New book: European Handbook of Crowdsourced Geographic Information

COST EnergicCOST 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.

bookcoverOne 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.

The book is now available for download here. Here is the description of the book:

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


Environmental information: between scarcity/abundance and emotions/rationality

The Eye on Earth Summit, which was held in Abu Dhabi last week, allowed me to immerse myself in the topics that I’ve been¬†researching for a long time: geographic information, public access to environmental information, participation, citizen science, and the role of all these in policy making. My notes (day 1 morning, day 1 afternoon, day 2 morning, day 2 afternoon, day 3 morning & day 3 afternoon) provide the background for this¬†post, as well as the blog posts from Elisabeth Tyson (day 1, day 2) and the IISD reports and bulletins¬†from the summit. The first Eye on Earth Summit provided me with plenty to think about, so I thought that it is worth reflecting on my ‘Take home’ messages.

What follows are my personal reflections from the summit and the themes that I feel are emerging in the area of environmental information today. 

wpid-wp-1444166132788.jpgWhen considering the recent ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs by the UN Assembly, it is not surprising that they loomed large over the summit Рas drivers for environmental information demand for the next 15 years, as focal points for the effort of coordination of information collection and dissemination, but also as an opportunity to make new links between environment and health, or promoting environmental democracy (access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice). It seems that the SDGs are very much in the front of the mind of the international organisations who are part of the Eye on Earth alliance, although other organisations, companies and researchers who are coming with more technical focus (e.g. Big Data or Remote Sensing) are less aware of them Рat least in terms of referring to them in their presentations during the summit.

Beyond the SDGs, two overarching tensions emerged throughout the presentations and discussions – and both are challenging. They are the tensions between abundance and scarcity, and between emotions and rationality. Let’s look at them in turn.

Abundance and scarcity came up again and agin. On the data side, the themes of ‘data revolution’, more satellite information, crowdsourcing from many¬†thousands of weather observers and¬†the creation of more sources of information (e.g. Environmental Democracy Index) are all examples for abundance in the amount of available data and information. At the same time, this was contrasted with the scarcity in the real world (e.g species extinction, health of mangroves), scarcity of actionable knowledge, and¬†scarcity with ecologists with computing skills. Some speakers oscillated between these two ends within few slides or even in the same one. There wasn’t an easy resolution for this tension, and both ends were presented as challenges.


With emotions and scientific rationality, the story was different. Here the conference was packed with examples that we’re (finally!) moving away from a simplistic ‘information deficit model‘¬†that emphasise scientific rationality as the main way to lead a change in policy or public understanding of environmental change. Throughout the summit presenters emphasised¬†the role of mass¬†media communication, art (including live painting development through the summit by GRID-Arendal team), music, visualisation, and story telling as vital ingredients that make information and knowledge relevant and actionable. Instead of a¬†‘Two Cultures’ position, Eye on Earth offered a much more harmonious and collaborative linkage between these two ways of thinking and feeling.

Next, and linked to the issue of abundance and scarcity are costs and funding. Many talks demonstrated the value of¬†open data¬†and the need to provide open, free and accessible information if we want to see environmental information¬†used effectively. Moreover, providing the information with the ability of analyse or visualise it over the web¬†was offered as a way to make it more¬†powerful. However, the systems are costly, and although the assessment of the IUCN demonstrated that the investment in environmental datasets is modest compared to other sources (and the same is true for citizen science), there are¬†no sustainable, consistent and appropriate funding mechanisms, yet. Funding infrastructure or networking activities is also challenging, as funders accept the value, but are not willing to fund them in a sustainable way. More generally, there is an issue about the need to fund ecological and environmental studies – it seem that while ‘established science’ is busy with ‘Big Science’ – satellites, Big Data, complex computer modelling – the work of studying ecosystems in an holistic way is left to small group of dedicated researchers and to volunteers. The urgency ad speed of environmental change demand better funding for these areas and activities.

This lead us to the issue of Citizen Science, for which the good news are that it was mentioned throughout the summit, gaining more prominence than 4 years ago in the first summit (were it also received attention). In all plenary sessions, citizen science or corwdsourced geographic information were¬†mentioned at least once, and frequently by several speakers. Example include¬†Hermes project¬†for recording ocean temperatures,¬†Airscapes Singapore for urban air quality monitoring, the¬†Weather Underground¬†of sharing weather information, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team work in Malawi, Kathmandu Living Lab response to the earthquake in Nepal, Arab Youth Climate Movement in Bahrain¬†use of iNaturalist to record ecological observations, Jacky Judas work with volunteers to monitor dragonflies in Wadi Wurayah National Park ¬†– and many more. Also the summit outcomes¬†document is clear: ¬†“The Summit highlighted the role of citizen science groups in supporting governments to fill data gaps, particularly across the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development. Citizen Science was a major focus area within the Summit agenda and there was general consensus that reporting against SDGs must include citizen science data. To this end, a global coalition of citizen science groups will be established by the relevant actors and the Eye on Earth Alliance will continue to engage citizen science groups so that new data can be generated in areas where gaps are evident. The importance of citizen engagement in decision-making processes was also highlighted. ”

However, there was ambivalence about it Рshould it be seen as an instrument, a tool to produce environmental information or as a mean to get wider awareness and engagement by informed citizens? How best to achieve the multiple goals of citizen science: raising awareness, educating, providing skills well beyond the specific topic of the project, and democratising decision making and participation? It seem to still be the case that the integration of citizen science into day to day operations is challenging for many of the international organisations that are involved in the Eye on Earth alliance.

