In the 21st century, technology is correctly understood to be the backbone of several industries and enterprises in the world. Successful technology works in the background, yet makes life much easier and society more efficient. One such tool is OpenStreetMap (OSM). OSM is a free and open digital map of the world that relies on collective action. It provides information on locations, making navigation and mobility more convenient in people’s’ everyday lives.
On 17th Nov 2017, a workshop on ‘OpenStreetMap for Enterprises’ was facilitated by Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL) with the support of ‘Improving the Sharing and Use of Data as Evidence for Development in Nepal’ Program, Development Initiatives and The Asia Foundation. The intent of the program was to sensitize entrepreneurs on the possibility of using OSM for potential economic benefits. Such benefits have been documented by research in several countries but in our opinion, OSM remains under-utilized in Nepal. The program had diverse participants from internet providers WorldLink, online retailer Sasto Deal, engineering technologies such as Smart Road/ Smart Tech Solutions to evolving enterprises such as Food Mario and taxi service Sarathi among many. One commonality among all these enterprises was the ability of OSM to simplify their daily activities and bring in economic and other benefits.
The program started with a brief overview of Open Data by Gaurav Basnet from Development Initiatives. Citing a study by McKinsey and company, Gaurav stated that Open Data can unlock 3 to 5 trillion in economic value annually across seven sectors, including electricity, education, health, oil and gas. He further elaborated on the benefits of Open Data as it belongs to everyone and fosters transparency.
Then, Dr. Nama Raj Budhathoki, Executive Director of KLL took the floor to address how businesses specifically can benefit from OSM. The participants introduced themselves and reflected on the kind of issues their enterprises face with respect to navigation – such as finding delivery sites, locating clients, venues, tracking clients or employees and so on. It was interesting to see that these different enterprises converged on these issues as every single enterprise had varying degrees of problems in finding venue, helping clients find their office, making service efficient among others. Therefore, the importance of OSM in terms of efficiency improvement and profit maximization became evident.
Initiated in 2004 by a British student who was disillusioned with difficulty in accessing map data, OSM saw a surge in usage after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when the absence of free and readily available map delayed relief efforts. Such a surge was also seen in Nepal in 2015, after the disastrous earthquake, with KLL taking the lead in mobilizing volunteer efforts.
With the assertion that a good map is as vitally important as drinking water, OSM comes to the forefront as it is for the community, by the community, to the community. OSM data is owned by contributors and is the result of ripple effect of significant, even if individually small effort of many people. Nirab Pudasaini, Tech and Innovation Lead at KLL, jumped in at that point to help understand the many applications of OSM, by focusing on MAPS.ME. He explained the basics of the app, and then demonstrated how the application can be used offline after downloading the map of a certain place. All functions such as search, routing and navigation can be used offline. Location can be shared using both SMS and the internet. A user can map new places in OSM and become a contributor within seconds.
After the overview, everyone was encouraged to download the app and then move outside to map new places for a hands-on experience with the help of the KLL team. It was visible that people were enjoying that, as they moved around mapping tattoo parlors, bicycle stores, health retreats enthusiastically. There was the additional entertaining factor as people discovered that one could also map offline, and the map edits would go live as soon as the device was online.
As a relative newcomer in technology, I was fascinated by the scope of what we were doing at such a small period of time – we were not simply mapping a place, but making things relatively easier for numerous people who would use the map after us. In Kathmandu, where commuting has become one of the most frequently talked about, and frustrating experiences, we were putting a significant drop in the ocean towards helping people have a different story to tell.
After all the participants returned from mapping, there was a brief discussion on issues faced while mapping and ideas on how the application could be further improved. Then, the workshop continued in the form of High Tea where people were able to discuss common issues, ideas and ways in which OSM and MAPS.ME could be used for their own enterprises. One fact that was also very interesting for me was that the Copyright owners listed for OSM were the contributors, thus truly making it of the people, by the people, for the people.