YouthMappers: A Hybrid Movement Design for the OpenStreetMap Community of Communities

Room: Auditorium B
Academic Track 🎓

Sunday, 14:30
Duration: 20 minutes (plus Q&A)


short paper - pdf


Presentation SOLIS

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  • Patricia SolĂ­s (YouthMappers; School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning; Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory; Knowledge Exchange for Resilience, Arizona State University)

The YouthMappers experience lends itself to explore interesting questions about the cultural and organizational aspects of data production and usage practices in OpenStreetMap, in order to improve them. First, this study aims to identify what are some of the qualitative and quantitative characteristics distinguishing the performance of YouthMappers as an academic-based community within OSM. Second, this study aims to better understand how the design approach taken by and on behalf of YouthMappers reinforces an identity as unique contributors.


Increasingly ubiquitous open spatial technologies offer the opportunity for new actors to participate in creating knowledge about the places where they live and work, and where they connect to others around the world. University students are one set of actors who have grown significantly in their visibility and contributions to OpenStreetMap, in part through the establishment of YouthMappers in 2015. This inclusive international network of university-based, youth-led, faculty-mentored chapters on more than 320 campuses in 66+ countries works to mobilize and support university student mapping action that responds to humanitarian and development needs by creating and using an ecosystem of data and tools centered on OpenStreetMap.

The YouthMappers experience lends itself to explore interesting questions about the cultural and organizational aspects of data production and usage practices in OpenStreetMap, in order to improve them. In this case, we explore these aspects as they occur within and through the academic sector, particularly through the hands and eyes of student youth. As a consortium design, this networked set of local groups works on the one hand, to create and use data on their local campuses and home communities, and on the other, to remotely contribute data on imagery-visible features in response to humanitarian, development, and knowledge needs wherever they may occur around the globe. Furthermore, they act not only within the OSM “community of communities” framework (Solís 2016), but also within an existing global infrastructure of academic institutions with its own set of shared educational aims, knowledge generating practices, and cultural norms. Meanwhile, students are motivated both by learning and using new skills and workforce competencies as well as by the opportunity to participate in the world’s largest volunteered geographic information project and the activities that make common good use of the data. So how do YouthMappers navigate these different aims within these different spaces of action?

To address this question, two aspects of this experience are the focus of attention in this study. First, this study aims to identify what are some of the qualitative and quantitative characteristics distinguishing the performance of YouthMappers as an academic-based community within OSM. Second, this study aims to better understand how the design approach taken by and on behalf of YouthMappers reinforces an identity as unique contributors.

The presentation first will provide a description and justification for the purposeful design of the YouthMappers consortium (Solís et al. 2018) within the context of OpenStreetMap (Brovelli et al. 2019). The study will be contextualized with a review of literature on the current state of higher education, particularly with respect to a present tension around higher ed institutions’ purpose as sites for both workforce preparation and global citizenship. The latter point will be situated with reference to scholarship on the global targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as perhaps the predominant discourse for international action across humanitarian domains. This review sets up three interlocking hypotheses that the evidence is anticipated to reject: H1: (Action-of-Performance) Participating youth either map only locally or remotely, but not both; H2: (Hybrid-Roles) Participating youth cannot simultaneously pursue personal aims to prepare themselves for the workforce and to express their identities as global citizens; and H3: (Movement-Minded) Participating youth cannot articulate the impacts/benefits of actions undertaken for broader communities or society through their work with OSM, nor identify the roles/contributions of youth action in this work for the common good.

Data to test the first hypothesis relate to performance and include a range of metrics of participation (Andal et al. 2022; Boateng et al. 2022; Walachosky et al., 2022); statistics of known users (Anderson 2022), and a review of data from other studies of YouthMappers’ editing contributions (e.g., Mahmud et al. 2022). Data to test the second hypotheses relate to identity and come from the long-running student-authored blogs (Hite et al., 2018), as well as a global survey of YouthMappers collected in 2019 accompanied by a qualitative set of member queries to iterate interpretation of the survey results (Solís, Anderson & Rajagopalan 2020; Solís et al. 2022). Data to test the third hypotheses come from a set of case studies that are considered with respect to the SDGs (Solís & Zeballos, forthcoming). Collectively, these data are analyzed with respect to the above hypotheses.

Results reveal a spectrum of interests balancing local and global mapping across the consortium, and across regions, and other axis of participation. They also indicate the extent to which youth reflect on local benefits, including personal skill development, versus global citizenship, including how they understand the meanings of their actions for SDGs, locally and globally. Detected differences by gender, world region, and duration of participation are interpreted and validated with additional qualitative data. The results are presented with respect to rejecting all three hypotheses, which validate the model.

These findings help to begin to build a case for understanding the potential of the YouthMappers design to advance the goals of OSM, of the academic community, and potentially the SDGs. In particular, we discuss the possible role of university systems as third space sites for enabling performance and identities for youth action (Bawakyillenuo et al., 2013; Soja, 1996). This gives consideration to the possibility for universities to serve as sites that Heaney and Rojas (2014) characterize as hybrid organizations that, when linked to global discourses on issues like sustainability (SDGs) and open data (OSM), can mobilize youth to create and participate in what we term digital humanitarian “hybrid movements” (Solís, et al. 2022). In turn, this hybrid movement puts into place both a framework of performance and a space of identity which can serve to advance OSM communities.

These findings offer insights for how other types of communities could leverage their existing milieu in ways that strengthens OSM broadly. Ultimately, the idea of hybrid movements encourages OSM to embrace a pluralistic, inclusive and diverse set of communities that not only bring individual contributions but leverages other systems like the landscape of academia was systematically enlisted via the YouthMappers design.


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