Standard Citation for OSM in Academic Work - "the" OSM Paper?

Hello everyone,

At the OSM Saturday event following the FOSSGIS 2024 conference in Hamburg, we discussed how to make OSM more visible. One idea that came up is to create a citable source for OSM in academic papers. Currently, users often include a brief explanation of OSM, but a standardised citation could have several benefits:

  • Establish OSM as a credible source in academic writing.
  • Help users identify other research that uses OSM.
  • Increase OSM’s consistent presence and recognition in the academic world.

I’ve been encouraged to bring this topic to the forum for further discussion.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on how to cite OSM. Should we develop a standard citation without a specific paper? Or should we follow the example of Boeing, G. 2017 and require a paper citation when using OSM in academic work? If we opt for a paper, how can we ensure that it remains neutral and widely acceptable? Specific concerns include

  • Authorship: Can we list “the OSM community”, “OSM”, or “OSMF” as the author, or do we need to name individuals such as the founder, paper contributors, or key map editors?
  • Content: What should the paper focus on?
    • How OSM is structured and built
    • How OSM is used and why it is needed in different areas
    • The basics of what OSM is and isn’t
  • Collaboration: How should we decide who contributes to the paper and who doesn’t? If everyone is allowed to edit, how do we keep the idea concise and coherent?

Last but not least, we should think about how we consider the topic to be resolved. What criteria should we use to effectively conclude our discussions?

Do you think this initiative is interesting or necessary? Or should it be left alone?

I look forward to hearing your ideas and discussing them.


The academic applications of OSM are definitely interesting to explore.

That’s a somewhat complicated topic. OSM contains a lot of outdated and/or wrong information. We do our own version of peer reviews (validation) all the time, but nonetheless the reliability of OSM data will always be in question.

We have Research - OpenStreetMap Wiki.

I suggest “OpenStreetMap contributors” as it is also frequently worded in map attribution.

“Why OSM is needed” is way too broad of a question. If we started listing the different uses of OSM data we’d be busy forever and such a list wouldn’t go anywhere.


It’s not necessary for something to be a paper for it to be citeable. It’s possible to cite datasets and software. Citation guides such as APA explain how to cite software and datasets when writing a research paper (example here).

It’s universally agreed and expected that you should cite a paper when you use it in your research, but the conventions around citing software and datasets are not so fixed and depend on the field and the specific piece of software. For example, many people cite R and that’s partly because R includes a citation() function that tells you how to cite it. It’s not common to cite SPSS, but common to mention it. It’s rare for people to even mention Excel although lots of people use it all the time.

The point is, we don’t have to write an “OSM paper” just to make OpenStreetMap citeable. It’s already citeable. But maybe we should make it easier for researchers who use OSM data to cite OSM, by telling them how we want them to cite or acknowledge it, making sure the suggested citation complies with the attribution guidelines (maybe get it checked by the LWG) and making sure every researcher who uses OSM data knows about it (put it somewhere prominent).

Something like:

If you are publishing research that you used OpenStreetMap data for, please cite OSM as follows:

OpenStreetMap contributors (2024). OpenStreetMap [Data set]. OpenStreetMap Foundation. Available as open data under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL) at

Tagging @FTA who wrote a draft Wiki page about the topic in 2015.


Of course we don’t need a paper. It was just a suggestion.
I would like to have no-paper solution as you suggested.

What would be the next steps to get something like that rolling?

I would think that a sensible course of action would be for the OSM Foundation to register OSM on Zenodo to get a general DOI for the data set. I don’t think we’re at the point of needing DOIs per version or anything, so a single DOI would be sufficient.

Will Zenodo allow you to create a DOI for a dataset that changes constantly and is hosted elsewhere?

I’m only familiar with services where you upload a dataset and then it’s permanently archived and you get a DOI that points at a page with that service where others can download it.

I think we should encourage to add access date to citations of Openstreetmap.
this allows another researcher to find the version as it existed back then.
Overpass has a filter to query objects as they were at that point in time.
Geofabrik has historic planet files.

Example of a “visited on” citation from my bachelor thesis:

[11]Wikipedia. Push-Relabel Maximum Flow Algorithm. Wikipedia. url: (visited on 05/03/2021).

note: Wikipedia was cited as an accessible explanation, not as an original source.

Thinking about his some more, I think the best solution might be for the OSM Foundation to become a member of one of the DOI Registration Agencies (e.g. DataCite or Crossref). This would allow them to create DOIs themselves, including one for the overall dataset in general. Furthermore, it would then also allow an automated process for creating/requesting a DOI for any one specific version of the database (I’m not suggesting automatically creating a DOI for eery version, though that cold be possible I suppose) so that for example Geofabrik exports could each be labelled with the DOI of the version of the database which could then be reliably cited in a paper. It would require some technical work to allow looking up DOIs, but probably not too much.