Another area of challenging interactions emerged from the need for wide partnerships between governments, international organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), companies, start-ups, and even ad-hoc crowds that respond to a specific event or an issue which are afforded by digital and social network. There are very different speeds in implementation and delivery between these bodies, and in some cases there are chasms that need to be explored – for example, an undercurrent from some technology startups is that governments are irrelevant and in some forms of thinking that ‘to move fast and break things’ – including existing social contracts and practices – is OK. It was somewhat surprising to hear speakers praising Uber or AirBnB, especially when they came from people who familiar with the need for careful negotiations that take into account wider goals and objectives. I can see the wish to move things faster – but to what risks to we bring by breaking things?

With the discussions about Rio Principle 10¬†and the new developments in Latin America, the Environmental Democracy Index, and the rest, I became more convinced, as I’ve noted in 2011, that we need to start thinking about adding another right to the three that are included in it (access to environmental information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice), and develop a right to produce environmental information that will be taken seriously by the authorities – in other words, a right for citizen science. I was somewhat surprised by the responses when I raised this¬†point during the discussion on Principle 10.

Final panel (source: IISD)

Finally, Eye on Earth was inclusive and collaborative, and it was a pleasure to see how open people were to discuss issues and explore new connections, points of view or new ways of thinking about issues. A special point that raised several positive responses was the gender representation in such high level international conference with a fairly technical focus (see the image of the closing panel). The composition of the speakers in the summit, and the fact that it was possible to have such level of women representation was fantastic to experience (making one of the male-only panels on the last day odd!). It is also an important lesson for many academic conferences – if Eye on Earth can, I cannot see a reason why it is not possible elsewhere.

New paper: The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique

Considering how long Rene√© Sieber ¬†(McGill University) and I know each other, and working in similar areas (participatory GIS, participatory geoweb, open data, socio-technical aspects of GIS, environmental information), I’m very pleased that a collaborative paper that we developed together is finally published.

The paper ‘The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique‘ took some time to evolve. We started jotting¬†ideas in late 2011, and slowly developed the paper until it was ready,¬†after several rounds of peer review, for publication in early 2014, but various delays led to its publication only now. What is pleasing is that the long development time did not reduced the paper relevancy – we hope! (we kept updating it as we went along). Because the paper is looking at¬†philosophical aspects of GIScience, we needed periods of reflection and re-reading to make sure that the whole paper come together, and I’m pleased with the way ideas are presented and discussed in it. Now that it’s out, we will need to wait and see how it will be received.

The abstract of the paper is:

Numerous exegeses have been written about the epistemologies of volunteered geographic information (VGI). We contend that VGI is itself a socially constructed epistemology crafted in the discipline of geography, which when re-examined, does not sit comfortably with either GIScience or critical GIS scholarship. Using insights from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology we offer a critique that, rather than appreciating the contours of this new form of data, truth appears to derive from traditional analytic views of information found within GIScience. This is assisted by structures that enable VGI to be treated as independent of the process that led to its creation. Allusions to individual emancipation further hamper VGI and problematise participatory practices in mapping/geospatial technologies (e.g. public participation geographic information systems). The paper concludes with implications of this epistemological turn and prescriptions for designing systems and advancing the field to ensure nuanced views of participation within the core conceptualisation of VGI.

The paper is open access (so anyone can download it) and it is available in the Geo website . 

Data and the City workshop (day 1)

The workshop, which is part of the Programmable City project (which is funded by the European Research Council), is held in Maynooth on today and tomorrow. The papers and discussions touched multiple current aspects of technology and the city: Big Data, Open Data, crowdsourcing, and critical studies of data and software. The notes below are focusing on aspects that are relevant to Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI), Citizen Science and participatory sensing – aspects of Big Data/Open data are noted more briefly.

Rob Kitchin opened with a talk to frame the workshop, highlighting the history of city data (see his paper on which the talk is based). We are witnessing a transformation from data-informed cities to data-driven cities. Within these data streams we can include Big Data, official data, sensors, drones and other sources. The sources also include volunteered information such as social media, mapping, and citizen science. Cities are becoming instrumented and networked and the data is assembled through urban informatics (focusing on interaction and visualisation) and urban science (which focus on modelling and analysis( . There is a lot of critique Рwith relations to data, there are questions about the politics of urban data, corporatisation of governance, the use of buggy, brittle and hackable urban systems, and social and ethical aspects.  Examples to these issues include politics: accepting that data is not value free or objective and influenced by organisations with specific interest and goals. Another issue is the corporatisation of data, with questions about data ownership and data control. Further issues of data security and data integrity when systems are buggy and brittle Рthere have been cases of hacking into a city systems already. Social, Political, and ethical aspects include data protection and privacy, dataveillance/surveillance, social sorting through algorithms, control creep, dynamic pricing and anticipatory governance (expecting someone to be a criminal). There are also technical questions: coverage, integration between systems, data quality and governance (and the communication of information about quality), and skills and organisational capabilities to deal with the data.
The workshop is to think critically about the data, and asking questions on how this data is constructed and run.

