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Kathmandu & Semarang: Community Mapping and Open Data in Two Cities

Editor’s Note: Funded by a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation, 100 Resilient Cities Platform Partner Shadrock Roberts outlines how community based open-data ecosystems have played an important role for disaster response in Kathmandu, Nepal, and served as a community engagement and resilience tool for 100 Resilient Cities’ work in member city Semarang, Indonesia.

The following originally appeared on 100 Resilient Cities.

Adin Mbuh, Executive Director of Kolektif Hysteria, with residents in the neighborhood of Bustaman. Credit: Shadrock Roberts
Adin Mbuh, Executive Director of Kolektif Hysteria, with residents in the neighborhood of Bustaman. Photo credit: Shadrock Roberts

Following devastating earthquakes in Nepal, proof of resilience is surfacing in the form of a Nepali nonprofit called Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL). KLL was established to create an open data ecosystem and I was fortunate enough to work with them in 2013. Their mapping role in post-quake recovery demonstrates how fostering local data ecosystems can improve a city’s ability to respond to disaster. Through my experience, KLL has served as a model for the “Peta Kota” project I am managing in Semarang, Indonesia as part of 100 Resilient Cities’ work.

The April 2015 Nepal Earthquake

On April 25th, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Kathmandu valley, killing more than eight thousand people and displacing more than two million. KLL reconvened their operations in a parking lot one day after the Earthquake, and have been leading the international effort for humanitarian mapping in and around Kathmandu since. The maps and data sets they are creating, such as school and hospital locations, are critical for Humanitarian responders.

KLL was established with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, and my work with them was part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s efforts to promote open data. By working with organizations such as Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and Ground Truth Initiative we are continually building the toolkits and technology to find and support organizations like KLL in countries where addressing data gaps represents an opportunity for community engagement. 100RC is benefitting from and contributing to this community of practice through its support of the Resilience Network Initiative’s work, leveraging open-source technology and local capacity to create open data for improved resilience.

Building on Experience in Semarang, Indonesia

As part of 100 Resilient Cities’ work with the city of Semarang, Ushahidi was tasked with finding voices that were often left out of official decision-making processes. We were asked to help them engage with city government while simultaneously using their knowledge to address data gaps. We wanted to find a way to partner organizations—such as Humanitiarian OpenStreetMap Team and Ground Truth Initiative—with local communities’ members in order to address challenges such as flooding and vector-borne diseases.

In our search, we met an artist’s collective called Kolektif Hysteria, which produces vibrant street art, has an active social media presence, and often creates large paper maps with community members. They wanted to use maps and mapping to convene diverse to spark inclusive discussion and coordinate action.


Adin Mbuh showing examples of Kolectif Hysteria’s art events in the neighborhood of Bustaman. Credit: Shadrock Roberts
Adin Mbuh showing examples of Kolectif Hysteria’s art events in the neighborhood of Bustaman. Photo credit: Shadrock Roberts


Working with them, we developed a two-part mapping process, called Peta Kota (“city map” in Indonesian), to work with communities to highlight places that are important to them, transform the city, and provide a new pathway to government participation. First, we leverage OpenStreetMap to create an open map of the physical environment. This provides a shared understanding of the city. Next, we combine this map with the Ushahidi platform, which collects citizen reports about hazards and resources in their community. Throughout this process, Kolektif Hysteria works with city officials and holds community-mapping events to engage Semarang’s citizens and facilitate their additions to the map.


Youth in Indonesia
Members of Kolektif Hysteria display hand-created maps used to capture places in the city that people loved or found romantic. Photo credit: Shadrock Roberts


Initial Success in Semarang

Since March, we have trained 13 community members in the use of OpenStreetMap. They have already mapped almost fifty thousand buildings! Comparing before and after images shows the incredible level of granularity captured by Peta Kota. Comparing before and after images shows the incredible level of granularity captured by Peta Kota.


Before and after interactive maps made in OpenStreeMap  showing Peta Kota’s work. Visualization by Pierre Beland.

The next step in this process will be to collect resident reports about their community to answer questions like, “Where are unused buildings that a neighborhood would like to make a park?” and, “Where are areas prone to flooding or where stagnant water can lead to vector borne disease?”

This is a process that’s improving citizen engagement in Semarang. Peta Kota works closely with city officials and creates the opportunity for citizens to engage with them to develop a shared understanding of Semarang neighborhoods’ resources and challenges. Peta Kota’s lively Twitter feed features examples of residents who are excited about learning to map and interactions with local officials that highlight this process of shared data creation. Through the process of collecting citizen reports, Peta Kota is building a network of city leaders and residents who support their work.


Indonesian government
Members of Kolectif Hysteria working with local government to identify areas for mapping. Photo credit: Kolectif Hysteria


From enabling first responders to facilitating citizen participation in governing, open data and community mapping are helping Kathmandu and Semarang increase their resilience. Ushahidi is excited to be part of 100 Resilient Cities—Pioneered By the Rockefeller Foundation and their commitment to a growing movement leveraging this kind of innovative approach.

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