Building Centre – from Mapping to Making

The London based Building Centre organised an evening event – from Mapping to Making –  which looked at the “radical evolution in the making and meaning of maps is influencing creative output. New approaches to data capture and integration – from drones to crowd-sourcing – suggest maps are changing their impact on our working life, particularly in design.”  The event included 5 speakers (including me, on behalf of Mapping for Change) and a short discussion.

Lewis Blackwell of the Building Centre opened the evening by noting that in a dedicated exhibition on visualisation and the city, the Building Centre is looking at new visualisation techniques. He realised that a lot of the visualisations are connected to mapping – it’s circular: mapping can ask and answer questions about the design process of the build environment, and changes in the built environment create new data. The set of talks in the evening is exploring the role of mapping.

Rollo Home, Geospatial Product Development Manager, Ordnance Survey (OS), started by thinking about the OS as the ‘oldest data company in the world‘. The OS thinking of itself as data company – the traditional mapping products that are very familiar represent only 5% of turnover. The history of OS go back to 1746 and William Roy’s work on accurately mapping Britain. The first maps produced in Kent, for the purpose of positioning ordinances. The maps of today, when visualised, look somewhat the same as maps from 1800, but the current maps are in machine readable formats that mean that the underlying information is very different. Demands for mapping changed over the years: Originally for ordinances, then for land information and taxation, and later helping the development of the railways. During WW I & II the OS led many technological innovations – from national grid in 1930s to photogrammetry. In 1973 the first digital maps were produced, and the process was completed in the 1980s. This was, in terms of data structures, still structured as a map. Only in 2000, MasterMap appear with more machine readable format that is updated 10,000 times a day, based on Oracle database (the biggest spatial data in the world) – but it’s not a map. Real world information is modelled to allow for structure and meaning. Ability to answer questions from the database is critical to decision-making. The information in the data can become explicit to many parts of the information – from the area of rear gardens to height of a building. They see developments in the areas of oblique image capture, 3D data, details under the roof, facades and they do a lot of research to develop their future directions – e.g. challenges of capturing data in cloud points. They see data that come from different sources including social media, satellite, UAVs, and official sources. Most of Smart Cities/Transport etc. areas need geospatial information and the OS is moving from mapping to data, and enabling better decisions.

Rita Lambert, Development Planning Unit, UCL. Covered the ReMap Lima project – running since 2012, and looking at marginalised neighbourhoods in the city. The project focused on the questions of what we are mapping and what we are making through representations. Maps contain potential of what might become – we making maps and models that are about ideas, and possibilities for more just cities. The project is collaboration between DPU and CASA at UCL, with 3 NGOs in Lima, and 40 participants from the city. They wanted to explore the political agency of mapping, open up spaces to negotiate outcomes and expand the possibilities of spatial analysis in marginalised areas in a participatory action-learning approach. The use of technology is in the context of very specific theoretical aims. Use of UAV is deliberate to explore their progressive potential. They mapped the historic centre which is overmapped and it is marginalised through over-representation (e.g. using maps to show that it need regeneration) while the periphery is undermapped – large part of the city (50% of the area), and they are marginalised through omission. Maps can act through undermapping or overmapping. Issues are very different – from evictions, lack of services, loss of cultural heritage (people and building) at the centre, while at the informal settlement there are risks, land trafficking, destruction of ecological infrastructure, and lack of coordination between spatial planning between places. The process that they followed include mapping from the sky (with a drone) and mapping from the ground (through participatory mapping using aerial images). The drones provided the imagery in an area that changes rapidly – and the outputs were used in participatory mapping, with the people on the ground deciding what to map and where to map. The results allow to identify eviction through changes to the building that can be observed from above. The mapping process itself was also a mean to strengthen community organisations. The use of 3D visualisation at the centre and at the periphery helped in understanding the risks that are emerging or the changes to their area. Data collection is using both maps and data collection through tools such as EpiCollect+ and community mapping, and also printing 3D models so they can used by discussions and conversations. The work carries on as the local residents continue the work. The conclusion: careful consideration for the use of technology in the context, and mapping from the sky and the ground go hand in hand. Creating these new representation are significant and what is that we are producing. more information at  and

Simon Mabey, Digital Services Lead for City Modelling, Arup. Simon discussed city modelling in Arup – with the moved from visualisation to more sophisticated models. He leads on modelling cities in 3D, since the 1988, when visualisation of future designs was done stitching pieces of paper and photos. The rebuilding of Manchester in the mid 1990s, led to the development of 3D urban modelling, with animations and created an interactive CDROM. This continued to develop the data about Manchester and then shared it with others. The models were used in different ways – from gaming software to online, and trying to find ways to allow people to use it in real world context. Many models are used in interactive displays – e.g. for attracting inward investment. They went on to model many cities across the UK, with different levels of details and area that is covered. They also starting to identify features underground – utilities and the such. Models are kept up to date through collaboration, with clients providing back information about things that they are designing and integrating BIM data. In Sheffield, they also enhance the model through planning of new projects and activities. Models are used to communicate information to other stakeholders – e.g. traffic model outputs, and also do that with pedestrians movement. Using different information to colour code the model (e.g. enregy) or acoustic modelling or flooding. More recently, they move to city analytics, understanding the structure within models – for example understanding solar energy potential with the use and consumption of the building. They find themselves needing information about what utility data exist and that need to be mapped and integrated into their analysis. They also getting mobile phone data to predict trip journeys that people make.

