A Shared Perspective for PGIS and VGI – new paper

Part of the special issue on Public Participation GIS that was published in The Cartographic Journal, was a paper that was led by Jeroen Verplanke (ITC). This paper goes back to the workshop on participatory GIS in 2013, that was the leaving event for Dr Mike McCall in ITC, after which he continue to work in UNAM, Mexico.

Since the symposium in June 2013, we developed the paper, trying to find the path and linkage between the area of Participatory GIS (the variety of Public Participation GIS in development context) and the crowdsourced world of Volunteered Geographic Information.

The paper abstract explains its aims:

“This paper reviews persistent principles of participation processes. On the basis of a review of recent interrogations of the (Public) Participatory Geographic Information Systems (P)PGIS and Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) approaches, a summary of five prevailing principles in participatory spatial information handling is presented. We investigate these five principles that are common to (P)PGIS and VGI on the basis of a framework of two dimensions that govern the participatory use of spatial information from the perspective of people and society. This framework is presented as a shared perspective of (P)PGIS and VGI and illustrates that, although both share many of these same principles, the ways in which these principles are approached are highly diverse. The paper ends with a future outlook in which we discuss the inter-connected memes of potential technological futures, the signification of localness in ‘local spatial knowledge’, and the ramifications of ethical tenets by which PGIS and VGI can strengthen each other as two sides of the same coin.”

We finish the paper with the following observations: “With the unprecedented growth of data from sensors, including human sensors working through VGI, the main obstacles shaping the access and use of Local Spatial Knowledge (LSK) are the ethics of participatory practices. Greater access to, and supply of, VGI will not improve the depth of knowledge or insight into local contexts, and not necessarily, even the breadth of inputs. It might instead bias LSK identification and flows towards the most active and connected members in the community. This is already a recognized issue with PGIS and other participatory processes which are open to ‘elite capture’ and manipulation. Another challenge to the PGIS ‘slow, small, and intense’ approach comes from the ubiquity of cheap sensors; there is a concern that only evidence backed up with instrumental information (e.g. bodycams providing images with GPS and time stamp) will be considered suitable by higher authority decision-makers. Ethical facilitation is needed to guide the ownership and confidentiality of LSK in a connected world where this knowledge and the metadata of its distribution are increasingly valued (only) for their direct marketing potential. PGIS offers rich, culturally sensitive and situated LSK, and it is essential to maintain the value of this knowledge against the challenge of big data (VGI) being treated as more ‘scientific’.

The paper itself can be accessed here (it should become open access soon) and if you don’t have access, email me and I’ll send you a copy.

New paper: Using crowdsourced imagery to detect cultural ecosystem services: a case study in South Wales, UK

Map showing the numbers of contributors for all three photo-sharing platforms across all grid units of the study area. Numbers in parentheses in the legend indicate the number of grid units in the specified range.

Gianfranco Gliozzo, who is completing his Engineering Doctorate at the Extreme Citizen Science group, written up his first case study and published it in ‘Ecology and Society’.  Cited as
Gliozzo, G., N. Pettorelli, and M. Haklay. 2016. Using crowdsourced imagery to detect cultural ecosystem services: a case study in South Wales, UK. Ecology and Society 21(3):6. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08436-210306

The paper went through many iterations and took its time, but it is finally out. The abstract is provided below, and the paper, in open access, can be found here

The paper is exploring the role of crowdsourced imagery, and it building on some work that Vyron Antoniou done in 2010 about understanding the geographical aspects of multiple photo-sharing websites. Gianfranco is demonstrating how such information can be used to address the policy issue of assessing the cultural benefit of open and protected spaces, which is known as cultural ecosystem services.