The talk by Jim Thatcher & Craig Dalton – explored provenance models of data. A core question is how to demonstrate that data is what is saying it is and where it came from. In particular, they consider how provenance applies to urban data. There is an epistemological leap from an individual (person) to a data point(s) – per person there can be up to 1500 data attribute per person in corporate database. City governance require more provenance in information than commercial imperatives. They suggest that data user and producers need to be aware of the data and how it is used.

Evelyn Ruppert asked where are the data citizens?¬†Discuss the politics in data, and thinking about the people as subjects in data – seeing people as actors who are intentional and political in their acts of creating data. Being digital mediates between people and technology and what they do. There are myriad forms of subjectivation – there are issues of rights and how people exercise these rights. Being a digital citizens – there is not just recipient of rights but also the ability to take and assert rights. She used the concept of cyberspace as it is useful for understanding rights of the people who use it, while being careful about what it means. There is conflation of cyberspace and the Internet and failures to see it as completely separate space. She sees Cyberspace is the set of relations and engagements that are happening over the Internet. She referred to her recent book ‘Being Digital Citizens‘. Cyberspace has relationships to real space – in relations to Lefebvre concepts of space. She use speech-act theory that explore the ability to act through saying things, and there is a theoretical possibility of performativity in speech. We are not in command of what will happen with speech and what will be the act. We can assert acts through the things we do, and not only in the thing we say and that’s what is happening with how people use the Internet and construct cyberspace.

Jo Bates talked about data cultures and power in the city. Starting from hierarchy in dat and information. Data can be thought as ‘alleged evidence’ (Buckland) – data can be thought as material, they are specific things – data have dimensionality, weight and texture and it is existing something. Cox, in 1981, view the relationship between ideas, institutions and material capabilities – and the tensions between them – institutions are being seen as stabilising force compare to ideas and material capabilities, although the institutions¬†may be outdated. She noted that sites of data cultures are historically constituted but also dynamic and porous – but need to look at who participate and how data move.

The session followed by a discussion, some of the issues:¬†I’ve raised the point of the impact of¬†methodological individualism on Evelyn and Jim analysis¬†– for Evelyn, the digital citizenship is for collectives, and for Jim, the provenance and use of devices is done as part of collectives and data cultures. Jo explored the idea of “progressive data culture” and suggested that¬†we don’t understand what are the conditions for it yet – the inclusive, participatory culture is not there. For Evelyn, data is only possible through the action of people who are involved in its making, and the private ownership of this data does not necessarily make sense in the long run. Regarding hybrid space view of cyberspace/urban spaces – they are overlapping and it is not helpful to try and separate them. Progressive data cultures require organisational change at government and other organisations. Tracey asked about work on indigenous data, and the way it is owned by the collective – and ¬†noted that there are examples in the arctic with a whole setup for changing practices towards traditional and local knowledge. The provenance goes all the way to the community, the¬†Arctic Spatial Data Infrastructure there are lots of issues with integrating indigenous knowledge into the general data culture of the system.¬†The¬†discussion ended with exploration of the special case of urban/rural – noting to the code/space nature of agricultural spaces, such as the remote control of John Deere tractors, use of precision agriculture, control over space (so people can’t get into it), tagged livestock as well as variable access to the Internet, speed of broadband etc.

The second session looked at Data Infrastructure and platforms, starting with Till Straube who looked at Situating Data Infrastructure. He highlighted that Git (GitHub) blurs the lines between code and data, which is also in functional programming – code is data and data is code. He also looked at software or conceptual technology stacks, and hardware is at the bottom. He therefore use the concept of topology from Science and Technology Studies and Actor-Network Theory to understand the interactions.

Tracey Lauriaultontologizing the city – her research looked at the transition of Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) with their core GIS – the move towards object-oriented and rules based database. How is the city translated into data and how the code influence the city? She looked at OSi, and the way it produce the data for the island, and providing infrastructure for other bodies (infrastructure). OSi started as colonial projects, and moved from cartographical maps and digital data model to a full object-oriented structure. The change is about understanding and conceptualising the mapping process. The ontology is what are the things that are important for OSi to record and encode – and the way in which the new model allows to reconceptualise space – she had access to a lot of information about the engineering, tendering and implementation process, and also follow some specific places in Dublin. She explore her analysis methods and the problems of trying to understand how the process work even when you have access to information.

