Beginner's Guide

Are you new to the Data Hub at Metabolism of Cities (or Islands) and not sure how to contribute? There are many ways! In this document you can find an overview and useful links to get started.

It is important to note that there are two main ways to become a contributor to our platform. Firstly, all data is crowdsourced -- it is uploaded and curated by individual contributors who scour the web (or who have created data themselves) and load this onto our platform. One way to help is by becoming a data contributor. Secondly, as an open source initiative the development and operations of our platform is also led by our community. That means that you can also help in the discussion of new tools, report bugs, write up manuals, and help with design or coding.

Before you start, consider posting an introduction in this forum thread. Share with others what you are up to, and have a look at who else is there.

Data contributions

There are numerous ways to become a data contributor. Here are some decisions to consider:

  • Do you want to help with a specific city (or island) that is of your interest? Perhaps your own place of residence, or a place you have a strong link to. If so, then look at our existing cities to see if it is there. If not, then ask for a new data portal to be opened.
  • Maybe you rather want to help curate specific type of data, or data from a specific source, independently from the number of cities. In that case it will all be about finding the best way to contribute (more below).
  • Do you simply want to join an existing community and help expand priority cities? If so, then be sure to pick on of our flagship cities!
  • Lastly, we have a dedicated list of high-priority data and information curation tasks that directly benefit our 2021 Priority Plan. If you want to contribute to this plan then focusing on items from that list is a great way to get going.

In addition to figuring out what to work on, you will have to learn how to upload or process data. The good news is that we have resources available to do exactly that!

  • In our Education Hub we have free, online courses where you can learn how to collect data in general, and how to engage with our platform to upload and process data.
  • You do not have to do the whole course (but you are welcome to!), and instead simply look at the modules and focus on those that cover your topics of interest. Start with those videos, and follow the instructions to start uploading data!
  • Important to note: when we refer to data collection, we refer to the activities associated with finding datasets, reports, journal articles, photos, and other pieces of information. This work entails browsing the internet (and sometimes reaching out to people) and identifying relevant information, and it also includes uploading this to our system. There is an individual course dedicated to data collection in our education hub, available in English and Spanish.
  • When we refer to data processing, we talk about the work that is needed to convert data that was originally uploaded in its original, "raw" format into a uniform format that our database can properly read, index, and store. This generally means that spreadsheets need to be reformatted, shapefiles need to be properly indexed, and in general a critical look at the original data is needed to make sure we get the most out of the original information. We have a full course on data processing in Spanish, and the first six modules of this are also available in English.
  • As a beginner, it makes most sense to first get your feet wet with the data collection part, and once you have a handle on that, continue (if you want) with data processing.

Development and operations

We need help to run Metabolism of Cities! Here, there are also many ways to help, depending on your interests, time availability, and skills. Some pointers below.

Priority Plan 2021

We have developed a priority plan for 2021. This includes a number of features, tools and improvements that we want to make to the Data Hub. Read through this plan so that you get an idea of what we are working on. It would be great if you can contribute, one way or another, to the goals outlined in this plan.


We have split up the work that needs to be done in individual tasks. These tasks are published online, and the best way to figure out what to do is by browsing the task list on the priority plan page. You can simply open the task, read the description, and if you feel that this is something you want to work on, then you assign it to yourself. If you have questions, you can use the commenting feature at the bottom of the task page.

There are different types of tasks. Some of the core groups are highlighted below.

Planning and roadmap development

This is a very important, foundational step in the web development process, and everybody can help with - without needed any coding skills. It entails discussing and writing up how a new tool or feature should work. View priority plan tasks >

Communication and engagement

This is about preparing content for our internal pages, our support pages, manuals for our contributors, etc. While we don't have many individual tasks for it, we are also in great need of people to help us with general communications (social media engagement, monitoring of our forums and organising work sprints). Click here to view the priority plan tasks, and send us a comment in case you feel up to helping out with this kind of work on an ongoing basis!


Our platform is written in Django, and uses the geoDjango framework for all the spatial engagement. We have a number of javascript libraries we use a lot, including leaflet for mapping and high charts and plotly for our data visualisations. Is any of this up your ally? Help us with the many programming tasks!


As a newcomer on a large project, it’s easy to experience frustration. Here’s some advice to make your work on Metabolism of Cities more useful and rewarding.

Pick a subject area that you care about, that you are familiar with, or that you want to learn about
You don’t already have to be an expert on the area you want to work on; you become an expert through your ongoing contributions to the project.

Start small
It’s easier to get feedback on a little issue than on a big one. Check tasks that are recommended for beginners. If you’re going to engage in a big task, keep the community informed through the comments so that guidance and input can be provided.

Be bold! Leave feedback!
Sometimes it can be scary to put your opinion out to the world and say “this bug is correct” or “this solution needs work”, but it’s the only way the project moves forward. The contributions of the broad Metabolism of Cities community ultimately have a much greater impact than that of any one person. We can’t do it without you!

Wait for feedback, and respond to feedback that you receive
Focus on one or two tickets, see them through from start to finish, and repeat. The shotgun approach of taking on lots of tickets and letting some fall by the wayside ends up doing more harm than good.

Be patient
It’s not always easy for your task to be reviewed quickly. This isn’t personal. There is a lot of work to go through and we mostly depend on volunteer efforts to get this done. However, a well-timed reminder can help if you have not seen any feedback on your work.

These guidelines were based on the Django guidelines.

Beginners guide

Are you new to our community? Our beginners guide will get you started.


Learn more about our initiative by browsing the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).


Browse our list with contributors and see how they are ranked on our scoreboard.