Now that you have started mapping the world on OpenStreetMap from the comfort of your chair, let’s see how to add addresses, street names, and amenities using first-hand observations with field mapping. Field mapping is a survey technique to capture the details of one’s physical surroundings. Let’s use a simple paper map to survey the location of a waste basket in a neighborhood.

neighborhood mapping The neighborhood around the Mapbox office in Bengaluru being updated on OpenStreetMap after a field survey.

Mapping tools

To get started, gather the following items:

  • A printed map from field papers, or a notepad
  • Pencil or pen
  • Camera (optional)
  • Fellow explorers (optional)

Begin your journey

field-mapping Field explorers planning their survey.

Make sure you are in an area that is safe for field mapping. A residential neighborhood, shopping street or a park are all great places to start. Doing this as a group activity with friends makes it even more interesting to compare notes after you are done.

The general idea with field mapping is to collect the details of what you observe around you while navigating a space. Details could include anything that catches your attention: shops and street signs, public amenities like benches and ATMs, street information like cycle lanes and pedestrian crossings or important facilities like hospitals and police stations.

Here are some tips:

  • When mapping in groups, make sure to divide the area to cover maximum ground.
  • It helps to think about what you are interested in mapping to allow you to be more focused on the field.
  • If you are taking photos or recording an audio narration, make sure to note the locations on a paper map or using a GPS.
  • Above all else, enjoy your walk!

Mapping on paper

Pen and paper are the most convenient way to capture observations from the field. It is simple, low cost and helps build a stronger sense of space and distance. The important aspect of paper mapping is to maintain a consistent scale. To help maintain scale, you can print an existing map and use it as a reference to add missing details on top. A tool called field papers allows you to conveniently make a printable atlas for this purpose.

trash-can Field paper showing the location of the trash can shown in the previous image.

While field mapping:

  • Always begin by marking your starting point on paper. This could be anything from a house address, a known landmark or a shop.
  • To orient yourself, make sure to keep an eye out for navigational aids like street signs, building names and addresses.
  • Use symbols to represent common features like a medical store or a post box that do not have a name. Specifically, note features that you wish to map.
  • If you are using field papers, you can upload your scan and use it as a background in iD or JOSM to map the missing details on OpenStreetMap.

add to OpenStreetMap The arrow in the image points to the location of the trash can, collected using field papers and added to OpenStreetMap.

Once you have become comfortable with basic field mapping using a pen and paper, you can explore other tools for collecting data and mapping on OpenStreetMap.

Other tools for field mapping

Collecting data for field mapping can also be done by taking photographs and recording GPS traces. For example, you could:

  • Capture crowdsourced street view imagery with your phone using Mapillary.

  • Accurately record GPS locations and trails using apps like OSMTracker for Android or Pushpin for iOS.

For more mapping techniques take a look at the OpenStreetMap Wiki.

Join the mapping fun

Thousands of citizen explorers are field mapping their neighborhoods on the OpenStreetMap project. Check the OpenStreetMap Wiki for an event near you, or host one yourself!

So go out there, grab a set of field papers or your phone and discover the world around you. Happy mapping!