AAG 2015 notes – day 3 – Civic Technology, Citizen Science, Crowdsourcing and mapping

The sessions today covered Civic technology, citizen science, and the new directions in mapping – Open Source/Crowdsourcing/Big Data

First, Civic technology: governance, equity and inclusion considerations, with Pamela Robinson – Ryerson University (Chair) and Peter A. Johnson – University of Waterloo, Teresa Scassa – University of Ottawa and Jon Corbett – University of British Columbia-Okanagan. The Discussant is Betsy Donald – Queen’s University.

The background of the panel is participatory mapping (Jon), government use of open and geoweb tools (Peter), law (Teresa), urban planning (Pamela), and geography (Betsy) .

First question for the panel: what are the challenges to civic technologiy support government?

Peter – taking technology perspective. Looking at Chicago Open Data site – had a section that doesn’t only deliver CSV that is, actually, specialised knowledge. They have a featured data set – you can download it, or look at it on the map. The ‘problem landlord dataset’ only show points on the map – no information what does it mean or how it came about. The focus is on tech-savvy users that will access open data, and assumption of tech-intermediaries who will use it for civic purposes. If that is the case, shouldn’t it be city staff who use the data and act as infomediaries? Pamela – looked at civic hackathons (see yesterday). City staff are asked to make  a business case for open data and hackathon. It ask to bring business thinking into something that is not about civic engagement (how you monetise that?). It’s a weird tool in terms of the aim of the process which are not financial. There is also pressure to demonstrate an outcome of ‘killer app’ and they are more about bringing people together with tech knowledge and civic minded people. Teresa – open data is equated with free – from regulations, costs, no limitation to use. There are costs associated in making the data free in the first place, and that is a problem in terms of government not giving thought to these costs. Datasets are being opened without due thought to privacy concern. Is open data just a subsidy to companies that use to pay for it? Also free from regulations – part of neoliberalism view of removing all the bureaucracy that is halting the market. But part of it is there with social justice perspective – e.g. requirement about accessibility, language, regulations that are there to protect vulnerable people against abuse. So the concept of free is not simple. Also what happen when the government pass it to the private sector, so they circumvent their own regulations, or the private sector to use the data but without protection. Jon – problematise the question. Relationship of municipal and state. There are examples in Canada that don’t fit the model – e.g. first nation governance. There the data is not that simple. The other issue is the support to government – is the open data movement can be used to resist and challenge government? Renee – the non-profit open north use data to cause problems to the city and demonstrated corruption in government – a very tech-savvy  organisation. Pamela – some forms of collaboration is to get out of the way of community organisations to allow them to do the work. Jon – there can be high level of cynicism on how the data is going to be used. Access to data is not the same as accessibility. There are issues of scale – in large cities there are enough capacity but in smaller cities there is no capacity in government and or civic society to deal with data. Pamela – in Toronto there are urbanists community coming in search of tech support. There are blurred lines between civil servant and civic engagement in free time. Thomas (audience) – in Chicago, people build visualisation at a county budget, also exposing data about closing schools. Also good applications such as streamlining expunging negative records to allow people to develop new career http://www.expunge.io/. There was also the city lands project – http://largelots.org/ – you can buy a lot for $1, and that can be a burden to people who are involved. Renee – heterogenise the state, not to think about local government as ‘them’ and it is organisation in which people make decisions about opening or resisting opening data. There are plenty decisions that are done at individual level. Also worth looking at prior data acquisition. There are examples of extracting data from the city and relationships before the open data. Betsy – what open government mean? What about digital divides? gender, age, social-economic background. Mike – there is a need to consider Marxist notion of free – it is not free in reality as it just allow people to be consumed into a system with different power relationship. I’ve raised that ‘open government’ is coming from view of ‘government as platform’. Renee – civic tech is a mutating terms over the years. Teresa – open government rhetoric are around transparency and accountability where the agenda is around innovations and market solutions to civic problems.
The second question was: How would we start to evaluate the impact of civic technology? Peter – what metrics will we use? money (time saved, internal and external benefits, eyeballs – evaluating hits). Municipal staff want to measure that they do and are looking to justify their work. Jon – need to evaluate impact and value. Scale, and point of evaluation. Scale of interaction and intervention. Should projects be evaluated by the number of people involved? We usually evaluate during the project lifetime but fail to do longer analysis. need to understand long term impacts – beyond page views. Teresa – which impact – economic? use? engagement? from privacy perspective – when government encourage engagement through Google or Twitter – you are actually giving data to Big Data engines not just the government. There is erosion of public/private distinction in services, leading to erosion of citizen rights and recourse? When transit apps record information, there is plenty of information that leaks to private sector companies who don’t have the same responsibilities and obligations. Pamela – civic for whom? when there are income distribution is so different in cities, and we need to understand digital divide at the city level. Teresa – some of the legal infrastructure to deal with protection and access to information when private sector work so closely with the government. Betsy – there are groups that work in big tech companies, which were curios of geographers and what they do, but no idea of social science. Privacy have been given away. Jon – there are windows of opportunity around edifices of open data, where are we going to end up? Teresa – contracting out to external companies can lead to issues of data ownership and that require managing it at the contracting stage.

