Household Surveys and OpenStreetMap

Time to introduce our work last year in Swaziland with Unicef, integrating OpenStreetMap techniques into nationwide household surveys.

Way back in 2008, I met Bo Robert Pedersen on the beautiful UN Nairobi compound, to drink coffee and talk maps (without any inkling of what would be happening for in Kenya a year later). Andrew Turner and I were on our way to South Africa for FOSS4G, had scrambled to buy some GPS units a couple days before in NYC (yea 17th St Photo!), and were talking to nearly everyone we could find about maps. We were riding the success of Mapufacture’s acquisition, having a great time mapping in beautiful places, and had found Bo by looking at the most active OSM editors in Nairobi.

Bo just happened to be the regional coordinator for MICS4 (or Multi-Indicator Cluster Survey), an international household survey program coordinated by Unicef, and one of the world’s largest statistical data sources on household demographics and living conditions, and women’s and children’s health and threats to their well-being. These surveys employed GPS units in a fairly simple way, for each survey team to record the central location of survey clusters, and Bo saw an opportunity to make much greater use of GPS. These surveys traverse literally every single road in the country, and simply collecting GPS tracks would unleash a treasure of track points for tracing in OpenStreetMap. And that was simply the tip of the iceberg.

Over the next year and a half, the ideas bubbled, and while in the midst of Map Kibera, we were given an opportunity to pilot these ideas in Swaziland. We designed a pilot project to develop a GPS training program for the MICS survey teams, collect and analyse and trace GPS traces, and explore innovative applications of the tools. Primoz Kovacic and I travelled to Swaziland, developed manuals, and did our best to get the crew psyched for mapping. Traditional household surveys and OpenStreetMap share a lot in common in technique and activity, but differ widely in approach. Surveys are highly controlled, top-down, and jobs, while OSM is self motivated, bottom up, and voluntary, and the interaction between the two was fascinating, especially in comparison to the ongoing work of Map Kibera. One of the first key things was a set of manuals for the MICS program, which are shared here CC-by-SA. The GPS Coordinator Manual may particularly be of wider use, at it describes precisely how to configure Garmin GPS units for surveying with OpenStreetMap.

In the next few blog posts, I’ll present the results, explore the technical experiments with the resulting data, speculate on other applications and approaches, and make available to the OSM community this treasure of data for tracing in the map.

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