In this fairly short chapter what I am trying to communicate is that while we know that participation inequality is happening and part of crowdsourced information, we need to consider how it influences issues such as data quality, and think how it come about. I am trying to make suggest how we ended with skewed contributions – after all, at the beginnings of most projects, everyone are at the same level – zero contribution, and then participation inequality emerge.
COST ENERGIC is a network of researchers across Europe (and beyond) that are interested in research crowdsourced geographic information, also known as Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). The acronym stands for ‘Co-Operation in Science & Technology’ (COST) through ‘European Network Researching Geographic Information Crowdsourcing’ (ENREGIC). I have written about this programme before, through events such as twitter chats, meetings, summer schools and publications. We started our activities in December 2012, and now, 4 years later, the funding is coming to an end.
One of the major outcomes of the COST ENERGIC network is an edited book that is dedicated to the research on VGI, and we have decided that following the openness of the field, in which many researchers use open sources to analyse locations, places, and movement, we should have the publication as open access – free to download and reuse. To achieve that, we’ve approached Ubiquity Press, who specialise in open access academic publishing, and set a process of organising the writing of short and accessible chapters from across the spectrum of research interests and topics that are covered by members of the network. Dr Haosheng Huang (TU Wien) volunteered to assist with the editing and management of the process. The chapters then went through internal peer review, and another cycle of peer review following Ubiquity Press own process, so it is thoroughly checked!
The book includes 31 chapters with relevant information about application of VGI and citizen science, management of data, examples of projects, and high level concepts in this area.
This book focuses on the study of the remarkable new source of geographic information that has become available in the form of user-generated content accessible over the Internet through mobile and Web applications. The exploitation, integration and application of these sources, termed volunteered geographic information (VGI) or crowdsourced geographic information (CGI), offer scientists an unprecedented opportunity to conduct research on a variety of topics at multiple scales and for diversified objectives.
The Handbook is organized in five parts, addressing the fundamental questions:
What motivates citizens to provide such information in the public domain, and what factors govern/predict its validity?
What methods might be used to validate such information?
Can VGI be framed within the larger domain of sensor networks, in which inert and static sensors are replaced or combined by intelligent and mobile humans equipped with sensing devices?
What limitations are imposed on VGI by differential access to broadband Internet, mobile phones, and other communication technologies, and by concerns over privacy?
How do VGI and crowdsourcing enable innovation applications to benefit human society?
Chapters examine how crowdsourcing techniques and methods, and the VGI phenomenon, have motivated a multidisciplinary research community to identify both fields of applications and quality criteria depending on the use of VGI. Besides harvesting tools and storage of these data, research has paid remarkable attention to these information resources, in an age when information and participation is one of the most important drivers of development.
The collection opens questions and points to new research directions in addition to the findings that each of the authors demonstrates. Despite rapid progress in VGI research, this Handbook also shows that there are technical, social, political and methodological challenges that require further studies and research
One of the joys of academic life is the opportunity to participate in summer schools – you get a group of researchers, from PhD students to experienced professors, to a nice place in the Italian countryside, and for a week the group focuses on a topic – discussing, demonstrating and trying it out. The Vespucci Institute in 2014 that was dedicated to citizen science and Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) is an example for that. Such activities are more than a summer retreat – there are tangible academic outputs that emerge from such workshops – demonstrating that valuable work is done!
With the ubiquity of advanced web technologies and location-sensing hand held devices, citizens regardless of their knowledge or expertise, are able to produce spatial information. This phenomenon is known as volunteered geographic information (VGI). During the past decade VGI has been used as a data source supporting a wide range of services, such as environmental monitoring, events reporting, human movement analysis, disaster management, etc. However, these volunteer-contributed data also come with varying quality. Reasons for this are: data is produced by heterogeneous contributors, using various technologies and tools, having different level of details and precision, serving heterogeneous purposes, and a lack of gatekeepers. Crowd-sourcing, social, and geographic approaches have been proposed and later followed to develop appropriate methods to assess the quality measures and indicators of VGI. In this article, we review various quality measures and indicators for selected types of VGI and existing quality assessment methods. As an outcome, the article presents a classification of VGI with current methods utilized to assess the quality of selected types of VGI. Through these findings, we introduce data mining as an additional approach for quality handling in VGI
COST Energic organised a second summer school that is dedicated to Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and citizen science. This time, the school was run by the Institute for Climate Change & Sustainable Development of the University of Malta. with almost 40 participants from across Europe and beyond (Brazil, New Zealand), and, of course, participants from Malta. Most of the students are in early stage of their academic career (Masters and Ph.D. students and several postdoctoral fellows) but the school was also attended by practitioners – for example in urban planning or in cultural heritage. Their backgrounds included engineering, geography, environmental studies, sociology, architecture, biology and ecology, computer science. The areas from which the participants came from demonstrate the range of disciplines and practices that are now involved in crowdsourced data collection and use. Also interesting is the opening of governmental and non-governmental bodies to the potential of crowdsourcing as evident from the practitioners group.
