Mapping course in Almaty

Posted on November 20, 2008 in Capacity building, Environmental Education, ICT, Public Participation, Theme.

In the week of 2-11 november the course on Environmental mapping took place in Almaty.

One of the parts from the project proposal states that electronic maps will be made:

….we will make electronic thematic maps on environmental issues for monitoring purposes.

These maps do not exist yet, and a training will be provided on tools and techniques to create these maps. Three versions will be made for each territory: a work version, an intermediate map and a final map, showing both environmental issues, monitoring issues, and elements of data gathered by the Green Phone.

So 2 participants from each region were selected: Orbita in Almaty, part of Astana, near Kazhimukan Munaitpasov Stadium, and Novostepanovka, in Aktobinsk region.

The general concept behind this mapping excercise is that providing free available maps with ecological aspects of an area contributes to public awareness raising about environmental issues, and by informing the public a first step in the setup of a local environmental action plan and its priorisation of issues can be made.

Furthermore the collection of local data can be done by participatory methods, increasing even more the public involvement.

During preparation the pilot territories were selected, and first version one of an electronic map ( yahoo satellite imagery ) was printed and used for defining the areas more precise. This first version will not be made public, and was only for preparatory work. After that a list of the tagging scheme of openstreetmap was used to make a prioritisation of environmental elements, including the possible icons that could be used.

The course consisted of the following modules:


  • Rationale of the course, relation to overall project, scope, limits
  • Program overview, goals
  • Backgrounds on mapping, history, trends
  • Guiding principles on open access, customisation, licence issues
  • General explanation of overall steps (collect, process, render)
  • Terminology used (GPS, GPX, GIS, EXIF, WMS, Formats, etc etc)
  • Map providers, pro’s and con’s (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, WMS)
  • Collaborative mapping efforts (Openstreetmap, Wikimapia, Mashups)
  • Openstreetmap and why we chose it for this project (License, collaborative, possibility to make thematic maps, custom rendering rules)
  • The way we work together in this part of the project (Wiki)

The process

  • Gathering: preparation, GPS explanation, waypoints, tracks, ways of collecting, taking pictures, notes, working systematically, record audio, height, things to record
  • Editing and processing collected data: JOSM, Potlatch, Tags, time-synchronisation of images, using Yahoo satellite imagery as background
  • Using Garmin, Google earth for previewing GPX
  • Creating and editing points, lines, areas, tagging
  • Rendering engines, Rules

Field work: Collecting

  • Prepare : Split pilot territory, make route, divide and circulate tasks, check equipment, syncing watches, GPS and camera.
  • Walk on the street, mark locations, learning the pitfalls.
  • How to communicate the project during the collection stage.
  • Making backups of collected data, previewing

Hands on: processing

  • Installing software, requirements, Java, language issues, GPSbabel
  • Importing GPX, Garmin issues
  • editing, cleaning, tagging
  • Uploading to OSM, Potlatch

Finalisation: rendering

  • Explaining rules, basemaps
  • Explaining Kosmos, using bitmaps, zoomlevels
  • Next steps in the process : icon design, planning, responsibilities
  • EC Visibility guidelines for final result
  • Printing, overlays, updates, mapping as a service

The following tools were explained and used in the hands on training:

  • Garmin Mapsource
  • GPSbabel
  • JOSM
  • Kosmos
  • Openstreetmapscout
  • Google Earth
  • Dokuwiki
  • Geosetter

Interesting are the lessons learned:

  1. There is a big difference between cities where high resolution areal imagery is available and more rural areas: in the latter case it is impossible to use this imagery for drawing main roads without a GPS, so when you have only one GPS this should be sent to rural areas first. When budget is limited, consider buying some cheap (approx 50EUR) GPS dataloggers (like Holux M-241 instead of a real GPS (approx 200EUR), but you will pay with flexibility and resolution.
  2. Cities tend to have more people already involved in this mapping process, so it is easier to find local “volunteers” who can assist you. Making the maps with more people is more fun, and they could help in tedious tasks like tagging.
  3. Garmin still deletes the timestamp when exporting to GPX, which is a shame because it forces you to download it from the memorycard.
  4. Finding an optimal route to cover an area (walking all streets without doubling) is not easy, not to say impossible
  5. Restricting your tags to real ecological issues is cumbersome in the case a basemap is not available (streets), so you will have to do preparatory work to make this first.
  6. Think about intercultural aspects when designing icons, especially with medical/religious spots.
  7. This course was quite detailled and possibly too technical: next time it is better to think in scenarios and make a step by step manual for it: because this training was more like a “Training of Trainers” this could be done in the next step. The problem is that almost every step can be executed in several ways, each with its pro’s and con’s.
  8. Even if almost impossible, try to invite a local governmental representative to visit a part of the course with general information about the overall process, and where the benefits of free availability of maps are explained.

More lessons learned will follow when feedback from participants that did data collection sessions have been collected. Of course the rendered versions of the intermediate and final maps will be available here. Since we use as a base system, we invite all who are interested to help us in covering the aspects that we did not choose as a priority.

From all available tags the participants have chosen the aspects that make sense for this map:

  • Environmental friendly elements that enable people to live a healthy life and promotes sustainable life
  • Environmental unfriendly elements that contaminate or hinder quality of life
  • Stakeholders that are involved, like schools, shops, local government
  • Base elements like streets, rivers, names

For the selection we decided to stick as much as possible to already existing tags. During the collection of data, a designer will make icons for tags not yet agreed upon within the OSM community.

One big advantage is the use of rendering rules: we can quickly generate completely different maps by using other icon-sets. In a previous Tacis IBPP project in Kyrgyzstan (Green Agenda) we used color grouped icons e.g: Green for safe, Grey for harming, Blue for water. Possibly we will use similar approach here. The icons shown here below are used in the OSM tagging scheme

Preliminary tags for Openstreetmap

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