Within ecological research and environmental management, there is currently a focus on demonstrating the links between human well-being and wildlife conservation. Within this framework, there is a clear interest in better understanding how and why people value certain places over others. We introduce a new method that measures cultural preferences by exploring the potential of multiple online georeferenced digital photograph collections. Using ecological and social considerations, our study contributes to the detection of places that provide cultural ecosystem services. The degree of appreciation of a specific place is derived from the number of people taking and sharing pictures of it. The sequence of decisions and actions taken to share a digital picture of a given place includes the effort to travel to the place, the willingness to take a picture, the decision to geolocate the picture, and the action of sharing it through the Internet. Hence, the social activity of sharing pictures leaves digital proxies of spatial preferences, with people sharing specific photos considering the depicted place not only “worth visiting” but also “worth sharing visually.” Using South Wales as a case study, we demonstrate how the proposed methodology can help identify key geographic features of high cultural value. These results highlight how the inclusion of geographical user-generated content, also known as volunteered geographic information, can be very effective in addressing some of the current priorities in conservation. Indeed, the detection of the most appreciated nonurban areas could be used for better prioritization, planning, and management.

New paper: Footprints in the sky – using student track logs in Google Earth to enhance learning

screen shot for paperIn 2011-2012, together with Richard Treves, I was awarded a Google Faculty Research Award, and we were lucky to work with Paolo Battino for about a year, exploring how to use Google Earth tours for educational aims. The details of the projects and some reports from the project are available on Richard’s blog, who was leading on many aspects of the work. Now, over 2 years since the end of the project, we have a publication in the Journal of Geography in Higher Education. The paper, titled ‘Footprints in the sky: using student track logs from a “bird’s eye view” virtual field trip to enhance learning’, is now out and describes the methodology that we developed for tracking students’ actions.

The abstract of the paper is:

Research into virtual field trips (VFTs) started in the 1990s but, only recently, the maturing technology of devices and networks has made them viable options for educational settings. By considering an experiment, the learning benefits of logging the movement of students within a VFT are shown. The data are visualized by two techniques: “animated path maps” are dynamic animations of students’ movement in a VFT; “paint spray maps” show where students concentrated their visual attention and are static. A technique for producing these visualizations is described and the educational use of tracking data in VFTs is critically discussed.

The paper is available here, and special thanks to Ed Parsons who advised us during the project.

UCL Urban laboratory pamphleteer – Beyond Quantification: We Need Meaningful Smart Cities

The UCL Urban Laboratory is a cross-disciplinary initiative that links various research interest in urban issues, from infrastructure to the way they are expressed in art, films and photography. The Urban Laboratory has just published its first Urban Pamphleteer which aim to ‘confront key contemporary urban questions from diverse perspectives. Written in a direct and accessible tone, the intention of these pamphlets is to draw on the history of radical pamphleteering to stimulate debate and instigate change.’


My contribution to the first pamphleteer, which focused on ‘Future & Smart Cities’ is dealing with the balance between technology companies, engineers and scientists and the values, needs and wishes of the wider society. In particular, I suggest the potential of citizen science in opening up some of the black boxes of smart cities to wider societal control.  Here are the opening and the closing paragraphs of my text, titled Beyond quantification: we need a meaningful smart city:

‘When approaching the issue of Smart Cities, there is a need to discuss the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities and challenge the prevailing thought that only efficiency and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate…

…Although these Citizen Science approaches can potentially develop new avenues for discussing alternatives to the efficiency and productivity logic of Smart Cities, we cannot absolve those with most resources and knowledge from responsibility. There is an urgent need to ensure that the development and use of the Smart Cities technologies that are created is open to democratic and societal control, and that they are not being developed only because the technologists and scientists think that they are possible.’

The pamphleteer is not too long – 32 pages – and include many thought-provoking pieces from researchers in Geography, Environmental Engineering, Architecture, Computer Science and Art. It can be downloaded here.

Completeness in volunteered geographical information – the evolution of OpenStreetMap coverage (2008-2009)

The Journal of Spatial Information Science (JOSIS) is a new open access journal in GIScience, edited by Matt Duckham, Jörg-Rüdiger Sack, and Michael Worboys. In addition, the journal adopted an open peer review process, so readers are invited to comment on a paper while it goes through the formal peer review process. So this seem to be the most natural outlet for a new paper that analyses the completeness of OpenStreetMap over 18 months – March 2008 to October 2009. The paper was written in collaboration with Claire Ellul.  The abstract of the paper provided below, and you are very welcome to comment on the paper on JOSIS forum that is dedicated to it, where you can also download it.