The discussion that follows explored the concept of ‘stack’ but also ideas of considering the stack at planetary scale. The stack is pervading other ways of thinking – stack is more than a metaphor: it’s a way of thinking about IT development, but it can be flatten. It gets people to think how things are inter-relations between different parts. Tracey: it is difficult to separate the different parts of the system because there is so much interconnection. Evelyn suggested that we can think about the way maps were assembled and for what purpose, and understanding how the new system is aiming to give certain outcomes. To which Tracey responded that the system moved from a map to a database, Ian Hacking approach to classification system need to be tweaked to make it relevant and effective for understanding systems like the one that she’s exploring. The discussion expanded to questions about how large systems are developed and what methodologies can be used to create systems that can deal with urban data, including discussion of software engineering approaches, organisational and people change over time, ‘war stories’ of building and implementing different systems, etc.

The third and last session was about data analytics and the city¬†– although the content wasn’t exactly that!

Gavin McArdle covered his and Rob Kitchin paper on the veracity of open and real-time urban data. He highlighted the value of open data – from claims of transparency and enlighten citizens to very large estimation of the business value. Yet, while data portals are opening in many cities, there are issues with the veracity of the data – metadata is not provided along the data. He covered spatial data quality indicators from ISO, ICA and transport systems, but questioned if the typical standard for data are relevant in the context of urban data, and maybe need to reconsider how to record it. By looking at 2 case studies, he demonstrated that data is problematic (e.g. indicating travel in the city of 6km in 30 sec). Communicating the changes in the data to other users is an issue, as well as getting information from the data providers – maybe possible to have meta-data catalogue that add information about a dataset and explanation on how to report veracity. There are facilities in Paris and Washington DC, but they are not used extensively

Next, Chris Speed talked about blockchain city – spatial, social and cognitive ledgers, exploring the potential of distributed recording of information as a way to create all forms of markets in information that can be controlled by different actors.

I have closed the session with a talk that is based on my paper for the workshop, and the slides are available below.

The discussion that followed explored aspects of representation and noise (produced by people who are monitored, instruments or ‘dirty’ open data), and some clarification of the link between the citizen science part and the philosophy of technology part of my talk – highlighting that Borgmann use of ‘natural’,’cultural’ and ‘technological’ information should not be confused with the everyday use of these words.

AAG 2015 notes – day 4 – Citizen Science & OpenStreetMap Studies

The last day of AAG 2015 is about citizen science and OpenStreetMap studies.

The session¬†Beyond motivation? Understanding enthusiasm in citizen science and volunteered geographic information¬†was¬†organised together with Hilary Geoghegan. We were interest to ‘explore and debate current research and practice moving beyond motivation, to consider the associated enthusiasm, materials and meanings of participating in citizen science and VGI.‚Äô

As Hilary couldn’t attend the conference, we started the session with a discussion about experiences of enthusiasm – for example, my own experience with IBM World Community Grid. ¬†Jeroen Verplanke raised the addiction in volunteer thinking projects, such as logging in to Zooniverse or Tomnod project, and time fly-by. Mairead de Roiste described mapping wood-pigeon in New Zealand – public got involved because they wanted to help, but when they hear that the data wasn’t use, they might lose interest. Urgency can also be a form influencing participation.

Britta Ricker – University of Washington Tacoma –¬†Look what I can do! Harnessing drone enthusiasm¬†for increased motivation to participate. On-going research. Looking at the Geoweb – it allow people to access information, and made imagery available to the public, and the data is at the whim of whoever give us the data. With drones, we can send them up when we want or need to. Citizen Science is deeply related to geoweb – challenge is to get people involve and make them stay involved. We can harness drone enthusiasm – they evoke negative connotation but also thinking about them for good – humanitarian applications. Evidence for the enthusiasm is provided by YouTube where there are plenty of drone video – 3.44M – lots of action photography: surfing community and GoPro development. People are attached to the drone – jumping to the water to save them. So how the enthusiasm to drones can be harnessed to help participatory mapping. We need to design a workflow around¬†stages: pre-flight, flight, post processing. She partnered with water scientists to explore local issues. There are considerations of costs and popularity – and selected quadcopter for that. DJI Phantom Vision 2+. With drones need to read the manual and plan the flight. There are legal issues of where it is OK to fly, and Esri & MapBox provide information on where you can fly them. Need to think of camera angle – need also to correct fisheye, and then process the images. Stitch imagery can be done manually (MapKnitter/QGIS/ArcGIS). Possible to do it in automated software, but open source (e.g. OpenDroneMap) is not yet good enough in terms of ease of use. Software such as Pix4D is useful but expensive. Working with raster data is difficult, drones require practice, and software/hardware is epensive – not yet ready to everyone. NGOs can start using it. Idea: sharing photos , classifying images together by volunteers.

