Guidelines for the Ethical Cartographer

  1. Go open-source. Using open-source technology in your own work helps make the tools of the trade better and more accessible to others. I still run into people, including University professors, who have never heard of Quantum GIS, the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). If we are to make map making more democratic we need to help spread awareness of these open-source tools and promote their use.
  2. Use crowd-sourced and open data. OpenStreetMap (OSM), NYC Open Data, Twitter, Flickr and other sources of crowd-sourced and open spatial data are proving to be more useful at times than ‘official’ data sets. ‘Official’ data-sets, such as the U.S. Federal government’s TIGER dataset, are improved upon by the crowd as the users of OSM correct errors to them; the spread of disease is monitored from geotagged tweets; or Flickr users tag their geocoded photos with place names which Flickr then uses to assist with defining place boundaries.
  3. Teach yourself. So much of the work being done in the world of cartography, data-visualization and web-development is experimental. People are learning these new tools by diving into using them, mashing them and breaking them; not through signing up for classes at universities.
  4. Develop a peer network of like minded open-source geo enthusiasts. The more people you know who are doing work similar to yours the better. Having peers you can ask questions to can be extremely helpful when you’re stuck on a design problem or grasping a technical skill. Join a local Geo <your city here> Meet-Up group or start one where you live.
  5. Challenge yourself to do different projects. Step outside your comfort zone, take risks, fail.
    Eric Rodenbeck, the founder of Stamen Design, says he failed twice when first attempting to start a research based data-visualization design studio. Now Stamen is at the forefront of this type of work and collaborating with a wide range of clients and organizations.
  6. Teach others. We are all here to learn from one another. Take time to help others learn whether it’s giving some one on one advice in person or over an email or by hosting a workshop or presentation at a conference. Make the field more inclusive.
  7. Speaking of conferences, go to them. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people, learn about other work people are doing, expand your peer network and become inspired. Two cartography and spatial data related conferences to go to are State of the Map and the North American Cartographic Information Society, they meet annually.
  8. Work with a community, whether it be a neighborhood, school children, or online group on a mapping project. We can learn a lot about a place and its geography from people who don’t identify as “professional” cartographers or GIS specialists. Everyday people have expert knowledge of their experience of place. Participatory mapping helps make cartography humanistic and deconstruct its imperialist roots.
  9. Spend time away from the computer to learn about places. Walk, bike, travel to places you haven’t been.
  10. Visit exhibits whether it’s a map library or gallery opening. If you have the chance look back at how cartography used to be done. Look to see where people are taking it currently and how it can be improved upon and diversified.
  11. Experiment with analog tools. Make hand-drawn mental maps with yourself, friends and neighbors. Create interventions that ask people from a neighborhood to map their space and what’s important to them or to make the “invisible visible.”

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