I was the next speaker, on behalf Mapping for Change. I provided the background of Mapping for Change, and the approach that we are using for the mapping. In the context of other talks, which focused on technology, I emphasised that just as we are trying to reach out to people in the places that they use daily and fit the participatory process into their life rhythms, we need to do it in the online environment. That mean that conversations need to go where they are – so linking to facebook, twitter or whatsapp. We should also know that people are using different ways to access information – some will use just their phone, other laptops, and for others we need to think of laptop/desktop environment. In a way, this complicates participatory mapping much more than earlier participatory web mapping systems, when participants were more used to the idea of using multiple websites for different purposes. I also mentioned the need for listening to the people that we work with, and deciding if information should be shown online or not – taking into account what they would like to do with the data. I mentioned the work that involve citizen science (e.g. air quality monitoring) but more generally the ability to collect facts and evidence to deal with a specific issue. Finally, I also used some examples of our new community mapping system, which is based on GeoKey.

The final talk was from Neil Clark, Founder, EYELEVEL. He is from an architectural visualisation company that work in the North East and operate in the built environment area. They are using architectural modelling and us Ordnance Survey data and then position the designs, so they can be rendered accurately. Many of the processes are very expensive and complex. They have developed a tool called EYEVIEW for accurate augmented reality – working on iPad to allow viewing models in real-time. This can cut the costs of producing these models. They use a tripod to make it easier to control. The tool is the outcome of 4 years of development, allow the navigation of the architectural model to move it to overlay with the image. They are aiming at Accurate Visual Representation and they follow the detailed framework that is used in London for this purpose

The discussion that follow explored the political nature of information and who is represented and how. A question to OS was how open it will be with the detailed data and while Rollo explained that access to the data is complicated one and it need to be funded. I found myself defending the justification of charging high detailed models by suggesting to imagine a situation where the universal provision of high quality data at national level wasn’t there, and you had to deal with each city data model.

The last discussion point was about the truth in the mapping and the positions that were raised – It about the way that people understand their truth or is there an absolute truth that is captured in models and maps – or represented in 3D visualisations? Interestingly, 3 of the talk assume that there is a way to capture specific aspects of reality (structures, roads, pollution) and model it by numbers, while Rita and I took a more interpretive and culturally led representations.

Call for papers – special issue of the Cartographic Journal on Participatory GIS

Call for papers for a special issue of The Cartographic Journal on past, present and future of
Participatory GIS and Public Participation GIS.

DSC01463In the 1990s, participatory GIS (PGIS) and Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) emerged as an approach and tool to make geospatial technologies more relevant and accessible to marginalized groups. The goal has been to integrate the qualitative and experiential knowledge of local communities and individuals, thereby empowering local peoples and non-profit organizations to participate in political decision-making. By enabling the participation of local people from different walks of life, P/PGIS has provided a platform where these people can share their viewpoints and create maps depicting alternative views of the same problem, but from a local perspective.

Over the years, numerous applications integrating GIS and social and spatial knowledge of local groups have been developed. P/PGIS appears well articulated as a technique. With the growth of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), from an epistemological view point the relationship of P/PGIS constructs (society, technology and institutions) and the use of components (access, power relations, diverse knowledge) in P/PGIS necessitates an exploration of what P/PGIS means in 21st century.

A related field, Citizen Science a.k.a. public participation in scientific research is a research technique that allows participation of public in the discovery of new scientific knowledge through data collection, analysis, or reporting. This approach can be viewed to be somewhat similar in its implementation to P/PGIS, which broadens the scope of data collection and enables information sharing among stakeholders in specific policies to solve a problem. The success of all three concepts, citizen science, PGIS and PPGIS, is influenced by the Geoweb – an integration of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) (e.g., social networking sites) and geospatial technologies (e.g., virtual globes like Google Earth, free and open source GIS like QGIS and location enabled devices like the iPhone) – that allows a platform for non-experts to participate in the creation and sharing of geospatial information without the aid of geospatial professionals.

Following a successful session in the AAG 2015 Annual Meeting, this call is for papers that will appear in a special issue of ‘The Cartographic Journal’ ( We are calling for reflections on PPGIS/PGIS and citizen science that address some of the questions that are listed below.

  1. What social theories form the basis for the current implementation of P/PGIS? Have these theories changed? What remains persistent and intractable?
  2. What role do spatial theories, such as Tobler’s law of spatial relations or issues of spatial data accuracy, have in P/PGIS, Citizen Science or crowdsourcing?
  3. Since Schlossberg and Shuford, have we gotten better at understanding who the public is in PPGIS and what their role is in a successful deployment of PGIS?
  4. Which new knowledge should be included in data collection, mapping and decision-making and knowledge production? To what extent are rural, developing country, or marginalized communities really involved in the counter-mapping process? Are they represented when this action is undertaken by volunteers?
  5. What role do new ICTs and the emergence of crowdsourcing plays in the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge? Do new tech and concepts hinder the participatory process or enable empowerment of local communities? Do we have new insights on what could be considered technological determinism?
  6. Do we need to revisit P/PGIS in light of any of these shifts? How often do P/PGIS projects need to be revisited to address the dynamic nature of society and political factors and to allow future growth?
  7. How effective have P/PGIS and Citizen Science been in addressing issues of environmental and social justice and resource allocation, especially, from a policy-making perspective?
  8. Are we any better at measuring the success of P/PGIS and/or Citizen Science? Should there be policies to monitor citizen scientists’ participation in Geoweb? If so, for what purpose?
  9. What should be the role of privacy in P/PGIS, for example, when it influences the accuracy of the data and subsequent usability of final products? How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?
  10. How has the concept of the digital divide been impacted by the emergence of the Geoweb, crowdsourcing and/or neogeography?
  11. What is the range of participatory practices in Citizen Science and what are the values and theories that they encapsulate?
  12. What are the different applications of Citizen Science from policy and scientific research perspective?
  13. To what extent do the spatial distribution of citizens influence their participation in decision making process and resolving scientific problems?
  14. How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?

Editors: Muki Haklay (, University College London, UK; Renee Sieber (, McGill University; Rina Ghose (, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee; Bandana Kar (, University of Southern Mississippi – Hattiesburg. Please use this link to send queries about the special issues, or contact one of the editors.