The teachers on the programme, Maria Attard, Claire Ellul, Rob Lemmens, Vyron Antoniou, Nuno Charneca, Cristina Capineri (and myself) are all part of the COST Energic network. Each provide a different insight and interest in VGI in their work – from transport, to spatial data infrastructure or participatory mapping. The aim of the training school was to provide a ‘hands-on’ experience with VGI and citizen science data sources, assuming that some of the students might be new to the topics, the technologies or both. Understanding how to get the data and how to use it is an important issue that can be confusing to someone who is new to this field – where the data is, how do you consume it, which software you use for it etc.
After covering some of the principles of VGI, and examples from different areas of data collection, the students started to learn how to use various OpenStreetMap data collection tools. This set the scene to the second day, which was dedicated to going around the university campus and collecting data that is missing from OpenStreetMap, and carrying out both the data collection and then uploading the GPS Tracks and sharing the information. Of particular importance was the reflection part, as the students were asked to consider how other people, who are also new to OpenStreetMap will find the process.
The next level of data collection involved using sensors, with an introduction to the potential of DIY electronics such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi as a basis for sensing devices. A field trip to Gozo in the next day provided the opportunity to explore these tools and gain more experience in participatory sensing. Following a lecture on participatory GIS application in Gozo, groups of students explored a local park in the centre of Rabat (the capital of Gozo) and gained experience in participatory sensing and citizen science.
The training school also included a public lecture by Cristina Capineri on ‘the fortune of VGI’.
The students will continue to develop their understanding of VGI and citizen science, culminating with group presentations on the last day. The most important aspects of any training school, as always, is in the development of new connections and links between the people on the programme, and in the conversations you could notice how these areas of research are still full of questions and research challenges.
The people who came to the meeting represent the variety of interest in crwodsourced geographic information, from people with background in Geography, Urban planning, and many people with interest in computing – from semantic representation of information, cloud computing, data mining and similar issues where VGI represent an ‘interesting’ dataset.
Part of the meeting focused on the next output of the network, which is an Open Access book which is titled ‘European Handbook of Crowdsourced Geographic Information’. The book will be made from short chapters that are going through peer-review by people within the network. The chapters will cover topics such as theoretical and social aspects, quality – criteria and methodologies, data analysis and finally applied research and case studies. We are also creating a combined reference list that will be useful for researchers in the field. There will be about 25 chapters. Different authors gave a quick overview of their topics, with plenty to explore – from Smart Cities to concepts on the nature of information.
Working Group 1 looked at an example of big data from Alg@line – 22 years of data of ferry data from the Baltic sea – with 17 millions observations a year. Data from that can be used for visualisation and exploring the properties. Another case study that the working group consider is the engagement of schoolchildren and VGI – with activities in Portugal, Western Finland, and Italy. These activities are integrating citizen science and VGI, and using free and open source software and data. In the coming year, they are planning specific activities in big data and urban planning and crowd atlas on urban biodiversity.
Working Group 2 have been progressing in its activities linking VGI quality with citizen science, and how to produce reliable information from it. The working group collaborate with another COST action (TD1202) which called ‘Mapping and the Citizen Sensor‘. They carried out work on topics of quality of information – and especially with vernacular gazetteers. In their forthcoming activities, they contribute to ISSDQ 2015 (international symposium on spatial data quality) with a set of special sessions. Future work will focus on quality tools and quality visualisation.
Working Group 3 also highlighted the ISSDQ 2015 and will have a good presence in the conference. The group aims to plan a hackathon in which people will work on VGI, with a distributed event for people to work with data over time. Another plan is to focus on research around the repository. The data repository from the working group – contains way of getting of data and code. It’s mostly how to get at the data.
There is also a growing repository of bibliography on VGI in CiteULike. The repository is open to other researchers in the area of VGI, and WG3 aim to manage it as a curated resource.
The COST Energic network has been running now for 3 years, and one of the outputs from the network is the video below, which explore a very valuable form of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). This is information that is coming from participatory projects between researchers and indigenous communities, and this short film provide examples from Bolivia, British Columbia, and the Congo Basin, where researchers in the network are working with local communities to collect information about their areas and issues that concern them.
The video was produced by Lou del Bello, and include some stock photos and footage. The images that are marked with titles are from COST Energic Activities. Lou has also created a short video on the work of the Extreme Citizen Science group in her report on Mapping the Congo on SciDev