Brittany Davis – Allegheny College –¬†Motivated to Kill: Lionfish Derbies, Scuba Divers, and Citizen Science. Lionfish are stunning under water – challenging to differentiate between the two sub species but it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to catch them. They are invasive species and are without predators, exploded – especially from 2010. There is a lot of informational campaign and encouraging people to hunt them, especially in dive centres – telling people that it is a way to save a Caribbean reefs. When people transform themselves from ‘benign environmental activity’ to ‘you tell me that I can hunt? cool!’. Lionfish is tasty so having the meat for dinner is a motivation. Then doing ‘lionfish derbies’ – how many can you kill in a day. Seen a lot of enthusiasm for lionfish derbies. Trying to sign up people to where they go but they are not recording where they hunt the lionfish. People go to another site for competition as they want to capture more. REEF trying to encourage a protocol for capturing them, and there are cash prizes for the hunting. They use the catch to encourage people to hunt lionfish. Derbies increase in size – 14832 were removed from 2009 to 2014 and some evidence for the success of the methodology. There was a pressure on ‘safely and humanely capture and euthanase these fish’ – challenge for PADI who run special scuba courses that are linked to conservation. People hear about the hunting and that motivate people to go diving. There is a very specific process of REEF sanctioned lionfish derby, so trying to include recording and public information. But there are challenges below the depth of recreational divers. She also explored if it is possible to improve data collection for scientists.

Cheryl Gilge – University of Washington –¬†The rhetorical flourish of citizen participation (or, the formation of cultural fascism?)¬†offered a theoretical analysis of citizen science and web 2.0 as part of a wider project to understand labour relationships and power. She argues that there is agency to the average citizen to link to their environment. They have the ability to contribute, and to receive information is part of Web 2.0. As a technology layer, it changes both the individual and society levels. The collaboration and participation in Web 2.0 is framed around entrepreneurialism, efficiencies, and innovation. The web is offering many opportunities to help wider projects, where amateur and expert knowledge are both valued. However, there is a risk of reducing the politics of participation – semblance of agency. Democratic potential – but also co-opting the spirit is in evidence. There is plenty of examples of inducing individuals to contribute data and information, researchers are eager to understand motivation over a long period. Rational system to explain what is going on can’t explain the competing goals and values that are in action. The desire to participation is spread – fun, boredom etc. From understanding people as ‘snowflakes’ to unashamed exploitation. Why do people contribute to the wider agenda? As provocation, harnessing crowd potential to neoliberalisation agenda of universities. We give freedom to the efficiency and promise of digital tools. Government promise ‘open government’ or ‘smart cities’ that put efficiency as the top value. Deep libertarian desire for small government is expressed through technology. The government have sensors that reduce cost of monitoring what is happening. In the academic environment – reduce funding, hiring freeze, increase in pressure to publish – an assumption that it is possible to mechanically produce top research. Trading in ideas are less valued. Desire for capacity of information processing, or dealing with humanitarian efforts – projects like Galaxy Zoo require more people to analyse the masses of data that research produces, or mapathons to deal with emergencies. Participants are induced to do more through commitment to the project and harnessing enthusiasm. Adding inducement to the participants. She introduce the concept of micro-fascism from Guattari ¬†– taking over freedoms in the hope of future promises. It enable large group formation to happen – e.g. identities such as I’m Mac/PC – it is harder to disconnect. Fascism can be defined as an ideology that rely on the masses in believing in the larger goals, the unquestioned authority of data in Web 2.0. Belief in technology induce¬†researchers to get data and participation regardless of the costs. Open source is presented as democracy, but there are also similarities with fascism. Participation in the movement and participants must continue to perform. It bring uncomfortable participation – putting hope on these activities, but also happens in top down and bottom up, and Web 2.0. What is the ethical role of researchers who are involved in these projects? How do we value this labour? Need to admit that it is a political.

In a final comment, Teresa Scassa pointed that we need to consider the implication of legitimising drones, killing fish or employing unpaid labour – underlying all is a moral discomfort.

Afternoon, the two sessions on OpenStreetMap that Alan McConchie and I organised, taking the 10th birthday of OSM as a starting point, this session will survey the state of geographical research on OpenStreetMap and recognising that OSM studies are different from VGI. The session is supported by the European COST Energic (COST Action IC1203) network: European Network Exploring Research into Geospatial Information Crowdsourcing.

OpenStreetMap Studies 1 

Jennings Anderson,¬†Robert Soden,¬†Mikel Maron,¬†Marina Kogan &¬†Ken Anderson – University of Colorado, Boulder –¬†The Social Life of OpenStreetMap: What Can We Know from the Data? New Tools and Approaches. OSM provides a platform to understand human centred computing. The is very valuable information¬†in¬†OSM history file, and they built a framework (EPIC OSM) that can run spatial and temporal queries and produces JSON output that can be then analysed. They are¬†use existing tools and software frameworks to deliver it. The framework was demonstrated: can ask questions by day, or by month and even bin them by week and other ways. Running such questions which are evaluated by Ruby, so easy to add more questions and change them. They already use the framework in a paper in CHI about the Haiti earthquake (see video below).¬†¬†Once they’ve created the underlying framework, they also developed an interface –¬†OSM Markdown – can embed code and see changesets, accumulative nodes collected and classification by type of user. They are also providing information with tags. When analysing Haiti response, they see spike in noted added and what they see in buildings – the tags of collapse=yes