Submission Deadlines
Abstract – a 250 word abstract along with the title of the paper, name(s) of authors and their affiliations must be submitted by 15th August 2015 to Muki Haklay (use the links above). The editorial team will make a decision if the paper is suitable for the special issue by 1st September
Paper – The final paper created following the guidelines of The Cartographic Journal must be submitted by 30th October 2015.
Our aim is that the final issue will be published in early 2016

AAG 2015 notes – day 2 – Public Participation GIS symposium

The second day was dedicated to reflections on Public Participation GIS or Participatory GIS. The day was organised by Rina Ghose and Bandana Karr with some comments from Renee Sieber and me at some stage. It turned out to be an excellent symposium.DSC01463

The following are my notes from the different talks during the day.

Jon Corbett, Associate Professor – University of British Columbia-Okanagan
Rachelle Hole, Associate Professor – University of British Columbia Okanagan: Plain Language Mapping: Rethinking the Participatory Geoweb to Include Users with Intellectual Disabilities. Jon talked about the background of participatory mapping – starting from development context. Within the geoweb, it is easy to forget what the aim of the system. He describes people who are with intellectual disabilities, and because work is so meaningful in society, they wanted to enable such people to share experience about employment. They wanted to especially focus on positive experiences that can be shared. They started created an employment mapping tool using the GeoWeb, to understand how to overcome barrier for employment. They are working with different stakeholders  – and  the map uses classification with the job type and the process stage. They see it as opportunity for people to share details and create a network of support. They used co-design which included people with intellectual disabilities. There are issues in the design – dealing with ‘contribution bottleneck’ and change the interface of the wizard that enter information to the system so that is not text driven. The assumption of tech poverty for people with intellectual disabilities is wrong – but they use it differently to other users, so need to recognise what they use (e.g. smartphones) and adjust to them. Hammering spatial literacy – do we need to solve everything with maps? Can we solve it without it? it is a thing that we need to ask.

Greg Brown – University of Queensland –  The Vexing Problem of Spatial Aggregation in PPGIS/PGIS/VGI for Sustainable Land Use. The problem of spatial aggregation and crowdsourcing. Over 25 studies from different planning contexts  – described at . Within participatory mapping, terminology is maddening: is it PPGIS, PGIS or VGI? In reviewing the area, he suggests PPGIS (west), PGIS (development), VGI (technology). In PPGIS, which Greg focused on, it is dominated by rational, synoptic planning – but there is an alternative, radical planning that make it all contextualised and situated. Participatory mapping bring three aspects about places: place ecology, place phenomenology (experience) and place management. The breakthrough in PPGIS/PGIS was to move from GIS that focuses on the physical world, to one that is about values and the experiences that people have. We need to get beyond the rhetoric and in participatory mapping we need to improve the substantive quality of decision-making. Is public participation is the wisdom of the crowds or the tyranny of the masses? Crowdsourcing can get better decision-making through Surowiecki type analysis on ‘wisdom of crowd’. In many participatory mapping we haven’t made difference – and there are multiple reasons for it, from concern about the role of expert and the public to regulatory reasons. When you aggregate the data, you have a challenge of how to count the voices. PPGIS/PGIS/VGI have not substantively influenced land use decisions – technology is search of actual impact. The issue is political – how to weight and agree on weighting etc. Bridging the spatial and the political is the challenge.

Patrick Oberle – Syracuse University – Web-Mapping Practices and Challenges in Syracuse, NY. Covering experience in Syracuse Community Geography programme. Syracuse is very poor, and community-based organisations (CBOs) have an important role in the city with lots of CBOs. The main points to explore are neogeography and alow citizen ‘scientists’, democratisation of knowledge production and considering local information. He run a series of local workshops on how to use Google Maps Engine to CBOs and to what degree they support CBOs. He looked a the Syracuse Poster Project (public art with poems), and PEACE inc. which is community action agency, with ‘head start/early start programme for children, and other poverty-reduction programmes. They wanted a map to show where they presented their posters – they created an effective map with details that lead you to prints. It took them 7 months to create map. They had a sense of place that made it easy to adopt cartographic viewpoint – they had narrow goals. PEACE wanted to engage with population and had vague goals of managing their places. They had broad organisation mission and complex needs – which mean that the effort was not successful. They found it hard to dedicate staff to focus on the task. However, even for the poster project it was challenging to work through and deal with technology. Data is also not accessible – in contrast to NYC, Syracuse cannot afford to prepare data for sharing and provide open data. We need to engage the producers of the technologies, need experimentation with technology and processes, and help people to understand the paradigm of data-driven perspective. It is not obvious to unfamiliar organisations and groups. Now that Google Map Engine is discontinued they need to figure out how to move it to a new ways of delivering, but they are capable of recruiting interns.

Muning Wang – University of Washington and Isabel Carrera Zamanillo – University of Washington – Comparing institutional resistance between PGIS VGI, Citizen Science implementation in environmental management. Looking at the way that the information that is provided by the citizens – who use them and for what. From a literature review, they analysed what people do with volunteer collected  geographic information. It is described in education and outreach, land value investigation of landscape planning, TEK in management of fish population, and decision-making support for community conservation. Barriers: credibility, administrative jurisdiction, conflict with existing hierarchies, time that it takes to create collaboration, information capabilities and insufficient direct benefits to managers. Current synthesis – Francis Harvey volunteered vs contributed, Tulloch VGI data/knowledge creation vs PPGIS uses data to make decision, while Lin 2013 aruge that they are intertwined. Haklay argue that VGI/Citizen Science doesn’t provide enough participatory space. Trying to explain the differences is challenging! One way to look is to explore cases. To do the cross-case comparison, they are trying to generalise patterns, using systematic review or meta-analysis. A workshop helps to carry out the analysis of cases. They suggested meta-categories: prupose, environment focus, role of technology, actors interaction and other factors. They analysed 12 cases – but they want to compare more. They want to carry out cross-case comparison and provide analysis across cases, completeness of data collection. They are aiming to demonstrate the diversity of PGIS, VGI, and citizen science projects

Stephen R Appel – University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Department of Geography  – Information Justice and Public Geospatial Data. The aim of his research was to understand the scope and purpose of access to data and in what way data is accessed. The run a survey of municipalities, counties, land information association and then interviews with participants and web site survey. Referred to GIS & Society literature. The aspects of power in access the data and legal issue with data. He found variety of practices among counties in terms of opening and licensing the data. Most counties have web services, but it is variable. Conclusions are – extreme variation in policy, availability, and activities. Most allow academic use, and academic users need to get ready to use web services.

