What is a mapathon?

Mapathons are collaborative efforts between civil society and organizations often called Citizen Mapping that aim to build publicly accessible databases of valuable information of our communities and cities. A mapathon is a special type of public project that crowdsources public knowledge via a mobile app and is often part of a larger project that makes valuable use of that data.


To date there have been very few large mapathons in the Americas. While humanitarian groups have been promoting mapathons for quite some time, it hasn’t been until recent years that user-friendly technology such as the Open Street Map Platform (OSM) and Urbamapp have become available for non-GIS experts.


In May of 2015 the White House held its first mapathon or Citizen Mapping event in Washington DC focused on geo-referencing data related to international humanitarian aid, US parks, and power outages. The project was a PR success and since has sparked other mapathons throughout the world including the largest mapathon in the Americas to date, the 2016 Mapatón CDMX which mapped all of the bus routes in Mexico City in just under three months.


In this article, I cover the basic components of a typical mapathon to help you determine whether your project should be listed as a public project or a mapathon when using the Urbamapp Platform.



1. Your project is aimed at resolving a big, broad community-wide problem

Every mapathon should start as a basic problem that can be resolved by the community. The map should help resolve a problem that impacts the majority of the community.  For instance, in the first mapathon of Quito, MiBus UIO asked for the community to help map informal bus stops to help users in Quito navigate the confusing public transport system. This was a problem that many users had experienced first-hand and could get excited about helping to resolve.


2.You invite the whole community to map

Mapathons should be open to the public and should be widely advertised to ensure enough people support the cause. The topic should be easy for the community to map such as the previous example of bus stops and the technology should be easy to use. A project that requires users with a specific background or knowledgebase is best listed as a public project.


3.Your project has an element of competition

Mapathons are special in the amount of data they are capable of generating in a short timeframe. Mapathons typically last between a week up to a few months depending on the type of data they are collecting. The organizers usually promote a healthy competition with prizes for top mappers in order to encourage more data collection.  We normally recommend that users map in teams or small groups in order to ensure the safety of the volunteer mappers. The Urbamapp app offers a few special management tools in the dashboard to help mapathon managers follow the rankings and points of teams in real-time.


4.The data should be publicly available after the event

Mapathons should result in publicly available information also known as Open Data. Urbamapp makes it easy for mapathon organizers by ensuring the data collected in the event is always available via the open community map on the Urbamapp platform. Mapathon organizers also have the ability to publish their data digitally on their own website via an interactive Urbamapp iFrame.


Mapathons are exciting but also somewhat daunting events to organize. Feel free to reach out to me at info@urbamapp.com or via the contact form if you have any questions on how to promote, structure or manage a project or Mapathon. Happy mapping!

Ana Maria Quiros
Ana Maria Quiros

An Open Data advocate with experience in data collection and business intelligence.