Tag Archives: open access

Humanitarian mappers’ response to the Nepal earthquake

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

In the days since the earthquake in Nepal, thousands of humanitarian mappers have sprung into action to fill in gaps in the map in the affected area” (Mapbox article, dated 27th April 2015, two days after the Nepal earthquake).

The earthquake that occurred in Nepal on the 25th April 2015 is the largest quake to affect the region since 1934 and one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent memory, killing thousands of people. Aftershocks present an ongoing threat, including one on the 12th May killing over 100 people. Accessing the affected communities requires explicit and accurate knowledge of the area’s infrastructure.

The world’s population continues to grow, making natural disasters increasingly devastating. However, technology develops in parallel. Emerging technology can and is helping with disaster management. More people than ever across the world now carry in their pockets a very powerful tool; a smartphone connected to the internet and equipped with an inbuilt GPS unit. This can be used to quickly and accurately record spatial information not only on a day-to-day basis but also after a natural disaster where possible. Additionally, and often more realistically amidst the destruction where the event has occurred, people nowhere near the disaster itself can contribute towards mapping efforts using satellite information, providing an invaluable resource for those on the ground.

A recent paper in Geography Compass (Haworth and Bruce, 2015) reviewed volunteered geographic information (VGI) for disaster management (prevention, preparation, response, and recovery). VGI technologies allow for near-instant sharing of relevant geographic information for disaster management and the resource implications for generating these data are minimal. This article also assesses the associated challenges of these data, including: “lack of data quality assurance and issues surrounding data management, liability, security, and the digital divide” (p. 237), the latter referring to the lack of technology in some areas so that people can benefit from and contribute to VGI projects (this is improving every day, however). The authors stress the importance of VGI in disaster prevention as well as response, but response is the main subject of this post herein.

There are many examples of VGI, and one of the big projects where such data are used is OpenStreetMap, which I focus on here. Founded in 2004, driven by limits on access to spatial data and the dominance of proprietary software, and in response to the increase in affordable GPS and satellite navigation units, “OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world” (Wikipedia). It uses data contributions from volunteers all over the world (Wiki – OSM Map Production). Such an open, editable geographic information system (GIS) based on crowdsourced data is an incredible resource. It has huge potential from making lives easier day-to-day, to saving lives in extreme circumstances like during and after a natural disaster.

This image shows the burst of mapping by humanitarian mappers after the quake struck on April 25th 2015. Source: article by Eric Fischer on Mapbox, dated 27/04/2015, last accessed 17/05/2015, available at: https://www.mapbox.com/blog/nepal-earthquake-animation/).

This image shows the burst of mapping by humanitarian mappers after the quake struck on April 25th 2015.
Source: article by Eric Fischer on Mapbox, dated 27/04/2015, last accessed 17/05/2015, available at: https://www.mapbox.com/blog/nepal-earthquake-animation/).

In the context of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, OSM has been invaluable, providing accurate and up-to-date maps that are used by aid organisations and local disaster response teams. Indeed, according to an article on Mapbox (by Eric Fischer, 27th of April), just two days after the quake struck, “more than 2000 mappers … recorded 13,199 new miles of roads and 110,681 new buildings” (see the image below from the Mapbox article). Naturally, these figures will have increased substantially since this article as mapping efforts continue. The OSM volunteers rapidly digitised satellite images after the earthquake, providing much-needed maps and data to humanitarian organisations (OSM Nepal Earthquake Wiki). The process is coordinated by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), who communicate with relevant organisations to focus mapping efforts. Anyone can use the resultant maps and associated routing services for free.

The use of VGI will only grow alongside technological development and, importantly, so too will accessibility to this technology through projects such as OpenStreetMap. There are known issues of data quality and so on, as discussed by Haworth and Bruce (2015), but ultimately this technology can only be a good thing. Hopefully it will mean that populations at risk of large-scale natural disasters, like those in Nepal most recently, will be able to be helped more quickly and effectively, thus mitigating the impact.

books_icon Haworth, B. and Bruce, E. (2015). A Review of Volunteered Geographic Information for Disaster Management. Geography Compass, 9 (5), 237–250

60-world2 Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Wiki available at: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/2015_Nepal_earthquake (last accessed 17th May)

60-world2 Mapbox article and animation image available at: https://www.mapbox.com/blog/nepal-earthquake-animation/ (dated 27th April 2015, last accessed 17th May)

Open science: carrots and sticks

Open data can help boost democracy around the world, wrote Jonathan Gray in The Guardian. Writing in advance of the fifth global Open Data Day, he argued that open data are vital in struggles for social justice and democratic accountability.