The second session 2253 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session II started with a short discussion, due to gap in the schedule.

Some discussion points started to emerge: how data should be integrated with other systems? how to be inclusive? but also how to make the data active and relevant to decisions and results? How to give voices to people who are marginalised – all participatory process have double objectives: empowerment but also want content that is actionable. Sometime they contradict each other. A very small group of people are participating . Though need to accept that all democratic processes are messy.

Yoshiki Wakabayashi – Tokyo Metropolitan University & Mikoto Kukimoto – Oita University –  Possibilities and Limitations of Childcare Support Maps from the Viewpoint of Participatory GIS. The GeoWeb in Japan became part of the technologies used by government. The relationship between the voluntary sector and government is something need to be explored. Increase maps of childcare support, with about 10% of the total of online maps. There are more working mothers and childcare is an issue that concerns local government. He analysed 360 maps of childcare support in Tokyo Metropolitan Area, defining 3 levels – Level 1 – static, 2 some interaction, 3 – adding data (participatory), using the Sieber and Johnson framework. There are only few examples of level 3. More than half of the maps are interactive, but only few are truly participative. You also see the use of Google Maps as basemap and that increase usability. There are also maps that were made by voluntary group – made by mothers in the Meguro Ward. The group funded by local government, and core group of 5 mothers collected the data. The technical skills include Google Docs, Yahoo! mailing lists. Maps were printed and delivered in community meetings. They also include comments on the map (e.g. ‘cannot enter with buggy’ but also ‘delicious bagel’). The voluntary group cross jurisdiction issues. Maps were also shared on facebook – the purpose of the maps is to make link between community members, exchange childcare information and facilitate face to face communication – so they didn’t want an online map. The conclusion is that the local government maps while web-based, are not encouraging participation.

Renee Sieber – McGill University. Frictionless Civic Participation and the Geospatial Web. The increasing view of participation as frictionless. ‘Participation is very easy now – you just harvest sentiment from twitter or other social media’. She wonder if participation is effortless and in the background – just getting it from extracting what people say on media. In Smart Cities there is a view that the city need to be frictionless. Observations: 1. via frictionlessness participation is increasingly rooted in technocratic governance. The technocracy is setting the problem and the solution, but it’s not to be discussed but to be communicated. 2. Participation is not a transaction. Making public participation as a transaction and not engaging democratically. Relationship between government and citizen as transaction and consumptive experience. 3. Frictionless participation is increasingly unitary & lacks resilience – individuals interacting separately and therefore can’t build movement. 4. Geo-carpetbaggers who can ‘deliver participation’ much faster – computer scientists offer it in a faster way, what is the point in deep engagement if it is possible to create an app in 2 hours. 5. Participation is not 140 characters – it’s not about harvesting stuff for meaning. There is algorithmic regulation to set why you are engaging and who you are. Conclude: we make the assumption that the web/mobile is  democratising – we problematise the government or the private sector, but citizens want convenience and we should challenge them too. Also public on the Internet can be trolls or game the system.

Mike McCall – Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico, with Jeroen Verplanke – ITC University of Twente and Claudia Uberhuaga – Technical University of Madrid – What does PGIS have to learn from VGI/Crowd Sourcing, so that we survive and prosper? PGIS and VGI have common purpose? there are changes in image of authority and offering alternative authority (UGC, citizen science, counter-maps, promoting feelings of Agency. Maybe we should think of VGI.2 – vulgar grounded intelligence. PGIS offer verification – trust, interaction, reputation & accountability. It’s physical, tactile, material, visual and sharing the process which is meaningful. Participation has to be slow and costly per unit of information – even volunteers need compensation. VGI provides speed, currency. Less manipulation – it is very cheap per quantitative unit of information. But the downside of VGI that it doesn’t give 2-way interaction and feedback, no rich data, no FPIC (Free & Prior Informed Consent), transparency and commercialisation. Both forms are open to ‘Elite Capture’. PGIS the question who control the framing or the inputs. The framing is easy to manipulate and take over. Very easily to control. VGI control the aggregation and the framing. The question is: can we speed up PGIS when we need it? That will mean the focus on the results. Most PGIS are short-term work done by NGOs or research organisations. It is one-off because of funding. Also need to think about the scale beyond parochial – broader dissemination in time, broader dissemination in place, share good practices fast. Scale can be in online participatory mapping and we want to make it more participatory – even hinder elite capture. Not to have naive belief in community solidarity or in crowd wisdom. Also where the trust come from -internal and external.

