Missed out on attending FOSS4G 2018? Here’s an overview of what happened

As a longstanding industry commentator, I have the privilege of being invited regularly to provide my views on major geospatial events. So when I was invited to comment on FOSS4G 2018 (which incidentally I thought was an excellent, informative event great for networking and learning), it struck me that it was highly appropriate to ask others to contribute.

Therefore, I asked two sets of colleagues to provide some words. The first set – Neema Meremo and Janet Chapman from Crowd2Map and the second set – Denise McKenzie from the OGC and Rebecca Firth from HOT.


When we first heard that FOSS4G was going to be held in Dar es Salaam, we were excited but worried that the tickets would be too expensive for any of our community mappers to attend. We hoped that one or two might be able to come if we submitted a talk. In the end 20 crowd2mappers were able to participate and Neema delivered a keynote about using maps to help end FGM: female genital mutilation. There was also a group presentation about our work training local mapping groups and we delivered two practical workshops.

Many of our mappers travelled for 48 hours on a bus, for the first time to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. At the first gathering, a support event for women organised by @GeoChicasOSM, many were overwhelmed by the range of strong female role models from all over the world. (Author’s note: I also spent a great deal of time introducing young female mappers to some of the women community leaders, such as Miriam Gonzalez and Heather Leson who were incredibly supportive, energetic and welcoming in this mentoring role).

For a technical conference, it was amazing that all the keynotes were by women. For rural women with extremely limited opportunities for networking or training, participating was a once in a lifetime experience for which they were extremely grateful.

We held a workshop in which African women outlined some of the additional challenges they face when mapping and some suggestions of how the global community can better support them. Some of the issues they face, such as men telling them they should be doing housework, refusing to give them permission, to physical harassment and threats are hard to comprehend for people unfamiliar with such environments. Some of their recommendations are below. How the community can better support female mappers:

  • Increase the funds available specifically for women, including travel grants (see more below on this topic)
  • Provide counseling and mentoring to disadvantaged groups such as rural women
  • Provide security guidance and equipment so women can better protect themselves when mapping in remote locations
  • Work with educational institutions to start educating girls in mapping and technology early in life
  • Create more materials on the impact of maps for development, particularly with a focus on women; and
  • Provide guidance on good practice in involving leaders at all levels to raise awareness of the benefits of mapping.

There are indeed more ideas on how to help women, this is just a sample.

At the end of the conference there was a surprise announcement that $15,000 of the FOSS4G 2018 surplus was to be given to Crowd2Map to continue our community mapping. This represents three times the size of our previous funding from the HOT microgrant so it is a very big deal.

There was further good news that Crowd2Map will also participate in a side event at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month, organising a mapathon against FGM for UN staff, as well as a concurrent global mapathon where we hope to involve every country where FGM is still an issue. Everyone is invited to support this activity.


Here are a few more details on FOSS4G 2018. Hosted for the first time in Africa, and with 13% of the 1000+ conference-goers attending with a Travel Grant, FOSS4G 2018 was a turning point in the dialogue on inclusion and diversity in the open source geospatial community. 137 Travel Grants were available, the majority awarded to women from East Africa, which positively impacted the range of diversity amongst the conference attendees.

Across the technology community many conversations on diversity focus primarily on the problem: the lack of it. Keen to learn from the experiences of the broad range of international and local conference attendees, we hosted an inclusion and diversity discussion session that attracted over 50 participants. People shared the positive experiences, both at an individual and organisational level that had enabled them on their journey to becoming more involved in open source geo. These were not just experiences of gender inclusion, but also included socio-economic, cultural and disability considerations. With this experience in mind, we plan to draw up practical guidelines around improving diversity in open communities and conferences.

Whilst the dialogue on diversity and inclusion may only seem to be emerging, during our discussion session, it became clear this conversation is quite widespread, but happening in parallel in disconnected groups. To tie these separate discussions together, we created the hashtag #diversityingeo to enable us to link these conversations and more easily share and learn from other diversity and inclusion discussions in communities we may not yet be directly connected with yet.


The best way to describe some of the powerful activities that took place during FOSS4G2018 is to look at the Twitter stream. I sat on an Earth observations panel with Aimee Barciauskas @developmentseed and Krystal Wilson @SWFoundation Part of the discussion was around resources available to help practitioners and policy makers alike, particularly on the topic of open data. This could be another entire blog post based on the content presented.

A couple of my tweets that spoke volumes about some of the sentiment and interest from FOSS4G2018:


Finally, a big thank you to the main conference organisers. I have chosen not to name them individually because many others have done so already, but you know who you are and kudos to you for a fabulous experience.

