Open Cities Africa Third Regional Meeting

The Open Cities Africa (OCA) 3rd regional meeting was held in Abidjan and Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast from 20th – 24th November, 2019. The regional meeting was hosted at 2 separate conferences: the Understanding Risk (UR) Conference and the State of The Map (SOTM) Conference. However, there was a closed session for the Open Cities Africa cohort to meet, interact and share ideas on the way forward. 

The third regional meeting comes after two earlier ones which were held in Uganda and Tanzania in 2018. The first one was held to commemorate the commencement of the project and the second one was held to bring the cohort together in one room to learn from each other and also receive feedback on the work that had been done as at that time. The Open Cities Africa project had come to an end in all the cities before the third regional meeting was held. Therefore, it gave the cohort the opportunity to share their experiences with each other and also suggests a few ideas to sustain the activities of the various city teams. 

The Understanding Risk conference (West and Central Africa) was held this year in Abidjan, Ivory Coast from 20th – 22nd November 2019. The theme of the conference was “Human Capital and Innovation for a Resilient Society”. The conference convened over 800 participants who were mostly professionals and experts in Disaster Risk Management, Geospatial technology etc. The conference had various sessions running concurrently on different topics. Some of the topics that were discussed at the various sessions included drone technology, waste management, artificial intelligence, OpenStreetMap, etc. The Open Cities Africa cohort had the opportunity to attend the various sessions and in some instances present at some of them. For example during the “Vulnerability mapping with OpenDataKit, KoBoToolbox and OpenMapKit” session, Stephen Donkor, a member of the Open Cities Accra project team presented on the benefits of these tools in the success of the OCA project in Accra. 

The OCA cohort had the opportunity to present to a gathering of participants of the UR conference on various topics. This was during the ignite session on the last day of the conference. Each presenter representing a particular city team was given 5 minutes to present on a specific topic in connection with the work the team did in their city. The session was an interesting one as all the presenters representing their specific city teams took turns to present. The Accra team presented on “Educational Engagement”: how we engaged the educational institutions in our project and how we trained students to be part of the project. The ignite session was closely followed by a poster session where each team stood by a poster depicting the work they had done. Attendees of the session took turns to walk around the auditorium asking questions and receiving answers from each city team. 

Poster session with the OCA Accra team at the Understanding Risk

The SOTM conference began on 22nd November,2019 which clashed with the final day of the UR conference. Therefore the OCA cohort attended the SOTM conference on the second day in Grand Bassam. There were over 200 people gathered to “discuss challenges, learn, and celebrate many years of mapping together”. Steve Coast, the founder of OpenStreetMap, graced the occasion with his presence. It was an inspiring experience hearing him speak about his heart for starting the initiative and how he sees it influencing new technologies in the future. 

Picture of participants at the SOTM conference

The SOTM conference also had some very interesting sessions. One of which was the Open Cities Africa session. It was a closed meeting meant for the various city teams of the project. This meeting gave the cohort the opportunity to deliberate on a number of issues and take down some points for future consideration. The topics that were discussed at this meeting included the impact the engagement each city team had had with government stakeholders made on the project. Also, the future and sustainability of the project in the various cities it was implemented in was discussed.  The remaining sessions of the SOTM conference were very educative as well. There was also an allotted time for mapping the Grand Bassam area on OpenStreetMap. 

Just like the previous ones, this OCA regional meeting too was a very good experience for all of us. It was a time to share what we have done and also hear and learn what others are doing in different parts of the world. It is always a breath of fresh air to discover new ways that technology is being used to combat natural hazards like flooding.