Rina Ghose – University Of Wisconsin Milwaukee – Deconstructing Citizen Participation and Spatial Knowledge Production. Rina looks at places where people are marginalised along class and race – multiple marginalisation. Working since 1993 with community groups in inner city neighbourhood. Very racialised landscape. Strong digital and other divides, and geospatial divides. The context of PPGIS is that in many cities there is a mandate for community participation in the US, participation is not smooth due to neoliberalisation in different form. It leads to inequities and poverty. The collaborative governance model is about public private partnership that are shaped around restructuring the role of the state and reduction of funding to community organisation and social welfare. Service delivery is not done by the state. She use political economy analysis from Kevin Cox work – spaces of dependence where there are some spaces of engagement , with politics of turf. Rhetoric of citizen participation is done through performative acts – volunteerism, self help (right to the city – prove that you are good enough to deserve the rights). Many activists led organisations are being put out of action by removing the funding. In Milwaukee university there is a long tradition of supporting CBOs and can see the complex network. CBOs have challenges such as reduced funding, and they wanted to bring facts to demonstrate the needs are not being met. Role of activists are shifting, but they are asked for rationale for investment and demonstrate professionalism. There is on going data collection and using maps for traditional activities. Using paper maps overlays . Neoliberal rationalities are dictating the way CBOs operate and work. Maps were used to communicate, plan and create spatial strategies – e.g. mapping liquor stores, but also asset mapping to show potential for economic development and show successful project outcomes. Maps are ‘brag sheets’ – demonstrate fiscal outcomes or client demand, dealing with health issues. Neoliberal impacts: spatial knowledge production is shaped by rationalities as project goals. The organisations lack GIS abilities and it is crucial for them to get support from the university and other people who offer help. Politics shape use of data. Is there also neoliberalisation of PPGIS in terms of how it operates? This is an open question.

the third session 2453 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session III included the following

Kumkum Bhattacharyya – Eastern Michigan University, Aditi Sarkar – Indian Statistical Institute – Land Use and Land Cover (LULC) Change Detection in the Ganga-Damodar Region – A Participatory GIS Perspective, which covered participation at government scale, in water and resources management.

Pamela Jean Robinson – Ryerson University and Peter Johnson – Waterloo – Civic Hackthons: New Terrain for Citizen-Local Government Interaction? They been looking at civic hackathons – the empowerment of local communities and their meaning. civic Hackathons are linked to the concept of open data – they are time-limited event (weekend), mix of people – lots of people who can code, with open data and prizes and government host. People work to create the data into play. There is a difference between the civic hackathons and app competition is very different. Are they a form of procurement – are they getting a product outside the usual processes and did the events led to change in government activities? Secondly there is the issue of citizen engagement. In terms of backdoor procurement – is it getting technology for free? Are they get products without proper scrutiny? People have mixed view if open data will improve accountability and processes. Are people exploited and fairly compensating for software development effort? Are there obligations for government to treat people differently?
Civic hacking is new form of civic engagement (Levitas 2013). They went to core values of public participation as defined (core values for the practice of public participation). In hackathon people decide and design how they want to participate and have the information. This is one-off event so how impactful it is. Early finding from researching with government that done hackathon. Actually, there are no products coming out of them and very little procurement happening because sustainability of app development is an issue. There is no concern within participants about virtual sweatshops, but there are concerns in the terms of employment of the municipal staff who spend big part of the weekend on this activity. In terms of engagement, the most important aspect is new space for interaction between municipal staff and community. Different kinds of sharing expertise. What do hackathons mean over time and they are developing hackathon assessment tools. How you have ethics form so it doesn’t kill the process.

Nancy J. Obermeyer, PhD, GISP – Indiana State Univ – Preserving Small Town Cinemas through Crowdsourcing. Nancy talked about how using kickstarter to community asset. The town Batesville, IN is small – 6500 people, Germanic roots. Have industrial history – furniture, medical equipment etc. The Gibson Theatre was around from the 1920s, in small towns, the relationships are familial and know people personally. There was a kickstarter campaign to preserve the place, and they reached out to news stations and that helped them to raise the funding. One of the emerging question in the discussion is the degree of ‘crowdfunding’ community assets, and the abdication of local and national government from protecting and funding heritage – another form of neoliberalisation in which the communities are left to fend for themselves, and because of inequalities, it’s the people without major financial assets who are expected to volunteer their income to such services.

Zachary A. Jones, MA, MS, PhD (ABD) – Eastern Michigan University Using Charrettes and other Pedagogical Tools to Develop Participatory Geospatial Technology Plans and Support Ecojustice Planning Decisions. Using technology in master planing and find a way to education and group pedagogy -and avoid reliance on mechanism and scientism. The knowledge base is usaully of experts, but local stakeholders have lots ofknowledge and there are people without voices – children, non-humans. Sophistication level necessary for GIS operation is high and only small group of experts can use it – surely not general population. A consortium of municipalities (SEMCOG) doesn’t have geospatial information and technology plan as part of their master plans. Growing reliance on GIS and geographic technologies in decision-making creased a deficit for local stakeholders. Would like to adopt PGIS to democratise geospatial information collection and use. Borrow tools for educators and planners -lesson plans (to deal with deficit thinking) and charrettes to encourage decision-making by community members, and expect that to be run by municipalities. Aim to run workshops that explore issues and technologies. Initial sessions explored expectation from PGIS and where it fails. That will be followed by the need to address concepts – master plans, feed of information act, privacy issues, Geographic Information Technologies plan.

Antonello Romano – DISPOC, Università di Siena – Noise busters: noise detection and perception through citizen science approach and crowdsourced information. Exploring gamification of experience about noise in the city aim to increase user contribution. The idea is to put gamification to engage people in problem solving. The aim is to improve data collection – game your place. not to emphasise the competition but to have the playfulness. The objective is to encourage participation and collect data about loudness pollution – used NoiseTube to do data collection. The basic elements are to create the game board, game rule, finding a way to create a situation that everyone win. Game elements are trying to encourage participation and not about the observation itself. The first results – they had 123,500 measurement and 28h of data collection in a week. The geography of games covered the whole city centre. A closer look at the data show level of noise across the area. Highlighting the participatory layer: everyday life, participation, VGI, sociability, problem solving and discovering places.

Finally we had a panel session 2553 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session IV, including Bandana Kar (Chair), and Renee Sieber, Nancy J. Obermeyer, Melinda J. Laituri and myself as panellists.

