From Mapper to Validator to Judge

Screenshot 2016-01-07 14.50.58The latest #MapLesotho project push began on 4 January. Project participants have been asked to adopt a new role – that of validator. They have been asked to move from creators working with blank sheets as part of a team dedicated to common purpose, to modifiers and correctors acting at a coaching level.

I think it’s all about wearing hats that bring a different perspective to bear on the task. I guess the hats are kind of like Augmented Reality goggles that change the way you approach cartography.

One thing that really stays the same right across all three tasks is trying to keep in mind potential users when you are mapping. Part of the learning from the varied experiences has been the importance of care and craft when mapping – imagining the real-ifs situations where someone might put your traces to use. When I am tracing a path through the woods, I realise that I am approaching from a God’s eye perspective and it might be a matter of someone not being able to see the larger path for all the trees – but I can and want to make that available. It may be indicating a ford (or potential washout) on a road surface – I see a vehicle coming around a true with diminished visibility but access to an OSM driven sat nav that might make them aware of the road conditions ahead.

Starting on 4 January, #MapLesotho has been focussed on making the best possible map through an exciting and hyperactive re-validation exercise. At the outset, of the three tasks undertaken as part of this project, there were over 2,000 tiles remaining to be validated. To spur efforts a 30 day contest was devised to incent and focus efforts on improving and ensuring top quality mapping. As one of the judges (along with @DaBigC, @DaCor, GeoFrizz and @RustyB) I have moved to this third perspective on the OSM craft. It is a real mind shift and the first few days have illuminated unforeseen challenges for us as well as the mapper come validators.

The first challenge for me was agreeing to use WhatsApp for communication. It is perfectly suited to this task and does permit fluid and timely communication between judges as well as feedback to participants on two parallel channels. I have eschewed the service for personal uses as I find the chatter distracting – it even ‘realer-time’ Facebook. Just not something I need, but I will grudgingly admit it really works for this task. It works very nicely hand in hand with personal messaging within OSM itself. Feedback is essential to this process as everyone is called upon to change their mapping perspectives and agendas and this is a very individual change. Everyone moves at their own pace in adapting and come at it from their own perspectives. Feedback is essential to the process.

The process we are developing to judge the quality of tile validation is multi-step:

  1. Are all the main elements there?
  2. Are the specific task objectives covered?
  3. Moving to a more granular level – are those tasks accomplished well? – this is measured.
  4. Feedback the results of the adjudication to enable refinement and resubmission or gentle learning by succeeding with some lessons for the next task.

When I became involved with this project, the mapping tasks with being able to abstract what was visible on the satellite imagery to symbolic representation was a major mind bend. It involved a lot of experimentation, a lot of correction and simple experience working alongside a group of collaborators with varied experience and perspectives themselves. It involved being open to correction, to receiving shared knowledge and being able to reciprocate in time oneself. There’s a big cultural task in this and this requires adapting one’s own perceived ways of interacting to new circumstances. It’s called collaboration but this involves realising that every collaborates in their own ways and to remain fluid and open in one’s own perceptions.

Sharing one’s own knowledge and applying some expertise in the process become essential to validation. Making a judgement on how much one corrects as opposed to simply instructing or even rejecting calls for a deft hand. I have benefited from gentle instruction for many other mappers and hope that those on the receiving end of my own feedback have felt it appropriate and useful themselves. Validating others work is a great way to improve you own though (especially for those that learn by observation or backward engineering of a task).

Becoming a judge of others validation attempts is an entirely new perspective. It calls for technical appreciation and application, but also appreciation of the processes underway. Observation of statistics that reflect the underlying tasks hint at different individuals’ approach to a similar task. These suggest their own agendas or efforts and are taken into account as much as the technical veracity of a task – we are all human.

Over the past few days we have watched the evolution of mappers into evolving validators. Clearly there is a significant challenge in being able to shift one’s perspective away from blanket coverage by creation to thoughtful modification and refinement of others’ work. This probably shares some similarity with the iterative refinement process of user generated content in Wikipedia but as much as mappers have been doing UGC it has been solo on a team. Now we are asking people to move to more of a coach role. In reality not everyone can coach, nor do they want to. People’s perceptions of belonging to a team are also very individual in terms of what that entails. We are now seeing the result of these individual variations as everyone attempts to undertake similar tasks. There is tremendous variation in the adaptation to this new role.

It’s early days so the next few weeks will teach us a lot about this transition and about what we can expect as semi-final output. Stay tuned. Results are updated hourly and appear at: http://maplesotho.cbroderick.me/comp.html.

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