Virtual mapathons: a social activity during trying times “I realized right after the French lockdown that online mapathons were very important to me during this isolation period. At first, it was a dedicated time during which I could talk with a lot of people. I especially appreciated the fact that we weren’t just talking about COVID-19. It allowed me to connect with new people with shared interests such as cartography or GIS, which represents a proper treat for me since such topics are quite specific. We discussed other topics, such as biodiversity and cooking; it was a precious time to think about something else and relax.” - Feedback from a volunteer at a mapathon with CartONG For full quote, see below.
Hosting a Virtual Mapathon Virtual mapathons are all the rage right now. Over the last couple months we’ve learnt that a few simple recommendations can drastically improve the quality of an online mapathon. If you are planning on hosting a virtual event, please see the below for our best practices and additional resources.
Considerations Before Planning 1) Event Size: These days, most online video platforms can accommodate very large groups and almost all include a chat and mute function which are key. We recommend you size your mapathon based on support options and experience. If you are new to mapathon facilitation, consider hosting an event with 20 mappers max. Once you are more comfortable with your facilitation skills, we recommend scaling up your event based on your helper capacity. Most new mappers will have a question or two, so you’ll want to make sure a system is in place to answer questions quickly. Remind your helpers that they can and should interrupt you if needed.
One way to break down your helper support is to assign them types of questions to answer: 1 helper to answer all questions for a small group 4 helpers to answer specific questions for a large group:
In your outreach, you might want to consider encouraging your participants to bring their partners, pets, roommates and young people to the call. Right now, many of us have caretaking responsibilities, so letting people know that we anticipate and encourage extra guests might help them feel more comfortable fitting into a volunteer event even with everything on their plates right now.
2) Platform: For online platforms, we recommend muting your participants on entry and setting expectations ahead of time on video preferences. To decide which platform specifically works best, a good starting point is to ask your group what they are already using. No matter your choice, having a chat space is key, and a breakout space to allow for screen sharing and follow up questions is very helpful!
3) Event Run of Show: Remote mapathons run about the same amount of time as an in-person event. Ninety minutes or 2 hours is an ideal time to allow your mappers to get comfortable with the new skill set and get in plenty of mapping time. We recommend you check in on your platform with your helpers about 15-30 mins early. Make sure to test screen sharing permissions, that your audio is nice and clear, and that if you are going to play music or a video that the audio is picked up clearly by the participants. Because your participants might have a lot on their plates, we suggest you slow down your training. Additionally, if you’d typically demonstrate something twice, try adding in a third example of the skill.
4) Facilitator: Remember to be patient. Many of your mappers might be learning a new skill during a particularly complicated time in their lives. Set expectations with your helpers that they might answer similar or even the same questions multiple times. Mappers are juggling a lot these days, so make sure to celebrate the wins, both small and large!
5) Materials to Send Ahead of Time: To get started with success, make sure to have your participants sign up for an OpenStreetMap (OSM) account ahead of time. One option is to have them watch this video as part of their pre-event prep. It can’t hurt to remind them again the day before and mention it again at the start of your event while people are getting situated.
Tips for during your event 1) Introduce yourself and your fellow mappers: Spend a few minutes at the beginning to humanize yourself and break the ice with other participants. Turn on your camera when you introduce yourself, encourage your mappers to do the same. Consider doing a short ice breaker. It’s helpful to have a shared background / naming convention with your helpers so you are easy to identify if someone wasn’t paying 100% attention during these introductions.
2) Screen Share: During the event screen sharing is going to be the best tool in your toolbelt. When demonstrating a skill, consider practicing twice or three times instead of just the once. If you have a question that comes in over the chat feature and there is a break in the conversation, consider doing a live demonstration with a screen share instead of typing out the answer. Remember, if one mapper has the question, chances are more are wondering the same thing.
3) Warnings and Errors: Occasionally when making edits in OSM, the system will issue a warning or error with your mapping when you try and upload your changes. When demonstrating these, consider asking open ended questions. “I’ve forgotten a step, does anyone know which one? How would I know that?”
4) Wrap Up: Don’t forget to send a thank you note and remind people how they can keep up with their mapping. Now that most of our events are online, we are no longer limited by our location. Consider sharing a link to a recurring event in another city!
The Red Cross and Missing Maps groups have written longer piece, so consider checking out this guide for more details. Thanks again for hosting a mapathon to support Missing Maps! Happy Mapping!
Full Feedback from volunteers on attending remote mapathons during lockdown: I realized right after the French lockdown that online mapathons were very important to me during this isolation period. At first, it was a dedicated time during which I could talk with a lot of people. I especially appreciated the fact that we weren’t just talking about COVID-19. It allowed me to connect with new people with shared interests such as cartography or GIS, which represents a proper treat for me since such topics are quite specific. We discussed other topics, such as biodiversity and cooking ; it was a precious time to think about something else and relax. Sometimes people didn’t come back, in a way it was similar to a carpool ride : we exchanged, we talked, told where we came from, it was a nice small window into each other’s life. Getting people to come and do a short presentation about the past Missing Maps projects and the way data gathered through remote mapping events helped them in their projects was a nice addition and a very enlightening part for us that are remote mappers. I greatly appreciated the feedback. It was also a time during which I saw the same faces on a regular basis : our volunteer data quality control group as well as the Missing Maps team of CartONG. Despite the lockdown, our group dynamic did not change, and with hindsight, I think that with all the upheavals and changes of these troubled times, it was crucial to have one constant thing that remains the same. I would even go as far to say that on the contrary, the bond we already had became stronger. As of now, I know our little data quality control « family » better, a testimony of closer ties with each other. To me, the diversity in terms of ages and country of origin (people coming from France, DRC, Canada, Italy, Finland…) made the experience more enjoyable and fruitful. CartONG Missing Maps team was very attentive to our feedback. For instance, when we expressed our uneasiness about having to always hear the same presentations on OSM, Missing Maps or about the fact that we were, at first, intimidated by exchanging with people we didn’t know at all, CartONG’s Missing Maps team set up a parallel skype chat called “Petit Bain” (which in French translates to “shallow end of the pool”) with newcomers only in order to provide for them a proper introduction to humanitarian participatory mapping. They would then swim back to the deep end of the pool e.g. the main chat called “Grand Bain” and rejoin us, experienced OSM contributors. We were then able to answer their beginner mappers’ questions. Congrats for your sympathetic ear since you had to adapt your activities from something that initially works with “in person”interactions to a fully digital and remote format. This should not have been technically easy for your team.