Places of Interest project, National Park Service, US  

Interaction type  Public→Government→Public
Trigger event Licensing and data validation concerns.
Domain Mapping of tourist infrastructure and natural features.
Organization National Park Service (NPS), US.
Actors NPS.
Data sets OpenStreetMap (OSM).
Process Edits to NPS data are made by Park Service employees. There is no validation in effect but this may change in future.
Feedback Internal park data sets that have been digitized from park maps.
Goal To create an up-to-date map of all the parks for viewing and use by the public on the parks’ websites.
Side effects None yet, but data quality issues are anticipated.
Contact point Jim McAndrew, US National Park Service

The National Park Service (NPS) does not have a comprehensive data set of geographic information describing tourist infrastructure and natural features for all of the 400 or so individual territories managed by NPS. Some parks have their own GIS departments and produce excellent data, while other parks are small and do not have these resources. The aim of the NPS Places of Interest project is to allow non-technical users to add and modify important landmarks in the parks in a single map. This map can then be used as a basemap for all NPS web maps. When users see the crowdsourced map in parks and notice errors, they will be able to make changes to the maps immediately.

 The NPS Places project uses the OSM platform because of the robust open source tools that are available. This includes the backend API (application programing interface) and rendering formats as well as the easy-to-use iD editor. It does not use the OSM database itself. Due to licensing restrictions on OSM data, the NPS maintains its data separately.

 The project is designed to collect point data from NPS employees that will be displayed on most of the web maps on the NPS website. There are future plans to expand this project further to the public and use Park employees to verify information before it is published on the map.

 There is currently no easy way to extract information from the NPS Places project although its API is open and fully documented. It is possible for motivated users to extract the information they want from this API.

The biggest success of this project is collecting contributions from non-technical Park staff. This includes people with extensive knowledge about the parks, such as rangers and maintenance managers. These people know the parks better than anyone, but they have not been able to get their data into traditional GIS at parks without a dedicated GIS staff. Few non-technical users are involved yet but the project is planning to visit the parks and train users so they know what they can add. Some parks with GIS departments have already started synchronizing their own information with the system and have been making a big push to use the system for all of their web pages.

 The biggest challenge is that OSM does not deal with traditional GIS very well. This means building tools to synchronize ESRI databases with the NPS database using the ESRI REST API. NPS would like to make contributing to the system as easy as possible for the existing GIS departments that do the bulk of the GIS work in the parks. While the goal is to get non-technical people involved, the core of the project will still be the GIS departments the exist in the parks and the regional offices.

Main lessons:

  • It is possible and sometimes desirable to use the OSM toolset to facilitate voluntary mapping activities without using the data set itself.
  • The OSM platform can be used as a great platform for empowering non-technical users to start modifying maps. The iD editor is extremely easy to use and rendering tools, such as Tile Mill and Mapnik, allow the data to be updated in real time.
  • The success of the system relies on working with existing GIS managers on site and regional offices.
  • Non-specialists are an important part of this process but require more training to get their contributions into the system.
  • Live feedback is an important feature to encourage contributions.