Renee started the discussion – PPGIS past, present and future, and using a definition which we had many discussion that complexify every aspect of it – is it about marginalised people or increase participation? Skills and abilities continue to be challenges for practitioners. You need to be system admin and developer to run system and maintain them. There is also a numbers game – how many people are involved? Also Social Darwinism – if you can’t deal with the system, it is your problem and we can’t help. PPGIS is seen as effeminate participation compared to proper masculinity in VGI and crowdsourcing. Losing sight of boundaries that matter – such as jurisdictions.

Nancy Obermeyer, students understand that they need GIS knowledge and expertise. GIS is poorly integrated into the curricula of public administration. In public administration and participation – how we get more input from the people that will be effected by the actions that they are making.

Melinda coming from the participatory GIS approach, thinking about fine scale data collection with TEK and indigenous groups – what people want to map and not, how to deal with ethics and what should be mapped. The relationships with the community are complex – what the impact to the people who change the community and long-term changes. To work with responding to disaster and deal with rapid response and activities like mapathons through Mapgive – learning from the success in Haiti response. We need to unpack that a bit more. We need to look linkage between participatory mapping and remote collaborative mapping. Making digitising fun because of the context and atmosphere. Thinking about VGI/PGIS – this is a different approach but need to explore opportunities. 1. start with a blank map or an image? 2. in experience with state department: academics are fish out of the water – what academics need to figure out with the practice? 3. digital divide – don’t assume access to technology and need to think about that 4. education 5. excitement about data collection – how do we analysed that? how that enrich our information base?

My take own take away from the day where the following:  First, in PPGIS there is always an element of ‘conforming (to) the opposition’ (Renee paper from 2001 is relevant here) – and this is how the external governance structure set the agenda of the processes. Secondly, we need to work beyond individualism & neoliberal framing of citizenship and development: this has clearly gone worse over the past 20 years, so in many ways it is not more difficult to do PPGIS. This also mean that we must position PPGIS within the wider context of technology and society (with issues such as 99% and inequality, prevailing cyberlibertarian modes of thinking in technology products that shape society etc.). We need a more nuanced concept of participation: work hard so all voices are heard – but allow people to ‘delegate’ and not actively participate. Some people will be happy just to attend meeting to check that views are like theirs, and other will happy to trust a friend. We should allow for that. The next thing is that because of Big Data, more attention to the end use of the data, ownership and credits are important signifiers of purpose and values. Finally, because of the way tech companies are hijacking social terms, we need to explicitly define empowerment, inclusion, marginalisation, participation and democratisation.

Piotr Jankowsi mentions the power of numbers. We started doing PPGIS on the premise that the right of people to have a say on decisions that influence their life – that’s what PPGIS is about. We try to facilitate the ability to pass information to those in positions of power. Numbers do matter – between 5, 10 or 2000 people. Those who are in position of power tend to listen to bigger groups. When we facilitate public participation, we need to give an avenue for larger number – in order to make it effective.

Cristina Capineri –  noted the need to recognise changes and the way that we need to understand opinions and values which then opened the door for new ways and methodologies that are being used. when we are mapping we deal with problems and challenges in society and work at hyper local levels.

Peter Johnson – increase focus on separation between science and decision-making, how does that fit into encouraging the public to carry out research and doing the work itself? The general view was that it is working side by side with science – not replacing.  There is also funding and stopping funding to the bits of science that are inoffensive. However, I noted that there is a huge increase in people with higher education, and that does create an issue for decision makers, as the general population is more sophisticated and can use information.

Greg Brown pointed that we must notice the mega-trend is that people are losing civic engagement, we have lost of connection to place and decline and knowledge and connection to place. PPGIS works again these trends.

Bandana Kar – there is marginalisation within the PPGIS community, we should keep links. Though it might outlast GIScience.

Piotr – part of the problem with civic engagement is lack of impact. People participate but see no outcomes and they don’t feel that they see the impact. Something need to be done with the results. Greg – need to see the process and the outcomes, and people need to see how the outcomes of the process are based on the consultation.

Mike McCall – there is participation fatigue that growing, and we need to ask question about representativeness which can be manipulated by those involved. Who is selected (even deciding women participation) is important. Using individual maps is different from the community mapping. Can do snowball mapping where the size is growing with each maps. Another point is that starting with a blank map is that people mark their territory, and within it. Satellite or image can be used in suitable context when they are relevant – need to consider context.

Finally, a question was raised to what extent questions are rising from the communities themselves?

GISRUK 2015 papers: participatory mapping in Nairobi and mobile apps for Earthquake and Fire

The GIS Research UK conferences (GISRUK) are the annual gathering of the GIScience research community in the UK. While I have missed the last two (including the current one in Leeds), I have contributed to two papers that are presented in the conference.

The first, ‘Participatory mapping for transformation: multiple visual representation of foodscapes and environment in informal settlements in Nairobi‘ was led by Sohel Ahmed , and include myself, Adriana Allen (UCL DPU), Cecilia Tacoli (IIED) , Edwin Simiyu (SDI) and Julio Davila (UCL DPU). It was written on the basis of the work that was carried out in the Urban Zoo project and explores participatory mapping with food vendors. The summary of this short paper note that ‘although branded as ‘obstructionists’ and major agents of ‘disease and filth’ by city authorities, food vendors remain the pivotal node in the local food system in most informal settlements; therefore, their interaction with the environment and infrastructure services, and challenges they face to keep the food safe to eat, requires further grounded exploration. Food vendors from informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, who are acting as mappers and change agents, are building multi-layered views of places through the deliberative process of knowledge co-production by participatory sensing, which lead to opportunities and challenges to improve those places.’. The paper is accessible here. See also Cecilia and Sohel blog post and briefing paper on their work in Nairobi

The second, ‘Exploring new ways of digital engagement: a study on how mobile mapping and applications can contribute to disaster preparedness‘ is written by Gretchen Fagg, Enrica Verrucci, and Patrick Rickles as part of the Challenging Risk project. The paper looks at mobile applications that can be used to help people prepare for natural disasters. The abstract note that ‘natural disasters can happen at any time and no community can consider itself completely safe from them. Digital technologies, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), are becoming globally pervasive (World Bank, 2014), with smartphones hosting excellent mobile mapping, data collection and information providing platforms. A report was compiled to investigate web and mobile applications that provide preparedness information and stimulate community empowerment, some using maps as a medium to convey the information. This paper discusses the purpose, results and implications of this analysis for further work to be undertaken to address the identified research gap.’ The paper is available here.

