iv. Humanitarian OSM Team mapping in Mongolia

Interaction type Public → Government → Public
Trigger Event A greater vision to create a “Smart City”
Domain Topographic Mapping
Organisation Ulaanbaatar City Governor’s Office (UCGO)
Actors 1. ICT World Bank

2. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT)

3. Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST)

4. City officials (UB City – IT department)

5. Mongolian Land Management, Geodesy, and Cartography Department

6. Asia Foundation

Data sets in use 1. Aerial and Satellite Imagery (Bing Maps)

2. Field Survey data collection (e.g. road network and other basic urban infrastructure)

Process 1. Training of a core group of people

2. Field data collection

3. Map a part of the city

4. Create the circumstances the project to continue by setting up an OSM community

Feedback Topographic maps of the City
Goal 1. Map a part of the city

2. Create an OSM community and train locals to continue the mapping effort.

3. Support the vision to transform Ulaanbaatar into a “Smart City”.

Side effects
Contact Point

In the beginning of March 2013, the local authorities of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia announced their vision to turn their city to a “Smart City” by 2020. According to the plan the aim is to enable city residents to get access to information regarding public services, to provide a consolidated list of public service assets and to allow citizens to send comments, reports, and requests to relevant officials via the Internet. This effort is expected to promote transparency and fair public service while cutting down on bureaucracy (Zoljargal 2013). The project begun in 1st of June 2013 and lasted until the 30th of November 2015.

Such an effort could only be successful if it could rely on a comprehensive and detailed cartographic background of the city, which did not exist at the time. In order to support this effort a project to map the city was funded by ICT World Bank. The aims of this project were a part of the city to be mapped under OSM guidance and simultaneously to train a core community to continue the task of mapping the entire city. The role was assigned to Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) while the local actors were the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST) and the city officials joined by people from the Mongolian Land Management, Geodesy, and Cartography Department during the training. Also, the Ulaanbaatar City – IT department focused on the digitization on variety of POIs from businesses to trash collection points.

The followed process (Deffner, 2013) started with basic training on tracing features from imagery and moved to the handling of GPS devices for data collection. The datasets were documented by field papers and ground photos which facilitate data management before the final uploading. Also, an OSM Wiki page was that includes useful information and a catalog of resources. This could be used by the trainees and the newly build OSM community to find training videos translated in Mongolian, OSM data collection best practices or even local tagging rules. The latter case is a quite interesting one as a consensus on the best tagging practice had to be achieved in order to describe geographic features that normally do not exist in other areas of the world and thus there is no documentation available on the OSM wiki pages.

As Deffner (2013) describes, an important challenge in the beginning of the effort was the fact that the city of Ulaanbaatar was undergoing a great reconstruction phase and thus the available imagery datasets might not provided up-to-date information. Additionally, due to weather conditions, the data collection process was taking place during mild days while data management and upload was taking place days later, possibly by volunteers that did not collect the data themselves. It is obvious that these two factors raise some issues regarding the data quality of the datasets produced. Another factor that might influenced the overall data quality was the fact that there was no previous OSM-related background to the contributors, such as an active OSM community or available OSM wiki pages while the contributors had little knowledge of the English language that could assist them to steepen the learning curve. On the positive side, by the end of this initial step (that lasted for five weeks), apart from the creation of an OSM community that could continue the mapping project and the awareness of the local officials on the use of VGI and Open Data, the effort has also caught the eye of the private sector which is exploring the possibilities to use OSM in Web mapping applications.

The project continued on a volunteered basis. One of the main events was when a group of student interns form MUST joined the mapping effort. The group spend part of their spring semester by helping the remote mapping of areas around Ulaanbaatar. The students, through this work, enhanced their own OSM skill and the experienced gained during their involvement helped to spread the effort to their home towns with the hope to form local OSM communities there so to continue the mapping effort. These students continued their effort during the fall semester by joining technical projects.

Another event was a Map-a-thon where seventeen teams of over 50 Mongolians participated. Participants included university students, mapping enthusiasts, and city government staff. During the two-day event over 20,000 edits were made to OSM. Unlike the common process of using satellite imagery (which might not have captured the most recent developments), UAV imagery as a base layer were used for this event. The participants recorded from urban data (e.g. ger areas which are unplanned informal settlements) to construction sites and from rivers to green spaces, and gullies.

The capital city governor and mayor of Ulaanbaatar embraced this effort and presented the awards to the first three winning teams. Particular note was made for the innovative effort to use the UAV imagery as the potential of this approach can provide solutions to other spatial issues. Thus the City Municipality has embraced the benefits of remote sensing technologies for collecting geospatial data in ger areas, and is looking forward to incorporating the publicly collected OSM data in future policymaking. Also, the datasets created could be used by city’s planning department as it will be able to reference these public maps to augment their own mapping data sets.

Finally, the spirit of volunteerism such as the creation of an open map for Mongolia is part of the mentality that the new generation of the country seeks as a supporting element of an important transformation of Mongolia which passed from the Soviet era to a new economic, political and social era.

Main lessons:

  • Building an OSM community from scratch might be an intensive and slow progressing effort
  • Spatial datasets and mapping products that come out of such a process might suffer in quality, at least until a populous and active OSM community starts to form.
  • Local tagging requirements might be missing by the overall OSM project or might be considered as outliers when it comes to normalizing the dataset into a spatial product (e.g shapefile, import into a database schema etc.).
  • Both governmental officials and private sector recognised the value and the potential of VGI, crowdsourced and Open Data.
  • The existence of active volunteering communities can easily embrace the use of innovative and largely disruptive solutions such as the replacement of satellite imagery with UAV images.
  • Continuous training of new volunteers and the organization and support of events such as Map-a-thons, can keep the sustainability of the project.
  • Communicating the results of volunteered efforts to the public sector is important for recognizing the merit and the potential of such projects.


Deffner, R. 2013. Mongolia, mapping Ulaanbaatar. [Online] Available at:

http://hot.openstreetmap.org/projects/mongolia_mapping_ulaanbaatar [Accessed 29 April 2017]

Zoljargal, M. 2013. Ulaanbaatar to become a ‘smart city’. [Online] Available at: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=3238 [Accessed 12 April 2014]