Christian Bittner –¬†Diverse crowds, diverse VGI? Comparing OSM and Wikimapia in Jerusalem.¬†Christian looked at differences in Wikimapia and OSM as sources of VGI. Especially interested in the social implications such as the way exclusion plays in VGI – challenges between Palestine/Israel – too contradicting stories that play out in a contested space, and there are conflict and fights over narratives that the two sides enact in different areas. With new tools, there is a ‘promise’ of democratisation – so a narrative of collaboration and participation. In crowdsourced geographic information we can ask: who is the crowd, and who is not? Studying social bias in OSM is a topic that is being discussed in the literature. The process is to look at the database of OSM. Analysing the data and metadata and used the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Simplified representation of the city, and region are classified by majority – Arab or Jewish. Then used cartograpms according to size of population and the amount of information collected.In OSM, Jewish areas are over-represented, while Arab areas are under-represented. Bias toward male from privileged socio-economic background as participants. In Wikimapia, the process is tagging places and uses visual information from Google. Wikimapia is about qualitative information so objects are messy and overlap, with no definitions of what consist of a place. In Wikimapia, there is much more descriptions of the Arab areas which are over-represented. The amount of information in Wikimpaia is smaller – 2679 objects, compared to 33,411 ways in OSM. In OSM there is little Arabic, and more Hebrew, though Latin is the most used language. Wikimapia is the other way around, with Hebrew in the minority. The crowd is different between projects. There are wider implications – diverse crowd so diverse VGI? VGI is diverse form of data, and they are produced in different ways from different knowledge cultures. He call for very specific studies on each community before claiming that VGI is general form of information.

Tim Elrick  & Georg Glasze РUniversity of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany Р A changing mapping practices? Representation of Places of Worship in OpenStreetMap and other sources. The start of the process is noticing that churches are presented on official maps, but not a masques, noticing how maps are used to produce specific narratives. What happen in new forms of mapping? In Google Maps, the masque is presented, but not the church, in OSM both are mapped. What is happening? In the old topographic maps, the official NMAs argue that it provides a precise representation Рbut failing to do so in terms of religious differences. Some state do not include non-Christian places of worship Рthe federal mapping agency came with symbols for such places (masques, synagogues) but the preference from the states NMAs was for a generic mark for all non-Christian places that do not differentiate between religions. USGS just have single mark for house of worship Рwith cross. The USGS suggested to carry out crowdsourcing to identify places of worship so they are willing to change. In OSM there are free tagging and marks for religion, but the rendering dictate only some tags. In 2007 there was suggestion to change rendering of non-Christian places. Once Steve Chilton created cartographic symbols for the change. OSM do-ocracy can lead to change, but in other places that use OSM this was not accepted Рthere are different symbols in OpenCycleMaps. In Germany, there are conflicts about non visible places of worship (e.g. Masque in social club). Adaptive approach to dealing with location in OSM. In Google there is a whole set of data sources that are used, but also crowdsourcing which go to moderators in Google Рno accountability or local knolwedge. Places of worship is not transparent. Categorisation and presentation change with new actors Рcorporate and open data. Google use economy of attention.

Alan McConchie – University of British Columbia –¬†Map Gardening in Practice: Tracing Patterns of Growth and Maintenance in OpenStreetMap. Looking at history of OSM. Editing existing features is an important as adding new ones – having to collaborate and dealing with other people data. In the US, OSM is a mixed of volunteer and imported data – it’s ongoing aspect of the project. Questions: do the ‘explorers’ stick around? the people who like empty spaces . Do imports hinder the growth of the community? and does activity shift to ‘gardening’? The TIGER¬†import in 2007 have been significant to the growth of the project. There are also many other imports – address in Denmark, French land cover, incomplete land cover imports in Canada. There was community backlash from people who were concerned about the impact of¬†imports (e.g. Crowe 2011; Fredrik Ramm, 2012, Tobias Knerr, 2015). The debate is also between different regional factions. There is an assumption that only empty areas are exciting. That is problematic in terms of someone joining now in Germany. New best practices that are evolving Imports in Seattle were used to encourage the community and build it. Zielstra et al. 2013 explored imports show different growths, but not so simple as just to pin it on imports. Alan takes the ‘Wiki Gardening’ concept – people who like to keep things tidy and well maintained. Analysing small areas. Identifying blank spots, but trying to normalise across city in the world – e.g. population from the gridded population of the world. Exploring edits per month. We see many imports happening all the time. At individual city, explore the behaviour of explorers and those that never mapped the unknown. In London, new mappers are coming in while at Vancouver the original mapper are the one that continue to maintain the map. There is power law effects that trump anything else, and shift to new contributors and it is not clear cut.