Geographies of Co-Production: highlights of the RGS/IBG ’14 conference

The 3 days of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) or RGS/IBG  annual conference are always valuable, as they provide an opportunity to catch up with the current themes in (mostly human) Geography. While I spend most of my time in an engineering department, I also like to keep my ‘geographer identity’ up to date as this is the discipline that I feel most affiliated with.

Since last year’s announcement that the conference will focus on ‘Geographies of Co-Production‘ I was looking forward to it, as this topic relate many themes of my research work. Indeed, the conference was excellent – from the opening session to the last one that I attended (a discussion about the co-production of co-production).

Just before the conference, the participatory geographies research group run a training day, in which I run a workshop on participatory mapping. It was good to see the range of people that came to the workshop, many of them in early stages of their research career who want to use participatory methods in their research.

In the opening session on Tuesday’s night, Uma Kothari raised a very important point about the risk of institutions blaming the participants if a solution that was developed with them failed. There is a need to ensure that bodies like the World Bank or other funders don’t escape their responsibilities and support as a result of participatory approaches. Another excellent discussion came from Keri Facer who analysed the difficulties of interdisciplinary research based on her experience from the ‘connected communities‘ project. Noticing and negotiating the multiple dimensions of differences between research teams is critical for the co-production of knowledge.

By the end of this session, and as was demonstrated throughout the conference, it became clear that there are many different notions of ‘co-production of knowledge’ – sometime it is about two researchers working together, for others it is about working with policy makers or civil servants, and yet for another group it means to have an inclusive knowledge production with all people that can be impacted by a policy or research recommendation. Moreover, there was even a tension between the type of inclusiveness – should it be based on simple openness (‘if you want to participate, join’), or representation of people within the group, or should it be a active effort for inclusiveness? The fuzziness of the concept proved to be very useful as it led to many discussions about ‘what co-production means?’, as well as ‘what co-production does?’.

Two GIS education sessions were very good (see Patrick’s summery on the ExCiteS blog) and I found Nick Tate and Claire Jarvis discussion about the potential of virtual community of practice (CoP) for GIScience professionals especially interesting. An open question that was left at the end of the session was about the value of generic expertise (GIScience) or the way they are used in a specific area. In other words, do we need a CoP to share the way we use the tools and methods or is it about situated knowledge within a specific domain? 

ECR panel (source: Keri Facer)
ECR panel (source: Keri Facer)

The Chair Early Career panel was, for me, the best session in the conferenceMaria Escobar-TelloNaomi Millner, Hilary Geoghegan and Saffron O’Neil discussed their experience in working with policy makers, participants, communities and universities. Maria explored the enjoyment of working at the speed of policy making in DEFRA, which also bring with it major challenges in formulating and doing research. Naomi discussed productive margins project which involved redesigning community engagement, and also noted what looks like very interesting reading: the e-book Problems of Participation: Reflections on Authority, Democracy, and the Struggle for Common Life. Hilary demonstrated how she has integrated her enthusiasm for enthusiasm into her work, while showing how knowledge is co-produced at the boundaries between amateurs and professionals, citizens and scientists. Hilary recommended another important resource – the review Towards co-production in research with communities (especially the diagram/table on page 9). Saffron completed the session with her work on climate change adaptation, and the co-production of knowledge with scientists and communities. Her research on community based climate change visualisation is noteworthy, and suggest ways of engaging people through photos that they take around their homes.

In another session which focused on mapping, the Connected Communities project appeared again, in the work of Chris Speed, Michelle Bastian & Alex Hale on participatory local food mapping in Liverpool and the lovely website that resulted from their project, Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden. It is interesting to see how methods travel across disciplines and to reflect what insights should be integrated in future work (while also resisting a feeling of ‘this is naive, you should have done this or that’!).

On the last day of the conference, the sessions on ‘the co-production of data based living‘ included lots to contemplate on. Rob Kitchin discussion and critique of smart-cities dashboards, highlighting that data is not-neutral, and that it is sometime used to decontextualised the city from its history and exclude non-quantified and sensed forms of knowledge (his new book ‘the data revolution’ is just out). Agnieszka Leszczynski continued to develop her exploration of the mediation qualities of techno-social-spatial interfaces leading to the experience of being at a place intermingled with the experience of the data that you consume and produce in it. Matt Wilson drawn parallel between the quantified self and the quantified city, suggesting the concept of ‘self-city-nation’ and the tensions between statements of collaboration and sharing within proprietary commercial systems that aim at extracting profit from these actions. Also interesting was Ewa Luger discussion of the meaning of ‘consent’ within the Internet of Things project ‘Hub of All Things‘ and the degree in which it is ignored by technology designers.

The highlight of the last day for me was the presentation by Rebecca Lave on Critical Physical Geography‘. This is the idea that it is necessary to combine scientific understanding of hydrology and ecology with social theory. It is also useful in alerting geographers who are dealing with human geography to understand the physical conditions that influence life in specific places. This approach encourage people who are involved in research to ask questions about knowledge production, for example social justice aspects in access to models when corporations can have access to weather or flood models that are superior to what is available to the rest of society.