Abstract: The ability of lay people to collect and share geographical information has increased markedly over the past 5 years as results of the maturation of web and location technologies. This ability has led to a rapid growth in Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI) applications. One of the leading examples of this phenomenon is the OpenStreetMap project, which started in the summer of 2004 in London, England. This paper reports on the development of the project over the period March 2008 to October 2009 by focusing on the completeness of coverage in England. The methodology that is used to evaluate the completeness is comparison of the OpenStreetMap dataset to the Ordnance Survey dataset Meridian 2. The analysis evaluates the coverage in terms of physical coverage (how much area is covered), followed by estimation of the percentage of England population which is covered by completed OpenStreetMap data and finally by using the Index of Deprivation 2007 to gauge socio-economic aspects of OpenStreetMap activity. The analysis shows that within 5 years of project initiation, OpenStreetMap already covers 65% of the area of England, although when details such as street names are taken into consideration, the coverage is closer to 25%. Significantly, this 25% of England’s area covers 45% of its population. There is also a clear bias in data collection practices – more affluent areas and urban locations are better covered than deprived or rural locations. The implications of these outcomes to studies of volunteered geographical information are discussed towards the end of the paper.

Web Mapping 2.0 – an introduction to Neogeography in Geography Compass

In October 2007, Francis Harvey commissioned me to write a review article for Geography Compass on Neogeography. The paper was written in collaboration with Alex Singleton at UCL and Chris Parker from the Ordnance Survey.
The paper covers several issues. Firstly, it provides an overview of the developments in Web mapping from the early 1990s to today. Secondly, in a similar way to my Nestoria interview, it explains the reasons for the changes that enabled the explosion of geography on the Web in 2005: GPS availability, Web standards, increased spread of broadband, and a new paradigm in programming APIs. These changes affected the usability of geographic technologies and started a new era in Web mapping. Thirdly, we describe several applications that demonstrate the new wave – the London Profiler, OS OpenSpace and OpenStreetMap. The description of OSM is somewhat truncated, so my IEEE Pervasive Computing paper provides a better discussion.
The abstract of the paper is:

‘The landscape of Internet mapping technologies has changed dramatically since 2005. New techniques are being used and new terms have been invented and entered the lexicon such as: mash-ups, crowdsourcing, neogeography and geostack. A whole range of websites and communities from the commercial Google Maps to the grassroots OpenStreetMap, and applications such as Platial, also have emerged. In their totality, these new applications represent a step change in the evolution of the area of Internet geographic applications (which some have termed the GeoWeb). The nature of this change warrants an explanation and an overview, as it has implications both for geographers and the public notion of Geography. This article provides a critical review of this newly emerging landscape, starting with an introduction to the concepts, technologies and structures that have emerged over the short period of intense innovation. It introduces the non-technical reader to them, suggests reasons for the neologism, explains the terminology, and provides a perspective on the current trends. Case studies are used to demonstrate this Web Mapping 2.0 era, and differentiate it from the previous generation of Internet mapping. Finally, the implications of these new techniques and the challenges they pose to geographic information science, geography and society at large are considered.’

The paper is accessible on the Geography Compass website, and if you don’t have access to the journal, but would like a copy, email me.

OpenStreetMap: User-Generated Street Maps – IEEE Pervasive Computing paper

Earlier this year, in April, John Krumm from Microsoft Research, the editor of IEEE Pervasive Computing commissioned me to write a paper about OpenStreetMap for the magazine. The paper was written together with Patrick Weber, and it is finally out. It went through the magazine peer review process, and it is part of a set of articales in the October-December issue of the magazine that are dedicated to aspects of user-generated content.

The article was written for a general audience, and aims to provide an easy to understand introduction to OSM that is suitable for technically minded readers (such as the readers of IEEE Pervasive Computing!). It provides some history, a description of the OSM geostack and how it operates and ends with some open issues and challenges that the project is facing.

You can access the article from IEEE website, and it’s full citation is
Haklay, M. and Weber, P., 2008, ‘OpenDtreetMap: User-Generated Street Maps‘, IEEE Pervasive Computing, October–December 2008, pp. 12-18.