Monica G. Stephens – University at Buffalo – Discussant: she started looking at OSM only few years ago, because of a statement from Mike Goodchild that women are not included, so done survey of internet users in Google Maps and OSM. She found that geotagging is much more male – more then just sharing image. In her survey she noticed gender bias in OSM. Maps are biased by the norms, traditions, assumptions and politics of map maker (Harley 1989). Biases – but biases of map maker – bikes in Denver (what interest them), or uneven representation of Hebrew in Jerusalem, or Religious attributes. Also there is how the community makes decision – how to display information? what to import? There are issues of ethos – there are fundamental differences in UK and Germany communities to US mapping communities. This lead to interesting conversations between these communities. There are also comparison, Wikimapia, Google Maps, Topo Maps – the tell us what OSM is doing. OSM democracy is more efficient and responding to communities ideas. The discussions on tagging childcare – rejected but there are discussions that led to remapping of tags in response to the critique. Compare to Google Maps, who was creating local knowledge? in Google Maps 96% of reviewers are male (in Google Map Maker 2012), so the question is who is the authority that govern Wikimapia.

OpenStreetMap Studies 2  included the following:

Martin Loidl – Department of Geoinformatics, University of Salzburg –¬†An intrinsic approach for the detection and correction of attributive inconsistencies and semantic heterogeneity in OSM data. Martin come from data modelling perspective, accepting that OSM is based on bottom-up approach, with flat data modelling and attributes, with no restriction on tag usage. There are attributive inconsistencies. Semantics heterogeneity is influencing visualisation, statistics and spatial analysis. Suggesting to improve results by harmonization and correction through estimation. There has been many comparison of OSM quality over the years. There is little work on attribute information. Martin suggested an intrinsic approach that rely on the data in OSM – expecting major roads to be connected and consistent. Showing how you can attributes in completeness. Most of the road in OSM¬†are local roads and ¬†and there is high heterogeneity, but we need them and we should care about them. There are issues with keeping the freedom to tag – it expose the complexity of OSM.

Peter A. Johnson РUniversity of Waterloo Challenges and Constraints to Municipal Government Adoption of OpenStreetMap. The collaboration of MapBox with NYC Рagreement on data sharing was his starting point and motivation to explore how we can connect government and citizens to share data. Potentially, OSM community will help with official data, improve it and send it back. Just delivering municipal data over OSM base map is not much Рmaybe we need to look at mirroring Рquestions about currency, improvement of our services, and cheaper/easier to get are core questions. Evaluating official data and OSM data. Interview with governments in Canada, with range of sizes Рeasy in large cities, basic steps in medium and little progress in rural places. No official use of OSM, but do make data available to OSM community, and anecdotal evidence of using it for different jobs unofficially. Not seeing benefits in mirroring data, and they are the authoritative source for information, no other data is relevant. Constraints: not sure that OSM is more accurate and risk averse culture. They question fit with organisation needs, lacking required attributes, and they do see costs in altering existing data. OSM might be relevant to rural and small cities where data is not being updated.

Muki Haklay – University College London¬†COST Energic – A European Network for research of VGI: the role of OSM/VGI/Citizen Science definitions.¬†I’ve used some of the concepts that I first presented in SOTM 2011 in Vienna, and extended them to the general area of citizen science and VGI. Arguing that academics need to be ‘critical friends’, in a nice way, to OSM and other communities. The different talks and Monica points about changes in tagging demonstrate that this approach is effective and helpful.

Discussant: Alan McConchie – University of British Columbia. The later session looked at intrinsic or extrinsic analysis of OSM – such as Martin’s work on internal consistency, there are issues of knowing specific person in the bits of the process who can lead to the change. There is a very tiny group of people that make the decisions, but there is a slow opening towards accountability (e.g. OSM rendering style on Github). There are translation of knowledge and representation that happen in different groups and identifying how to make the information correctly. There is a sense of ‘no one got the right answer’. Industry and NGOs also need to act as¬†critical friends – it will make it a better project. There is also critical GIS conversations – is there ‘fork’ within the OSM studies? We can have conversations about these issues.

Follow up questions explored the privacy of the participants and maybe mentioned it to participants and the community, and also the position as participant or someone who alters the data and as a researcher – the implications of participatory observations.

AAG sessions – Critical GIScience, GeoWeb and Citizen Science

The Association of American Geographers conference is just around the corner – between 21 and 24 April, held in Chicago. I’ve already marked some sessions that I think worth noting (and was involved in the organisation of several sessions, too). Here is a¬†list of interesting sessions, following suggestion to do so by David O’Sullivan and Jim Thatcher:

Tuesday 21st April

8:00¬†1187 #CritGIS: Pedagogies of Critical GIS¬†– session exploring ‘the pedagogy surrounding critical engagement with societal implications of contemporary digital geospatial technologies’, with¬†Matthew W. Wilson,¬†Ellen Kersten,¬†LaDona G. Knigge,¬†Alexander Tarr, ¬†Francis Harvey, and¬†Clinton Davis.

At the same time, there is a mini-symposium of three sessions, starting with¬†1156 Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries¬† (papers session) asking ‘what difference people expect better connectivity to make at the world’s economic peripheries’.