Overall, Wendy Larner decision to focus the conference on co-production of knowledge was timely and created a fantastic conference. Best to complete this post with her statement on the RGS website:

The co-production of knowledge isn’t entirely new and Wendy is quick to point out that themes like citizen science and participatory methods are well established within geography. “What we are now seeing is a sustained move towards the co-production of knowledge across our entire discipline.”


Happy 10th Birthday, OpenStreetMap!

Today, OpenStreetMap celebrates 10 years of operation as counted from the date of registration. I’ve heard about the project when it was in early stages, mostly because I knew Steve Coast when I was studying for my Ph.D. at UCL.  As a result, I was also able to secured the first ever research grant that focused on OpenStreetMap (and hence Volunteered Geographic Information – VGI) from the Royal Geographical Society in 2005. A lot can be said about being in the right place at the right time!

OSM Interface, 2006 (source: Nick Black)
OSM Interface, 2006 (source: Nick Black)

Having followed the project during this decade, there is much to reflect on – such as thinking about open research questions, things that the academic literature failed to notice about OSM or the things that we do know about OSM and VGI because of the openness of the project. However, as I was preparing the talk for the INSPIRE conference, I was starting to think about the start dates of OSM (2004), TomTom Map Share (2007), Waze (2008), Google Map Maker (2008).  While there are conceptual and operational differences between these projects, in terms of ‘knowledge-based peer production systems’ they are fairly similar: all rely on large number of contributors, all use both large group of contributors who contribute little, and a much smaller group of committed contributors who do the more complex work, and all are about mapping. Yet, OSM started 3 years before these other crowdsourced mapping projects, and all of them have more contributors than OSM.

Since OSM is described  as ‘Wikipedia of maps‘, the analogy that I was starting to think of was that it’s a bit like a parallel history, in which in 2001, as Wikipedia starts, Encarta and Britannica look at the upstart and set up their own crowdsourcing operations so within 3 years they are up and running. By 2011, Wikipedia continues as a copyright free encyclopedia with sizable community, but Encarta and Britannica have more contributors and more visibility.

Knowing OSM closely, I felt that this is not a fair analogy. While there are some organisational and contribution practices that can be used to claim that ‘it’s the fault of the licence’ or ‘it’s because of the project’s culture’ and therefore justify this, not flattering, analogy to OSM, I sensed that there is something else that should be used to explain what is going on.

TripAdvisor FlorenceThen, during my holiday in Italy, I was enjoying the offline TripAdvisor app for Florence, using OSM for navigation (in contrast to Google Maps which are used in the online app) and an answer emerged. Within OSM community, from the start, there was some tension between the ‘map’ and ‘database’ view of the project. Is it about collecting the data so beautiful maps or is it about building a database that can be used for many applications?

Saying that OSM is about the map mean that the analogy is correct, as it is very similar to Wikipedia – you want to share knowledge, you put it online with a system that allow you to display it quickly with tools that support easy editing the information sharing. If, on the other hand, OSM is about a database, then OSM is about something that is used at the back-end of other applications, a lot like DBMS or Operating System. Although there are tools that help you to do things easily and quickly and check the information that you’ve entered (e.g. displaying the information as a map), the main goal is the building of the back-end.

Maybe a better analogy is to think of OSM as ‘Linux of maps’, which mean that it is an infrastructure project which is expected to have a lot of visibility among the professionals who need it (system managers in the case of Linux, GIS/Geoweb developers for OSM), with a strong community that support and contribute to it. The same way that some tech-savvy people know about Linux, but most people don’t, I suspect that TripAdvisor offline users don’t notice that they use OSM, they are just happy to have a map.

The problem with the Linux analogy is that OSM is more than software – it is indeed a database of information about geography from all over the world (and therefore the Wikipedia analogy has its place). Therefore, it is somewhere in between. In a way, it provide a demonstration for the common claim in GIS circles that ‘spatial is special‘. Geographical information is infrastructure in the same way that operating systems or DBMS are, but in this case it’s not enough to create an empty shell that can be filled-in for the specific instance, but there is a need for a significant amount of base information before you are able to start building your own application with additional information. This is also the philosophical difference that make the licensing issues more complex!

In short, both Linux or Wikipedia analogies are inadequate to capture what OSM is. It has been illuminating and fascinating to follow the project over its first decade,  and may it continue successfully for more decades to come.

GISRUK 2011 talk – Participatory GIS, Volunteered Geographic Information and Citizen Science

GIS Research UK (GISRUK) is a long running conference series, and the 2011 instalment was hosted by the University of Portsmouth at the end of April.

During the conference, I was asked to give a keynote talk about Participatory GIS. I decided to cover the background of Participatory GIS in the mid-1990s, and the transition to more advanced Web Mapping applications from the mid-2000s. Of special importance are the systems that allow user-generated content, and the geographical types of systems that are now leading to the generation of Volunteer Geographic Information (VGI).

The next part of the talk focused on Citizen Science, culminating with the ideas that are the basis for Extreme Citizen Science.

Interestingly, as in previous presentations, one of the common questions about Citizen Science came up. Professional scientists seem to have a problem with the suggestion that citizens are as capable as scientists in data collection and analysis. While there is an acceptance about the concept, the idea that participants can suggest problems, collect data rigorously and analyse it seems to be too radical – or worrying.

What is important to understand is that the ideas of Extreme Citizen Science are not about replacing the role of scientists, but are a call to rethink the role of the participants and the scientists in cases where Citizen Science is used. It is a way to consider science as a collaborative process of learning and exploration of issues. My own experience is that participants have a lot of respect for the knowledge of the scientists, as long as the scientists have a lot of respect for the knowledge and ability of the participants. The participants would like to learn more about the topic that they are exploring and are keen to know: ‘what does the data that I collected mean?’ At the same time, some of the participants can become very serious in terms of data collection, reading about the specific issues and using the resources that are available online today to learn more. At some point, they are becoming knowledgeable participants and it is worth seeing them as such.

The slides below were used for this talk, and include links to the relevant literature.