OpenStreetMap collaborates with the MacArthur Foundation

A lot of people — tens of millions in fact — struggle every day to keep food on the table and clothing on their backs. And for those of us with money, it’s a small world; we too can have far-reaching impacts on the lives of those in need.

The charitable world is one of many that can do so much good. All it takes is a little investment and a willingness to do whatever you can to make it happen. That’s what we try to do at OpenStreetMaps (OSM), an open-source map-making and map-making-of platform with a major interest in promoting local and local-level development.

As that platform — many of which are free — has gotten wider, bigger and better, the effect on those in need has proved even greater. Over the last 10 years, OSM’s partners — such as Open Street Inclusion and Code for America — have made OSM maps available for free to governments around the world. This effectively provides a more accurate and efficient way to track, report and disseminate information to help people in need.

On Tuesday evening, more than 7,000 people came together to discuss these and other important issues as part of the Council for Digital Equality’s annual Digital Justice Summit in Washington, D.C. The event was sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and highlighted a variety of initiatives, from crowdfunding to broadband sharing to technology training.

For instance, we met with a woman from Tennessee who started an initiative to use OSM to improve data transparency in her county. Previously, she said, she and other library administrators had to ask for updates from county offices and that it can take weeks to obtain the information. With OSM’s database of records, however, it’s easier to do so. She is working to include her library on the system.

We also met with Cory Doctorow of the Brooklyn Public Library who spoke about how technology is helping him to understand how technology affected the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Together with other public library researchers, he used the OSM platform to track and analyze searches of the assassination documents and the words used by people using Google to describe the moment. “In the annals of technological contributions to world-making, there aren’t many to choose from,” he said.

“We’re lucky to have found technology available and beneficial for our work.”

He’s far from alone in his use of the tech. In just a few years, the volume of searches and documents has grown at a startling rate. But given the potential, does the system ever slow down? “The process of acquiring documents is manual and there’s a lot of manual processes going on, but it is possible to have a speeded-up process,” said John Harpole, the former OSM architect. “And ultimately, if people had something to go off of as a PDF, that would be the best speed.”

As opportunities for good technology continue to multiply, we have more technology on our hands that can do more good than we once imagined. It’s great that these advances have already yielded great results, but there are still hundreds of millions of people in need around the world who need technology to help make them more productive members of society.

“We’re lucky to have found technology available and beneficial for our work,” said Josh Berk, program director at the OpenStreetMap Foundation. “By no means is this the end, but it is a beginning.”

Thank you for reading “OpenStreetMap’s First Holiday.” We are thrilled to work with and learn from more and more volunteers as we carry on our commitment to make accurate and reliable open-source maps of the world. Please visit to learn more. We’d love to hear your ideas or questions about how people can use digital technology in the fight for equality.


Anna Lo

Director, OpenStreetMap Foundation

Producer, OpenStreetMap

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