Trufi’s Virtuous Cycle: How OSM Volunteers Cultivate Better Transport Data & Service – A New Academic Paper

“Open data stimulates and facilitates digital civic engagement, which, in turn, can lead to the creation of more open data.” This, in a nutshell, is the proposition of a new academic paper using Trufi Association as a case study: “Digital civic engagement, open data, and the informal sector: a think piece”

Digital Civic Engagement
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The paper, authored by Marc Hasselwander, Mwendwa Kiko, and Ted Johnson, demonstrates positive effects of digital volunteer activities such as: mapping informal transport routes in OpenStreetMap, contributing to free open-source software code, and other contributions to open data that can be done remotely. These activities are referred to as “digital civic engagement.” (Hasselwander and Kiko are involved in voluntary work for the Trufi Association. Johnson is a consultant to Trufi Association.)

“Cities and local authorities should encourage and foster this virtuous cycle,” say the authors, “and make transport data sets openly available. This can spur innovation and promote sustainable mobility behavior – with volunteers being powerful agents driving these efforts.”

The Value of Open Data and Volunteering Is Not Acknowledged in Previous Academic Literature

“We show that open data and digital civic engagement are effective ingredients that the informal sector can benefit from,” Said Hasselwander. “However, this has not yet been acknowledged in the literature so far.”

The paper is written primarily for the community of researchers working on informal transport in the Global South. “Our eventual goal,” said Kiko, “would be to see this research get translated into concrete policy changes.” So a secondary audience is people involved directly in developing and implementing policy: government agencies, international organizations, and NGOs.  

Our eventual goal would be to see this research get translated into concrete policy changes.


Some agents in the transport sector have shown a resistance to embrace open data – many transport authorities, or urban planners in many cities. “It is crucial to inform them about best practices – such as Trufi, but also OSM, and others,” said Hasselwander, “so that they can hopefully serve as blueprints for replication in other geographic areas and other fields of the informal sector.”

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