About the authors

Janet is the founder of Crowd2Map Tanzania a crowdsourced mapping project aiming to put rural Tanzania on the map.  Since 2015, they have been adding schools, hospitals, roads, buildings and villages to OpenStreetMap, with the help of over 9500 volunteers worldwide and 600 on the ground in Tanzania. With minimal budget and no staff they have added over 2.9 million buildings and trained community mappers in 26 areas of Tanzania. Crowd2Map is focussed on areas of rural Tanzania where girls are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM. j.chapman@tanzdevtrust.org

Neema holds a BSc in Human Resource Management from Moi University. She is passionate about youth development and girls’ rights with a history of working with NGOs that aim to eradicate FGM and child marriage. Neema is currently working with Hope for girls and women Tanzania and Crowd2Map Tanzania as a lead mapper (Mapping to end FGM). neemasamuel46@gmail.comneemasamuel46@gmail.comhold a BSc in Human Resource Management from Moi University. Passionate about youth development and girls’ rights with a history of working with NGOs that work to eradicate FGM and child marriage. Currently working with Hope for girls and women Tanzania and Crowd2Map Tanzania as a lead mapper(Mapping to end FGM).

Rebecca is the Community and Partnerships Manager at Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT – www.hotosm.org). In many places in the developing world good quality digital maps do not exist, leaving millions of people uncounted. HOT creates those maps through crowdsourcing remote volunteers and empowering local communities to maps their livelihoods. rebecca.firth@hotosm.org

Denise is the Head of Outreach for the Open Geospatial Consortium, OGC. She joined the OGC in 2012 after 12 years with the Victorian Government (in Australia) working in areas of strategic policy, collaboration and innovation. In OGC she oversees the global Communication and Outreach Program, Alliance Partnerships such as representation at the UN-GGIM and recently joined the board of the Association for Geographic Information (AGI) in the UK. dmckenzie@opengeospatial.org

Steven leads external relations at the intergovernmental partnership, the Group on Earth Observations, more commonly known as GEO (www.earthobservations.org). He is trying to help countries around the world understand the value and usefulness of Earth observations for research, policy, decision making and action. He’s on the OGC Global Advisory Council, a HOT Voting Member and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). Steven is also a Visiting Professor at the Future Cities Institute and a SASNet Fellow at the Urban Big Data Centre, at the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow respectively (both in Scotland). Steven recently became a Visiting Lecturer at the Institute for Environmental Sustainability at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. sramage@geosec.org

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Meet Living Map – the company that is bridging the information gap between people and places #TheNextGeo

Maps are the perfect interface for understanding any environment, and digital map technology has emerged as the essential enabler of multiple consumer and business applications, from navigating cities to visualizing live asset data. How often have you checked a map and wondered “okay, this is a bit complicated!”. Complex places such as shopping malls and museums generally suffer from a lack of readily available and accessible information.

Living Map, the mapping platform with headquarters in Bath and London, UK is taking a shot at making it easy for us to navigate complex places. We spoke to Tim Fendley, to learn more about what it means to build a company that considers itself as a digital platform helps bridge the gap between people and places. Read on!

Q: Tim, thanks for the time! Living Map is a startup that is focussed on making it easier for people to navigate complex places but before we talk about that in detail, what motivated you to start a “cartography” company? What were you doing before? What’s your “unfair advantage”?

A: Living Map was born out of a frustration that, from the perspective of building owners and city leaders, an easy to use and implement mapping technology was not available. It came from an understanding of what people are looking for and how a map could simplify people’s lives and make places ‘perform’ better. We kept needing better geographic information to achieve this and couldn’t find a product on the market that worked. So we built our own.

Living Map’s ‘unfair advantage’ is the mixing of our Geo-ability with an understanding how to deliver complex information and navigation – so that it makes a difference. We know and think about how people understand space, and what they need from tools to help them manage, navigate or understand places. We think that as this field matures then having a product that really works for people will be very valuable.

Q: To say that Living Map is “just” digital version of the “you are here” maps of complex places would be to do injustice to what you and your team are working on. Could you perhaps tell our audience what Living Map is all about and what you are trying to solve?

A: The map is just the medium, what we are trying to improve on is our human need to understand and navigate places. Most complex places are hard for us to understand, remember and use. At the same time, we have an explosion of information. We have sensors, connected systems, devices everywhere that can now provide us with a rich plethora of data relating to the physical space – when the bus will arrive, what is the oxygen level, where is the broken unit. At the moment, most of this data is distributed, difficult to use, not in one place. Living Map pulls all this together to give the manager or customer a digital picture of a pace that suits them. It is a visualization platform that we think, over-time, will become more useful to explain places than other interfaces.

Q: Do you see Google Maps and other mapping apps as a competition? Or do you believe that each of these places – be it the MET museum or the Royal Academy of Arts are complex places that need a different cartographic style, something that you don’t have with the generic mapping layout of Google maps?

A: It’s no doubt that there are some big players in digital mapping for the public. We think the market for mapping is much larger and deeper than what we see today. We have found that nearly every landowner, City Council, building owner, and service provider has use of better mapping. At the same time, the perceived strength and coverage of the large platforms has not engendered innovation and expansion of services in this field. We think this is about to change, and a new set of platforms will emerge, we want Living Map to be one of the leaders of this new field.

