand that quality is impacted by the number of mappers, or that the data can be used with confidence for mainstream geographical applications when some conditions are met. These results are both useful, and of interest to a wide range of groups, but there remain key areas that require further research – for example, specific facets of quality, community characteristics  and how the OSM data is used.

Reflecting on the body of research, we can start to form a ‘code of engagement’ for both academics and mappers who are engaged in researching or using OpenStreetMap. One such guideline would be  that it is both prudent and productive for any researcher do some mapping herself, and understand the process of creating OSM data, if the research is to be relevant and accurate. Other aspects of the proposed ‘code’ are covered in the presentation.

The talk is also available as a video from the TU Wien Matterhorn server




5 thoughts on “Observing from afar or joining the action: OSM and GIScience research

  1. Muki, thank you for sharing a really interesting set of slides.

    I think an interesting research question for the future is how up-to-date the data stays, particularly in areas that are traditionally less well mapped. They often get an initial treatment from a mapping party, but do people return to update the area / are local people taking the map up and keeping it current?


  2. Hi there Muki,

    I realy enjoyed your talk and there general research focus of the SOTM-EU.

    Do you have any ideas how the OSM community itself might improve researchers?
    As you mentioned we have a few wiki pages and try to send semi-regular newsletters and to be present in GIS magazines. Any further suggestions or improvements?


    1. Hi Matthias,
      I think that there are several ways in which the OSM community can improve the effort of research that is usable for it and relevant.

      As you mentioned, thte first thing (as Tom’s comments) is to suggest research topics and issues that need to be explored. However, just suggesting topics on the wiki is not enough – from the experience of using with OSM as part of the way we teach GIS and use of geographical information, students become interested. Therefore, the community should get in touch not only with students but also with academics and researchers. If you identify someone with relevant research interest, it might work contacting such a person and estableshing relationship – then they might be interested in working with the community and encourage their students to carry out research.

      I think that there are very good examples in several places where you can see good links between research groups and the OSM community (e.g. UCL, TU Wien, Heidelberg …) and the community should notice these cases and use these contacts to encourage other groups to join in.


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