Five Years of OMDTZ: From a Volunteer Project to Flagship Open Mapping Community!
We are celebrating five years of community mapping, innovation, data collection, training, capacity building, and more! — From a small volunteer project to where we stand now, more needs to be done, but we believe our story is worth sharing!
By Aisha Hamis
The story of OMDTZ begins with a group of volunteers of the Ramani Huria project, a World Bank project implemented by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team from 2015–2018. The project trained university students and local community members to create highly accurate maps of the most flood-prone areas in Dar es Salaam. The project created “an army” of volunteers and graduates who wanted to keep on mapping beyond the completion of the project — and thus OMDTZ is made up of a group of young volunteers who want to map, pioneer open mapping and innovation in Africa!
OMDTZ was officially registered in 2017 as a non-profit, non-governmental organization headquartered in Dar es Salaam with the aim of executing and promoting community mapping, generating map awareness, actively pledging open datasets, and building a network of passionate mappers in Tanzania. OMDTZ heavily contributes to, and advocates for OpenStreetMap (https://www.openstreetmap.org/)
Over the past five years, OMDTZ has been able to secure numerous projects, forge partnerships, support numerous youth, actively pledge to open geospatial datasets and innovations, and support various partners within and outside the country through capacity-building and skill-sharing sessions. Examples of projects that OMDTZ has run include;
- Open Skies Fellowship: Open Skies is a fellowship program that is aiming at developing the next generation of African experts in frontier technology with females being the priority, the ratio of 70/30. The program which is implemented in Tanzania Rwanda and DRC has so far supported 42 youths and reached over 700 students and youths through workshops and training. The program is part of OMDTZ’s effort of supporting youth in innotech and has resulted in the solidification of the OMDTZ tech hub where youth and students can meet, learn and exchange ideas: mostly on drone technology.
- The Nationwide mills’ census: Using community mapping approaches and open mobile data applications i.e. ODK to conduct a nationwide scale data collection and map all mills across Tanzania. The project has resulted in the training of over 1000 community mappers in the country, who were able to collect 50000+ mills data for the duration of three months. This has showcased that the community mapping approach is effective in data collection, even at a country-level scale. The project that was funded by WFP, has resulted in another similar project: A nationwide school census and mapping of the school feeding program for pre and primary schools.
- Provision of community microgrants to support the growth of OSM communities in Tanzania in collaboration with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team: Seven communities supported in terms of funding, mentorship, and capacity building on the use of open geospatial tools to implement their projects.
- Litter baseline assessment in Four regions: Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Mtwara, and Bagamoyo. OMDTZ trained and worked with 100+ students and community members to conduct litter assessments using a mixed-method approach, consisting of community consultations, remote mapping using drone/satellite imagery, surveying the streets and observation of waste situations through systematic monitoring and recording the situation before and after cleaning.
OMDTZ operates under the principles of Local people, Local devices, and Open Knowledge: What does this mean?
- Local People: We work with local communities directly, because they understand their environment best, are the ones impacted most by disasters, are well-positioned to solve their own challenges, and are the rightful owners of their own data
- Local Devices: It is important to work with locally available tools — such as smartphones in data collection and devices that can be accessed by local communities — because these scale, and create sustainable solutions led by local people
- Open Knowledge: Open knowledge means that information is free and open, not simply in price, but in ability to access, share, and improve. This does not mean at the expense of accuracy or quality — in order to trust the information it should be validated and reviewed so that it is correct and useful.
OMDTZ believes there is a significant value in trusting and empowering local-led organizations to undertake larger-scale projects. While we acknowledge the value of collaborating with international organizations, we firmly believe in the transfer of knowledge and building the capacity of locals who have a deeper understanding of the issues they face. By providing support and training, we can equip local organizations with the necessary skills to tackle the challenges they encounter and drive sustainable change.
OMDTZ would like to express sincere gratitude to everyone who has contributed to our growth, including volunteers, staff, partners, collaborators, funders, and open mapping enthusiasts. Despite the challenges, we have learned from our experiences and sought guidance from those with expertise. We remain committed to our mission of promoting open mapping, the OSM platform, and technology: We are proud to have such a dedicated and supportive community in carrying the torch of open mapping forward.