Today, it can finally be said, I am a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the State Department working on OpenStreetMap for Diplomacy.
This is very exciting, and honestly a bit boggling, how it's all turned out.
9 years ago, I was living in Brighton, UK, and travelled to Nottingham for several days of hacking with some very creative technical people. Invitation was from Ben Russell, "author" of the Headmap Manifesto (read this). Ben was a kind of hero to me, so that was great, and we spent a lot of time with Steve Coast, I built a slippy map for OpenStreetMap. We blew our own minds. Ben summed it up ... OpenStreetMap was going to totally succeed, or fail spectacularly.
The people I've met through pursuing this crazy dream of OpenStreetMap, the adventures, the real places opened up ... I won't even try to sum up how this project has taken over my own life, and changed the whole world for the better. Just this. When we first started talking about OpenStreetMap for Disasters, the response was sometimes polite, often condescending, and always bewildered. Today, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) provides geographic data direct to the ebola response. We didn't ask permission, but believed, listened very carefully, kept working, and created something entirely new.
And this year, the White House and State Department created a Fellowship for OpenStreetMap. The Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU) has already moved mountains with Imagery to the Crowd, providing satellite imagery for digitization into OSM for humanitarian response. Makes whatever comes next seem easy! I'm really looking forward to working with HIU on MapGive, with eDiplomacy, and with others at State, USAID, and other agencies working with OSM. Our class of Round 3 fellows are an impressive bunch, working on hard problems. We've met many folks at our sister groups, 18F, US Digital Service, White House Office of Science and Technology. There is a vibrant spirit here, true believers in transformation of government, but rooted in smart, sobering, hard work and commitment.
The problems facing the world, humanitarian, climate, environmental, economic, are so extreme, everyone must find a substantial way to work together. No matter if you are a slum dweller in Chennai, or a bureaucrat at the World Bank, you contribute to the same database in OpenStreetMap, and that is powerful. In fact this is the role of HOT, to serve as the interface between the quite different worlds of the OpenStreetMap community and humanitarian response, and bring people together. And this is why I put myself forward to serve as a PIF. There are entirely new ways to cooperate and organize now open to us, and while the answers are certainly not obvious, I felt a calling to explore the landscape of potential.
The specifics of what I'll work on are still being created. But all our discussions so far focus on supporting growth of OSM, building as usual in the open, with reusable work for all. I think there will be three parts. First, contribute to curriculum and guides for teaching OSM, and organizing OSM projects and communities (the "softer" stuff, mostly in our collective heads). Second, build software tools to support community organizing, improve data quality, and flow of imagery. Finally, trial all of this somewhere out there, including connecting with other groups working for OSM in DC, through cross agency and organizational collaborations.
I needed to make a few changes to focus on the PIF. I'm stepping down from my role as President of the Board of HOT (but will remain a dedicated Board member). As well, have minimized other commitments at GroundTruth Initiative, Map Kibera, and Moabi. Yet, I'm not going far. I'm still editing right here, contributing on GitHub, publishing, probably more than ever. And especially listening. In a very fundamental way, I can't do this fellowship alone, and rely on the energy and ideas of our collective. I will need your help.
With nothing else to say at the moment … Maps!
Disclaimer: Views are my own!