Citizen Science and Geoweb, with Renee Sieber (Chair) with talks covering a range of areas – from cartography to bird watching.

Andrea Minano – University of Waterloo – Geoweb Tools for Climate Change Adaptation: A Case Study in Nova Scotia’s South Shore. Her work explores the link between participation and citizen science. In terms climate change adaptation it is about understanding impacts in local context, lack of risk awareness – and it also political issue. The participatory Geoweb can be used to display and share information online. She carried out research in Nova Scotia which rely on fisheries, most people live by the shore. People are aware and they’ve seen climate change in front of them – Municipal Climate Change Action Plan (MCCAP) are being developed. Each of the 5 municipalities that she worked with created plan and they are concerned with flooding. They had 3D LiDAR data and can visualise prediction of floods and return periods, but they didn’t know how to use it and what to do with it. She created two prototypes and tested them. She used satellite images as backdrop, she made LiDAR data usable on the web. AdaptNS allow multiple geographic scales and temporal scales – allow people to show concerns and indicate them on the map. Carried out a workshop of 2 hours with 11 participants. People were concerned about critical infrastructure – single road that might be flooded. The tool help people to understand what climate change mean and adaptation discourse at wider scales.

Jana M Viel – UW-Milwaukee – Habitat Preferences of the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in Cities and Villages in Southeastern Wisconsin. Nighthawk is active in dawn and dusk – new tropical migrants, they don’t do much during the day. They nest on the ground or flat gravelled roofed. They experience slow population decline in the last 40 years. Maybe there is lack of roof sustrate – not enough gravelled roofs – volunteers started installing gravelled section on roof with little success. In Wisconsin, they try to understand the decline with data from breeding bird survey , Wisconsin nightjar survey, Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas – studies don’t cover urban area and lacking observation in dusk. There is a limitation, that need to do the study in the months when the birds are there. The aim of the research is to help monitoring and improve methodology. The study measured some variables in the field but then used other geographic information for analysis. There was help from both volunteers and organisation – there was special volunteer trianing – easy because it’s one type of bird that people should recognise. Volunteers – reason: love birds, fun, help conservation. Half of the people that participate are retired and most people with education and not for profit. Some volunteers drop out but not too many. People used phones to navigate to survey site. People use point count with paper forms. Information was also recorded on eBird. Results – total 31000 survey hours, with 1412 survey in which 98 nighthawks where detected. Isseus: no data, problems with Google Maps, unfamiliar with technology. The summary – success in carry out baseline survey. Clear research question, clear protocol, training and resources, need coordinator that is active, researchers need to update about the analysis and do outreach and thanking volunteers. Sustainability and who will continue the work is an issue – answering phone calls.