As for if they are competitors, you have to look at the drivers behind their services. The existing platforms have been created to support advertising models or to sell devices. Our driver is to provide services for space owners so that they can enhance and look after their own geographic data for the benefit of their own business, by being an extension of their own brand.

The digital mapping market is growing quite fast in the last years, and we are aware of the challenging competition, but we’re confident on the fact that we have some unique selling points that differentiate us from everyone else.

Number one on the list is the fact that we don’t store any user data and that the client has full control over its data, we’re not interested in using it for any other purpose.

In addition, we can provide a completely customized map that can become an extension of our clients’ brand and that can integrate any external system, allowing them with the opportunity to create new innovative solutions for their users.

Q: In addition to making it easier for people to navigate complex places like museums and art galleries, you are also helping companies reduce costs and increase productivity. It was super interesting to learn that you have temperature and occupancy sensors in each of the rooms in your office. Tell us more!

A: There is a huge growth in Smart Buildings and Smart Cities. The availability of data from a plethora of sensors and devices is increasing rapidly. Living Map is positioned to be the visualization tool to display what is going on in real-time. Just like a Fit-Bit, we can now see the health of a building or city quadrant, by displaying activity and change. We have found multiple uses of this display of data that helps businesses plan better, improve efficiency or respond to problems.

For example, we are working with a German sensors provider to develop an IoT solution for offices. We installed a range of their sensors in our office, and we can now visualize their status on our map, from CO2 and noise level to room and desk occupancy. Research studies show that office temperature and Oxygen levels influence people’s performance and, as you said, we want to help to build a better office space, reducing costs and increasing productivity.

Q: The MET Museum in New York, the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the City of Cleveland all use Living Map to make it easier for people to navigate their places. But each of these places requires a different cartographic approach, one cannot design a map for the MET Museum and use it as a template for creating a map of Cleveland for tourists. Could you tell us more about the Cartographic process and how your team comes up with the final map?

A: Even though we don’t have a common template we use to create our maps, the process for the creation doesn’t differ too much from outdoor to indoor. Everything starts with the filtering of the information received by the client, that we’ll use to create a georeferenced map and the polygons required.

The difference is mostly based on the features that we are going to add to the maps. Every feature needs to be analyzed by our UX designers, who work in direct contact with the client to develop and draft the wireframes that will define the software development work.

Q: Where do you see Living Map in 3 years from now? What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in scaling up the business?

A: We are aiming to be one of the major players in the mapping industry, where our technology, together with our spatial design experience, will help us maintain a competitive advantage. The biggest challenge will be the growing number of players in the industry, and the fast-changing user’s needs, which will require us to be always up-to-date with the latest trends.

Q: As a startup founder, I am sure that there are many things that you must have learnt along the way. What was the most interesting feedback that you received so far?

A: When you are raising investment you get plenty of feedback of your business plan. This has been fascinating, it’s like getting it road tested by many experts in one-go. Everyone has a point but in the end you need to decide which advice to take and make the plan coherent, grounded and ambitious enough!

Q: You are based in Bath, UK, how’s the startup scene? Are there many investors specifically looking at geo-tech related companies? Are there any local meetups/events that cater to the geo community?

A: The senior team of Living Map is all based around Bath, and with the area being a highly-connected hub of culture, employment and education, we thought it was the best choice for our headquarters. Bristol and Bath host a vast ecosystem of start-ups and there are many accelerators and funding initiatives supporting new businesses. We personally took part in SETsquared’s Entrepreneur’s Programme, they helped us get off the ground in the area and they continue to support us. We highly recommend it to everyone.

Q: Okay, this is a tricky one – on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), how geoawesome do you feel today 😉 

A: If you want it in terms of numbers I’m feeling at least N 51.38260° / E -2.35959° geoawesome at the moment.

Q: Any closing remarks for anyone looking to start their own geo startup? 

A: The geo industry is growing rapidly and there is a host of opportunities. Mapping will become more prevalent the better it gets and it will respond to a an increasing number of people’s needs. If you have an idea, I can only suggest you believe in it, be brave, and find a way to turn it into reality.

If anyone would like to reach you, what would be the best way to do so?

Anyone who’d like to contact us, can do so by sending an email at enquiries@livingmap.com

The Next Geo is supported by Geovation:

Location is everywhere, and our mission is to expand its use in the UK’s innovation community. So we’re here to help you along your journey to success. Get on board and let’s start with your idea…

Learn more about Geovation and how they can help turn your idea into reality at geovation.uk

About The Next Geo

The Next Geo is all about discovering the people and companies that are changing the geospatial industry – unearthing their stories, discovering their products, understanding their business models and celebrating their success! You can read more about the series and the vision behind it here.

We know it takes a village, and so we are thrilled to have your feedback, suggestions, and any leads you think should be featured on The Next Geo! Share with us, and we’ll share it with the world! You can reach us at info@geoawesomeness.com or via social media 🙂

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