In this context, Sabina Leonelli, Daniel Spichtinger and Barbara Prainsack’s commentary, ‘Sticks and carrots: encouraging open science at its source’ – published in new RGS-IBG open access journal, Geo: Geography and Environment – is very topical.

Open data and open data are key parts of Open Science (OS) which commonly refers to (i) transparency in experimental methodology, observation, and collection of data; (ii) public availability and reusability of scientific data; (iii) public accessibility and transparency of scientific communication and; (iv) using web-based tools to facilitate scientific collaboration (The OpenScience Project).

Open Science Umbrella. Image credit: Flikr user 지우 황 CC BY 2.0

Open Science Umbrella. Image credit: Flikr user 지우 황 CC BY 2.0

Leonelli et al argue that while great strides have been made to make research outputs (such as research articles) publically accessible via open access, more needs to be done to ensure that the open science agenda is fully realised. They make a case for developing greater incentives for researchers to engage in OS across all of its stages, and for OS to be more systematically supported and promoted by funders and learned societies, in order to improve scientific research and public participation. The authors argue that the OS agenda offers opportunities that Geographers are yet to fully taken advantage of, and point to potentially productive discussionsaround the ethics and sensitivities of data sharing.

Why is this important? Leonelli et al argue that open science can lead to better and more efficient science; skill share between researchers; increased transparency of knowledge production and its outcomes; greater public participation and engagement and; even economic growth, in particular for small and medium sized companies who have increased access to important research findings.

About GeoGeo

Geo is an open access journal, which means that anyone with an internet connection can read and/or download articles free of charge.

 Leonelli, S., Spichtinger, D. and Prainsack, B. (2015), Sticks and carrots: encouraging open science at its source. Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.2.

60-world2 Gray Jonathan 2015 Five ways open data can boost democracy around the world  The Guardian

Getting academic research published and read

Publishing and getting read front cover. Copyright Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Wiley-Blackwell.

Publishing and getting read front cover. Copyright Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Wiley-Blackwell.

by Madeleine Hatfield

The topic of academic publishing has recently been making news in its own right. In the UK and elsewhere, the momentum behind the open access movement has gathered, with growing support for academic research outputs to be made freely available to the public. Even for many academics themselves, however, getting to grips with how research gets published at all – whomever the audience – is a steep learning curve. New mandates from research councils to make published research open access also mean academics potentially need to be even more mindful of where and how they publish.

Earlier this year, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Wiley-Blackwell launched a new free guide for researchers on publishing and getting read. The guide is intended for authors at all career stages, whether new to academic publishing or seasoned scholars wanting to know more about copyright, bibliometrics or open access. The guide is intended to help researchers to:

  • Publish their research in a wide range of forms
  • Think strategically about publication profiles and plans
  • Understand their opportunities and responsibilities
  • Get their published research read

Also available is a guide to ‘Communicating geographical research beyond the academy’ and case study handouts about different aspects of academic dissemination. These resources could help researchers to negotiate the route through academic publishing, and provide an accessible guide for those outside of academia wanting to know more about how research gets published.

60-world2Publishing and getting read: a guide for researchers in geography (Download free PDF)

60-world2Communicating geographical research beyond the academy (Download free PDF)

60-world2Case study handouts available at www.rgs.org/Guides

60-world2Grove J 2013 G8 science ministers endorse open access Times Higher Education 13 June

60-world2The Guardian Open access [summary of articles]

60-world2Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) 2013 Open access and the geographical community

From Beginnings and Endings to Boundaries and Edges

by Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather

The authors: Josh Lepawsky is  Associate Professor and Charles Mather is Head of Department both at the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

Lepawsky J and Mather C 2011 From beginnings and endings to boundaries and edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste Area 43 242–249

[N.B.: This is the first open access paper published in the journal Area, which means anyone can read it for free rather than having to pay a subscription to access it]