Kevin Sparks, Alexander Klippel &Jan Oliver Wallgrün – The Pennsylvania State University with David Mark – NCGIA & Department of Geography, University at Buffalo – Assessing Environmental Information Channels for Citizen Science Land Cover Classification. Kevin looked at COBWEB goals – the project is enabling citizens to collect data and working with them to deal with data quality. Geo-Wiki project which allow people to manage information about land cover. Kevin looked at Degree confluence Project – collected 770 photos and link them to land cover database, and corresponding value to each one of them. – they have 7 samples in each class of the 11 land cover classes – then compared lay participants, vs educated lay participants vs experts. They ask people to select class and say how confidence they are. They created experiment with ground-based photo and another with ground & aerial-based images. Participants recruited through AMT. There was 45.97% agreement with National Land Cover Data. when shown the aerial image, reduced to 42.97% – when looking at the confidence level, the success goes to 71.91% agreement. Variation in participants, interface and stimuli – you see similar patterns that are not influence by these factors but by the semantic nature of land cover classification. Aerial photoes favour more homogonized classes.

Robert Edsall – Idaho State University –  Case Studies in Citizen-enabled Geospatial Inquiry. Exploring from cartographic perspective and interested how society interact with maps. How maps being intermediaries in citizen science projects. From Citizen Science 2015 ocnference, he noticed that there is a growing understanding of the potential of citizen science to be collaborative or co-created projects. In Geogrpahy, we got success in VGI. Asking people to develop hypotheses is less developed, although that happened in PPGIS and PGIS. Participatory GIS and citizen science are parallel in helping the shaping of the environment. Rob is interested in visualisation and visual analytics. Collabroative citizen science does seem to be a good match for visual analytics. Although the tools are sometime design for experts, they can be used by citizens. Incorporating serious games seem to work in some cases – and attract citizen scientists (MacGonigal 2012). We can think of volunteered geographic analysis. Now we can look at examples – nature mapping in Jackson Hole to suggest to people that they can analysed their data, after a while, people disengaged and didn’t want to expose their data and other reasons. The second case study is about historical data – images from different collection, but they are not catalogued or geolocated. They are doing Metadatagems project that helps people to locate information. People can specify ranges and location. We can enable engaged citizens in higher levels of the analysis.

New Directions in Mapping 2: Open Source, Crowd-sourcing and “Big Data”. With Matthew Zook – University of Kentucky (chair) Sean Gorman – Timbr.io Inc. ,  Andrew Hill – CartoDB, Courtney Claessens – Esri , Randy Meech – Mapzen and  Charlie Lloyd – Mapbox.

Questions: future of the map and the mapable? question that what can be mapped doesn’t need to be mapped. Definition of what is the map and what is mappable changes. Mapping is becoming so pervasive that it ‘disappear’. Fear about view of the world that is not representative – only of the digital haves. If the future of the map is crowdsourced what should we do about places that are left out? History the map was always biassed.

What does ‘open mapping’ mean? Is open source/FOSS still a real thing and how do we maintain an open mapping ethos? agreement on the panel that open source is here to stay, and a belief that open mapping where companies and different bodies collaborate to share data openly will win over proprietary datasets.

How do we address the uneven nature of crowd-sourcing and its impact on what and where is mapped? Assumption that people want to map empty areas and it is less motivating when the map is full (wonder if that is true). Issues of what do we do if the crowd falsify information. It is not either/or, we should have an hybrid of government and crowdsourced information together. Need to understand that community diverse and data is diverse – imports, power users, one timers, local and people from far away.

How might we push geographers/mappers ‘beyond the geotag’ and consider other other (and non-spatial) aspects of data? By dragging just the geo part from data in its context, we are losing a lot of important information. Need to tell stories about geo and integrate narratives. We need to tell real stories more naturally. Need to consider relational mapping – we are in network society and extending into different spaces. Adding meaning to mapping has remained difficult – maybe should promote slow mapping. People do create maps and get meaning from them. Fast mapping – it’s easy to make bad map that doesn’t give you any information that help you to understand place. What people are getting out of maps? What happen when you produce bad maps and how to tell it to people?

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Professor of GIScience, University College London

2 thoughts on “AAG 2015 notes – day 3 – Civic Technology, Citizen Science, Crowdsourcing and mapping”

  1. Sounds an interesting conference: many interesting and valid issues raised around open mapping here. There are still many challenges in engaging in places of “digital have nots”. Slow mapping is also an interesting concept: the quality issues are important here.

    I was interested in the “Geoweb Tools for Climate Change Adaptation: A Case Study in Nova Scotia’s South Shore.” Local impacts and the Municipal Climate Change Action Plans are a good way to engage and raise awareness of local issues

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