Promoting Awareness of OpenStreetMap in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, there is a growing need to create awareness of and grow the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community, particularly within the private sector, in order to create a healthy eco-system to keep maps up to date, provide local support to public insitutions, and more. To date, OpenDRI has engaged effectively with the public sector pushing for adoption of OSM. However, there is still a major gap in engagement with local businesses and tech start-ups that would expand and deepen OSM use and knowledge. On November 22nd, 2016, the OpenDRI Sri Lanka team, along with Internews and Mapbox, held two events to do just this. The goal was to put forward new ideas and spark the interest of event attendees to explore OSM further and integrate its use into their institutions.

The day’s events were split into two sessions: a morning sessionserved as a high-level introduction to OSM, and an afternoon sessionallowed for a deeper technical dive into OSM and Mapbox technology. Both sessions were attended by approximately 25 participants each, the majority of whom were from the private sector, in addition to government and non-governmental organizations.


To kick off the morning event, Suranga Kahandawa, a Disaster Risk Management Specialist with the World Bank, provided a brief introduction on the use of OSM and open technologies within the disaster risk management framework developed jointly between the World Bank and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC). Mapbox’s Maning Sambale followed up with a succinct and engaging primer on OSM’s potential.

Complementing these presentations, a series of case studies were presented on how OSM is currently being implemented within Sri Lanka. Srimal Samansiri, Assistant Director of Research and Development at the DMC, expanded on the work completed jointly with the World Bank and the DMC, highlighting exposure survey work conducted in Batticaloa and the Attanagalu Oya river basin (check the progress of the mapping here).

To give a fresh perspective from the private sector, Sanjaya Karunasena of Nimbus Venture discussed the business case for selecting OSM as part of their Nimbus Platform model. The case studies were rounded out by a brief presentation made by Mapbox’s Sajjad Anwar, who provided further examples of prominent tech companies using OSM to expand on advantages of the software.

Mapbox’s Orindrila Gupta presented several demonstrations to showcase how spatial datasets and OSM can be used for better decision-making, including calculating the number of buildings within hazard zones in Sri Lanka.

Visualizing population density north of Colombo

Most attendees had little to no experience with OSM and were quite engaged during the session. Questions ranged from “What is the difference between OSM and Google?,” as well as questions around data accuracy and security, including the potential for hacking and vandalism of data. Mapbox staff fielded these questions with ease. Sanjaya was also able to clarify how OSM can effectively assist entrepreneurs in start-up businesses, and explained how OSM allows for complete freedom in development with very low start-up costs.

Following the momentum of the morning event, the afternoon session held at the World Bank office was focused on the technical applications of OSM and Mapbox. The Mapbox team provided a brief overview of OSM, showcased what Mapbox can do through a live demo, and led an informal question and answer session. The discussion ranged from how one can extract data and use it, how data is validated and monitored, what types of services Mapbox can offer, and other questions related to business ideas and potential for OSM in developing applications. Again, there were questions regarding validity of data as well as potential for malicious edits and how this is monitored.

With the wrap up of these events, OpenDRI Sri Lanka and Mapbox are looking to engage with the private sector even further. The team wants to host meetings in the new year with interested parties to further explore the direct application of OSM into existing business frameworks. OpenDRI Sri Lanka and Mapbox encourage those who are interested in learning more about OSM to contact their teams.