Five years ago I had the honor of interviewing Maggie for Geohipster. I kept running into her at various conferences and at OpenStreetMap activities. That interview covered a lot of ground from starting a business to mapping a park in Africa to Jewelry. I encourage you to go back and give it a read.
From the final question of the 2018 Interview: You won’t know unless you go! When I quit my job to freelance and travel, I thought I knew where it would take me. I was way off. Frustrated at first, I then realized that I had leapt into a raging river, and the only way to stay afloat was to trust it, even if I kept hitting sharp rocks along the way. It was hard to ignore a society that wanted to bully me into the things I was ‘supposed’ to be doing – confidence can start to waiver when you have no work or are spewing your guts & belly crawling across a salt pan in the middle of the night – but what else can we do but keep going? I often have to remind myself to just show up. Some days it is difficult to get up in the morning, but if you are already in the river, sometimes all you really need to do is hold your head up and have a little faith.
Where in the world is Maggie in 2023…….
When we last spoke you in 2018 you were in the US/Denmark and occasionally on a safari. So where are you now and what are you doing?
It seems five years has changed my life quite a bit. I am much more stationary, that’s for sure! I’ve traded the rollercoaster of freelance geospatial and the rough roads with the Land Rover for innumerable Zoom calls and a comfortable bed. I do miss the elephants but working with OSM US has been a wonderful experience. I’m now living in Virginia and serve as the Executive Director for OpenStreetMap US (OSM US) full time. It feels much longer than 5 years ago that I was telling a very different story, and honestly the world felt like a very different place.
What does the Executive Director of OpenStreetMap US do exactly?
It depends on the day! This role has changed quite a bit over the past few years. For its first 9 years, OSM US was run by an all volunteer board with no paid staff. Much of the board’s time was spent planning our annual State of the Map US conference – which was no small feat! The board was re-elected every year, so the continuity and organizational memory relied on the dedication of the volunteers to run again each year. When I came on in April 2019 as Interim ED, it was like there was this vacuum of demand for someone to collaborate with… and, let’s be honest, yell at. OSM can be a very large, confusing thing and navigating the community can be intimidating to many. Much of my first 6 months I spent talking with folks and finding that sense of direction for the organization and US community.
OpenStreetMap has become a public good on which so many people rely, whether its industry, government, academia or the public. As a member-driven nonprofit, OSM US has played the role of the convener at the intersection of this very diverse community of stakeholders. Over the past four years this role has expanded to include not only the annual in-person State of the Map US conference, but we now have three new community working groups, a fall virtual conference with Mapping USA, regular Mappy Hours and a growing team. In addition to the volunteer board, OSM US has grown from no staff to 3 full time and 2 part time teammates, onboarded 3 Charter Projects and their steering committees, and developed new programs. Much of my time these days is spent managing the many directions we’re going, presenting on the work of OSM US and advocating for open data.
You have a conference coming up in Virginia: State of the Map US. What will be happening there?
The annual State of the Map US conference is the opportunity for this mainly online community to meet in real life. Half of attendees are usually first timers, so it’s also a great place for folks interested in learning more about OSM and open data to learn from 100+ speakers about how they use OSM in their lives and work. We also have workshops, birds of a feather sessions, and don’t forget about the social events! It’s an approachable, affordable conference that brings together all of those stakeholders who might not normally have a chance to meet, to collaborate and learn from each other. The conference changes locations every year to enable more participation. Over the years we’ve been in Tucson, Minneapolis, Detroit, Boulder, Seattle, New York, Atlanta, DC… I have been to a few of these now, and it always amazes me the new ways in which people find value in OpenStreetMap.
What is the current “State” of OSM in the US?
As the demand for geospatial data continues to increase, I see this moment as – we’re just getting started! There is a lot of work to do out there – not only on maintaining a high quality map of the US but also building community, educating the next generation about open data, supporting broader adoption of volunteered geographic data in the government space, and finding consensus on things like rendering and data schemas. We cannot rely solely on private companies for data, nor can we continue to rely solely on our under-resourced government GIS offices. There is a real demand for crowdsourced data, and – call me optimistic – but I think the culture is seeing a shift. OpenStreetMap as a global project is almost 20 years young and it has evolved a great deal over the years as has the related open sources tools.
Our most recent project, the Trails Stewardship Initiative, really highlights both the need for crowdsourcing and the need for OSM US as a convener; working alongside private industry, government representatives, and mapping volunteers. The group is not only improving trail data in OSM across the United States, but also communicating with renders to make sure the data we tag makes its way to the public the way in which it is intended. This Initiative and the Trails Working Group behind it grew from a need that was identified by public land managers, validated by mappers, and supported by private industry.
TeachOSM continues to grow in the educational space – focusing on improving student and educator access to open mapping technology and OpenStreetMap through subjects ranging from earth science to history. We also now have our Mapping for Impact program connecting volunteers with civic, environmental, and social organizations that can leverage OpenStreetMap for their cause. The goal of these, and all of our programs, are to strengthen and expand the use of OpenStreetMap for social impact, equity, and civic engagement in the United States.
Anything else you want to add
I can’t believe it’s been 10 years of GeoHipster! Thank you all for your amazing work. In the days of all the podcasts, I still love reading interviews 🙂 I’ll also echo something from my last interview that hasn’t really changed. It can still be really tough to show up, especially after all of the shifts we’ve had from the pandemic and long periods of isolation. But how else will you meet those amazing, supportive people who help you keep going? Community can help keep each other afloat and that is a beautiful thing. I hope we can maintain – and in some ways revive – that spirit.