August 06, 2015

OSM Outreach Lessons Learned

In the last week I helped organize an OpenStreetMap (OSM) event with the goal of attracting underrepresented contributors. I put up signs around my neighborhood hoping to attract people interested in discussing changes to the area and what map data was important to them. From there the plan was to introduce OpenStreetMap and give examples of how it’s been used as a community building tool.

Ironically, I wasn’t able to make it to the event. But a fellow volunteer and OSM enthusiast, Katie Urey, rounded up some other volunteers and came to the North Portland Library to carry on the event anyways. Unfortunately, the turnout was dismal and didn’t include the target participants I was hoping for.

####Logistical Lessons Learned

  • Consult with library staff about popular times for events and classes
  • Start publicity at least 5 weeks ahead so the library can promote the event for us
  • Request that the event be library sponsored so we can use their computers
  • Contact community stakeholders and ask them to help with marketing and outreach

####Remaining Questions

I can’t answer these questions at this point but I want to explore their answers.

“How can OpenStreetMap be relevant to marginalized communities especially those experiencing displacement into high poverty areas?”

I had the privilege to visit A Community On The Move exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society over the weekend documenting the experience of African-Americans in Portland. I wonder if an online mapping project showing where people of color in Portland have lived and worked might draw a more diverse crowd to using OSM.

“How can OpenStreetMap be used to build community and bring together diverse groups of people in a polarized neighborhood?”

Is this question too optimistic? Perhaps it’s the wrong question. I’ve been asking myself about my own motivations to see a more diverse cross-section of people involved in OpenStreetMap. I’d like to believe that OSM isn’t just for those privileged enough to volunteer or get paid to be involved. Perhaps this is to justify my own continued involvement or downplay my own privilege. I’d like to believe that OSM is “the people’s map” and can benefit everyone.

####Rethinking Strategy

I wish I could’ve attended this year’s State of the Map conference and met people who are using OSM to empower their communities. I’ve browsed some of this last year’s State of the Map conference talks online and it’s really awesome to know that others have been thinking about these questions and doing some inspiring work. For now I think I will put my OSM outreach efforts on hold as I consider these bigger questions and how I can be more strategic with my time.