Digital Mapping: A collaborative sphere for the development of inclusive “smart cities” in Africa

By making it possible to better identify the needs of the populations and by enabling the prioritization of the responses to be provided, participatory mapping can help improve lives in developing countries, explains Nathalie Sidibé, a pioneer of open data mapping in Mali.
Digital Mapping: A collaborative sphere for the development of inclusive “smart cities” in Africa
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In developing countries like Mali, where I am from, a collaborative approach is essential when it comes to developing smart cities. Thanks to digital tools, participant mapping by civil society can play a key role in ensuring better lives.

I first discovered OpenStreetMap in 2014 through the Espace OpenStreetMap Francophone project, initiated by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), in partnership with Unicef and the Association Malienne d'Éveil au Développement Durable (AMEDD). Upon finding out that training on digital mapping was available in Bamako, I headed there and was immediately attracted by the project and its potential.

We are now mapping together, and in doing so are contributing to the sustainable development of my country and the African continent..

Other workshops allowed me to build my digital mapping skills and establish strong professional and human relationships with the beneficiaries of other OpenStreetMap communities in West African countries. We are now mapping together, and in doing so are contributing to the sustainable development of my country and the African continent.

My Malian team and I, with the support of the West African Network, have organised a number of initiatives to develop local mapping skills and raise awareness of open data, such as "Cartoparties" (field trips to collect data with GPS or smartphones in a specific area) and "Mapathons" (remote mapping sessions using satellite imagery or drones for the mass production of open geospatial data). Over 3000 people - including students and individuals from NGOs, government agencies and the private sector - have attended our training sessions designed to promote participant digital mapping with OpenStreetMap, and the open Geographic Information System. Together, we have succeeded in digitising large cities like Bamako and have made thousands of geographic data points on the road network, buildings, vegetation and infrastructures available to local authorities, humanitarian NGOs and companies in Mali.

These data points are not only of great interest to all stakeholders - government services and institutions, local authorities, public service operators, consultancy firms, companies, associations, the general public - but, more broadly, of great use for public policies in general.

The data are essential when it comes preparing, planning and taking decisions on territorial development projects and programmes, to ensure their harmonious development.

Indeed, they mean that local authorities can carry out accurate assessments and monitoring of the situation in their territories (public facilities, existing natural resources, critical areas, etc.) in order to better identify the needs of the population and to prioritise development responses. The data are essential when it comes preparing, planning and taking decisions on territorial development projects and programmes, to ensure their harmonious development. States can also use them to adopt vulnerability-reducing mechanisms, to efficiently and effectively prevent natural and environmental disasters, and to develop policies that are better adapted to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. That is why my team and I have set ourselves the goal of leading decision-makers to put geographic data at the heart of decision-making.

To this end, since 2018 we have organised bilateral discussions and awareness-raising meetings with government agencies and local authorities for the mapping of existing facilities and the creation of geographic databases. This has led to outputs such as this map of Bamako's public interest facilities (adrbamako.ml):

Bamako's public interest facilities (ADR Bamako mapping project)

The ADR Bamako mapping project, financed by the Regional Development Agency of Bamako, gives the administration an overview of all school, public health and civil status facilities in Bamako, and thereby allows it to better match the construction of new facilities to the needs of the Malian capital.

We are also committed to local capacity building so that staff working for local authorities, as well as staff from many government agencies and NGOs, have the knowledge and skills needed to gather and update high quality geographic data and can so make their own contribution. Below is an illustration of this!

Training workshops organised for workers in humanitarian NGOs in partnership with OCHA Mali

Universities are also involved, as we launched a training programme for them in 2016, called CartoCamp, which led to the creation of two student groups, one at Bamako University of Social Sciences and Management and the other at the University of Segou. These "YouthMappers Chapters" continue to promote OpenStreetMap open geospatial data in their respective universities.

Thanks to the support of these universities' administrations, and financial backing from the American University of West Virginia, one of the groups is currently helping the health authorities in the Segou agglomeration to obtain updated geographic data on health infrastructures, while the other group is preparing to help the authorities of the urban commune of Djenné to obtain a geographic database.

The climax of all these efforts was the organisation in 2021 of an international conference on the digitalisation of territories, which brought together national and international actors focusing on concrete achievements in the digitalisation of territories and on geospatial data in areas as diverse as security, health, agriculture, estates and land registry, transport, the construction of smart cities and open cities, the development of start-ups, e-commerce, or even youth employment and good governance in Mali and in the Sahel countries.

This event provided an opportunity to raise awareness among decision-makers of the importance of geospatial data for countries in addressing sustainable development challenges, and in particular for countries like Mali that are facing an unprecedented multidimensional crisis.

International Conference Internationale on the Digitalisation of Territories

This event provided an opportunity to raise awareness among decision-makers of the importance of geospatial data for countries in addressing sustainable development challenges, and in particular for countries like Mali that are facing an unprecedented multidimensional crisis.

For our work to be more successful, however, it must be underpinned, both at the national and local levels, by the adoption of specific laws and regulatory frameworks for the updating, centralisation and accessibility of territorial data. It also needs financial and technical support from decision-makers and international partners to enable the organisation of awareness-raising workshops and training sessions. In short, we need continued and increased financial and technical support for our initiatives to promote and disseminate geospatial data and to develop local skills.

Faced with the development issues at stake, it is more than ever time to join forces to harness the potential of digital tools when they can be combined with the energy of citizens mobilised for better lives!






 The OECD works to improve quality of life and achieve more inclusive societies in cities of all sizes, while addressing a range of issues – from managing urban expansion and congestion to encouraging innovation and environmental sustainability. Learn more:

 The OECD works to improve quality of life and achieve more inclusive societies in cities of all sizes, while addressing a range of issues – from managing urban expansion and congestion to encouraging innovation and environmental sustainability. Learn more:


And tune in to the OECD Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting, taking place on 13-15 December 2022 

To learn more, check out also the OECD's work on Digital Security and tune in to the OECD Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting, taking place on 13-15 December 2022 


Also on the OECD Forum Network: Potentials, Prospects and Policy: Digital Trade between Africa and the EU, by Tigist Mekonnen, Development Economist, Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank Group

Also on the OECD Forum Network: Potentials, Prospects and Policy: Digital Trade between Africa and the EU, by Tigist Mekonnen, Development Economist, Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank Group

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Go to the profile of Joel Noah Gargallo
about 1 month ago

This is so nice to know. One of the goals of open mapping is to encourage and enjoin local communities to be empowered and create their own dataset and system since they are the ones who understand their locality. Also, this gives the community an accountability of the dataset and placed system that they're be using moving forward. Big appreciation to you for championing this initiative to your locality. I've always believed that every community has their own potential, we just have to tap them as led by a champion or an advocate. Hope you never get tired serving the community and create more leaders and prime movers in your town.

Kudos to you and your team.