An introduction to mapmaking in the year 2017

What is the process for discovery and recording of settlements and their proper names?

How does that information get authenticated and made available?

Reviewing Satellite Imagery

This is undertaken by volunteers working at public events called “Map-a-thons.” Trained or experienced volunteers from all over the world have participated in these events, mostly in high income settings where computers and bandwidth is readily available.

Open Source Mapping Software

As the satellite imagery is reviewed, it can be tagged and outlined by using a mouse on a computer screen. This new information can be integrated into existing base maps through programs such as QGIS—Quantum Geographical Information System. Eventually, new information recorded on a program such as QGIS while working in the field can be reintegrated into a publicly available map that is able to show layers of information on top of the base map. One widely respected platform is OpenStreetMap [all one word]. These programs and applications are open source—no one has ownership over them—they are a shared resource built collaboratively.

Gathering information in the field

In keeping with the ethic of open source software, the Open Data Kit is used to create a questionnaire. Using a modified version of the widely accessible Excel spreadsheet form, ODK enables building a wide variety of survey designs. Answers can be in text, bullet lists, even pictures or a signature. A key feature in regard to mapping is the fact that ODK can readily store GPS latitude and longitude positions as well.

Once designed and built, a survey can be uploaded onto a server, and then downloaded onto a surveyors mobile Android phone. As the application ODK on the phone is opened, a field surveyor is then able to complete an individual survey, store it, and request another blank form at the next survey location.

Uploading to the Project

As long as the phone is physically safe, data can be stored in the phone, but a usual practice is to try to get that data off the phone and copied daily. In some field conditions, surveyors have to find a way to get to a place where the transmission signal is strong enough to send. Adverse weather conditions or signal outages can affect the process. Once the data is uploaded, it is then available for review anywhere in the world through the internet. Of course, most data projects retain the confidentiality of certain kinds of data, and until the process is complete, and approved data is integrated into a public map like OpenStreetMap, it is password protected.

Reviewing and Cleaning the Data

Modern computer technology allows for extensive questionnaires, and the longer the survey, the more work there is in the data review. The quality and completeness of surveyor’s work needs to be reviewed. Typing mistakes have to be corrected and clarified, empty fields may require completion. Creating accurate data is an intricate and exacting process, requiring high competence at each stage.

Rechecking the Data

Usually, data gets checked by a verification process, often requiring as much as a 10% revisiting of survey informants to verify that the original information taken was accurate and complete. Once meeting this Gold Standard, data is certified by independent reviewers who can attest to its quality. Mapping information will then be added to repositories like the one in OpenStreetMap. The information is even then subject to public review, and anyone can suggest an edit, or point out any inaccuracies.

Why Place Names are Foundational

Social issues and environmental issues are inextricably intertwined in the modern world. To work with either of them requires a knowledge about people, and the most basic thing to understand is the question of who is living where. Accurate and complete mapping of place names provides a resource for both effective intervention strategies and for self advocacy,