10:00¬†1256 Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries 2¬†(papers session)

12:40¬†1456 Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries 3¬†(papers session)

Also at 12:40¬†1487 Where’s the Value? Emerging Digital Economies of Geolocation¬†(panel session) with Jeremy Crampton,¬†Rob Kitchin,¬†Elvin K. Wyly,¬†Agnieszka Leszczynski,¬†David Murakami Wood,¬†Julie Cupples¬†and
Sam Kinsley

2:40¬†1587 #CritGIS: Social Justice and GIS: Past, Present, and Future¬†– ¬†aimed to ‘reflect, reconsider, and prognosticate on the social, political and ethical issues that GIS brings to bear’ (papers session)

Wednesday 22nd April

For most of the day, there are four sessions dedicated to reflection on Public Participatory GIS or Participatory GIS.

8:00 2153 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS (Papers session)

10:00 2253 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session II (Papers session)

1:20 2453 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session III (Papers session)

2:40 2553 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session IV (Panel session), including Bandana Kar (Chair), and Renee Sieber, Nancy J. Obermeyer, Melinda J. Laituri and myself as panellists.

In Parallel, there are a set of session on critical studies of data and crowdsourcing, including

8:00¬†2125 Critical Data, Critical Technology: In Praxis¬†(papers session) a¬†session exploring ‘how practitioners are mobilizing data, technologies, and analytics in ways that resonate with ‘critical data and technology studies’.’

10:00 2225 Critical Data, Critical Technology: In Theory 1 (papers session)

1:20 2425 Critical Data, Critical Technology: In Theory 2 (papers session)

After these symposia, there is a citizen science / VGI papers session

3:20 2543 Utilizing Citizen Science for Supporting Geospatial Applications

Finally, there is a papers session about Critical GIS and teaching

5:20 2627 Teaching and Doing Critical GIS in the Undergraduate Classroom¬†‘This session focuses on the challenges and possibilities of teaching and doing critical GIS in the undergraduate classroom.’

Thursday 23rd April

8:00¬†3153 Big Data – Perils and Promises¬†(papers session) ‘This session focuses on research on big data, geoprivacy and their applications, and seeks to contribute to current debates about the usability of big data in near real-time applications (e.g., crisis mapping, network analysis).’

But also two sessions on¬†Spatial Big Data and Everyday Life, with ‘papers along methodological, empirical, and theoretical interventions that trace, reconceptualize, or address the everyday spatial materialities of Big Data.’

8:00 3150 Spatial Big Data and Everyday Life I

10:00 3250 Spatial Big Data and Everyday Life II

10:00 3253 Citizen Science and Geoweb¬†(papers session) ‘Given the growth of both Geoweb and Citizen Science, this session focuses on research contributing to current debates about the role of citizen science in Geoweb in generating useful data and information for scientific research’

1:20 3444 New Directions in Mapping 1: Research, jobs, and teaching outside the academy  Panel with Britta Ricker (chair) John Bailey, Andrew Hill, Charlie Loyd, Alan McConchie, and Alyssa Wright.

3:20¬†3544 New Directions in Mapping 2: Open Source, Crowd-sourcing and “Big Data”

But at the same time there is another critical GIS session

3:20¬†3545 #CritGIS: On the Political Economy of Geospatial Technologies, a panel with¬†Eric S. Sheppard¬†(chair), and¬†Craig M. Dalton,¬†Laura Beltz Imaoka,¬†Francis Harvey¬†and¬†James Thatcher. ‘The panel considers the degree to which political economies have shifted in the development of GIS since its proliferation in the mid- to late-1990s’

Friday 24th April

8:00 4173 Beyond motivation? Understanding enthusiasm in citizen science and volunteered geographic information (papers session) a session that Hilary Geoghegan¬†and¬†I organised. ‘This session seeks to explore and debate current research and practice moving beyond motivation, to consider the associated enthusiasm, materials and meanings of participating in citizen science and VGI.’

There are two session on OpenStreetMap that Alan McConchie and I organised, Taking the 10th birthday of OSM as a starting point, this session will survey the state of geographical research on OpenStreetMap and recognising that OSM studies are different from VGI. The session is supported by the European COST Energic (COST Action IC1203) network: European Network Exploring Research into Geospatial Information Crowdsourcing.

1:20 4444 OpenStreetMap Studies 1 (papers session)

3:20 4544 OpenStreetMap Studies 2 (papers session) 

OpenStreetMap in GIScience – Experiences, Research, and Applications

OSM in GIScience

A new book has just been published about OpenStreetMap and Geographic Information Science. The book, which was edited by¬†Jamal Jokar Arsanjani, Alexander Zipf, Peter Mooney, Marco Helbich¬†¬†is ‚ÄúOpenStreetMap in GISciene : Experiences, Research, and applications‚ÄĚ contains 16 chapters on different aspects of OpenStreetMap in GIScience including 1) Data Management and Quality, 2) Social Context, 3) Network Modeling and Routing, and 4) Land Management and Urban Form.

I’ve contributed a preface to the book, titled “OpenStreetMap Studies and Volunteered Geographical Information” which, unlike the rest of the book, is accessible freely.