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.

A review of volunteered geographic information quality assessment methods

One of the joys of academic life is the opportunity to participate in summer schools – you get a group of researchers, from PhD students to experienced professors, to a nice place in the Italian countryside, and for a week the group focuses on a topic – discussing, demonstrating and trying it out. The Vespucci Institute in 2014 that was dedicated to citizen science and Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) is an example for that. Such activities are more than a summer retreat – there are tangible academic outputs that emerge from such workshops – demonstrating that valuable work is done!

During the summer school in 2014, Hansi Senaratne suggested to write a review of VGI data quality approaches, and together with Amin Mobasheri and Ahmed Loai Ali (all PhD students) started to developed it. I and Cristina Capineri, as summer school organisers and the vice-chair & chair of COST ENERGIC network (respectively), gave advice to the group and helped them in developing a paper, aimed at one of the leading journal of Geographic Information Science (GIScience) – the International Journal of GIScience (IJGIS).

Hensi presents at the Vespucci summer school
Hansi presenting at the Vespucci summer school

The paper went through the usual peer review process, and with a huge effort from Hansi, Amin & Ahmed, it gone all the way to publication. It is now out. The paper is titled ‘A review of volunteered geographic information quality assessment methods‘ and is accessible through the journal’s website. The abstract is provided below, and if you want the pre-print version – you can download it from here.

With the ubiquity of advanced web technologies and location-sensing hand held devices, citizens regardless of their knowledge or expertise, are able to produce spatial information. This phenomenon is known as volunteered geographic information (VGI). During the past decade VGI has been used as a data source supporting a wide range of services, such as environmental monitoring, events reporting, human movement analysis, disaster management, etc. However, these volunteer-contributed data also come with varying quality. Reasons for this are: data is produced by heterogeneous contributors, using various technologies and tools, having different level of details and precision, serving heterogeneous purposes, and a lack of gatekeepers. Crowd-sourcing, social, and geographic approaches have been proposed and later followed to develop appropriate methods to assess the quality measures and indicators of VGI. In this article, we review various quality measures and indicators for selected types of VGI and existing quality assessment methods. As an outcome, the article presents a classification of VGI with current methods utilized to assess the quality of selected types of VGI. Through these findings, we introduce data mining as an additional approach for quality handling in VGI

The Participatory City & Participatory Sensing – new paper

The Participatory City is a new book, edited by Yasminah Beebeejaun The Participatory City cover, which came out in March and will be launched on the 1st June. The book gather 19 chapters that explore the concept of participation in cities of all shapes and sizes. As Yasminah notes, concern about participation has started in the 1960s and never gone from urban studies – be it in anthropology, geography, urban planning, history or sociology.

The book is structured around short chapters of about eight pages, with colour images that illustrate the topic of the chapter. This make the book very accessible – and suitable for reading while commuting in a city. The chapters take you for a tour around many places in the world: from London, Berlin, Bangalore, to Johannesburg, Mexico City and to small towns in Pennsylvania and Lancashire (and few other places). It also explores multiple scales – from participation in global negotiations about urban policy in the UN, to the way immigrants negotiate a small area in central Dublin, as well as discussion of master-planning in several places, including London and Mexico City.

The book demonstrate the multi-faceted aspects of participation: from political power, to gender, environmental justice, indigenous rights, skills, expertise and the use of scientific information for decision making. Each of the chapters provides a concrete example for the participatory issue that it covers, and by so doing, make the concept that is being addressed easy to understand.

Not surprisingly, many of the success stories in the book’s chapters are minor, temporary and contingent on a set of conditions that allow them to happen. Together, the chapters demonstrate that participation, and the demand for representation and rights to the city are not futile effort but that it is possible to change things.

With a price tag that is reasonable, though not cheap (€28, about £21), this is highly recommended book that charts the aspects of urban participation in the early part of the 21st century, and especially demonstrating the challenges for meaningful participation in the face of technological developments, social and economic inequalities, and governance approaches that emphasise markets over other values.

My contribution to the book is titled ‘Making Participatory Sensing Meaningful and I’m examining how the concept of participatory sensing mutated over the years to mean any form of crowdsourced sensing. I then look at our experience in participatory sensing in Heathrow to suggest what are the conditions that enable participatory sensing that is matching the expectations from participatory processes, as well as the limitations and challenges. You can  find the paper here  and the proper citation for it is:

Haklay, M., 2016, Making Participatory Sensing Meaningful, in Beebeejaun, Y. (Ed.) The Participatory City, Jovis, pp. 154-161.

 

UCL Institute for Global Prosperity Talk: Extreme Citizen Science – Current Developments

The slides below are from a talk that I gave today at UCL Institute for Global Prosperity

The abstract for the talk is:

With a growing emphasis on civil society-led change in diverse disciplines, from International Development to Town Planning, there is an increasing demand to understand how institutions might work with the public effectively and fairly.

Extreme Citizen Science is a situated, bottom-up practice that takes into account local needs, practices and culture and works with broad networks of people to design and build new devices and knowledge creation processes that can transform the world.

In this talk, I discussed the work of UCL Extreme Citizen Science group within the wider context of the developments in the field of citizen science. I covered the work that ExCiteS has already done, currently developing and plans for the future.

Citizen Science Data & Service Infrastructure

Following the ECSA meeting, the Data & tools working group workshop was dedicated to progressing the agenda on data & infrastructure.

Jaume Piera (chair, Data and Tools working group of ECSA) covered the area of citizen science data – moving from ideas, to particular solutions, to global proposals – from separate platforms (iNaturalist, iSpot, GBIF, eBird) but the creation of different citizen science associations and the evolution of ideas for interoperability, can allow us to consider the ‘Internet of People# which is about participatory sharing of data. We can work in similar way to standards development in the area of the internet, and starting to consider the layers: interoperability, privacy/security, data reliability, infrastructure sustainability, data management, intellectual property rights, engagement, Human-Computer Interaction, Reference models and testing. By considering these multiple layers, we can develop a roadmap for development and consider a range of solutions at different ‘layers’. The idea is to open it to other communities – and aim to have solutions that are discussed globally.

Arne Berra explained the CITI-SENSE platform. There is a paper that explains the architecture of CITI-SENSE on the project site. He proposed that we use the European Interoperability Framework — legal, organisational, semantic and technical. in the technical area, we can use ISO 19119 and OGC – with 6 areas: boundary, processing/analytics, data/model management, communication, systems. We can use reference models. Also suggested considering the INSPIRE life cycle model. There is a challenge of adapting standards into the context of citizen science, so in many ways we need to look at it as conceptual framework to consider the different issues and consider points about the issues. In CITI-SENSE they developed a life cycle that looked at human sensor data services, as well as the hardware sensor application platform.

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Ingo Simonis (OGC) – a standardised encoding to exchange citizen science data. He describe work that OGC is doing in sensor web for citizen science, and they collected data from different projects. Through citizen science data, information come from different surveys, in different forms and structures. The requirements are to have citizens + environment + sensor. Who did particular measurement? We want to know about the environment – e.g. that it was rainy while they collected the data, and then know about the sensor. So OGC O&M citizen observatories model is conceptual. It’s an observation model – assigning a value to a property – they also look at standards for sensors – OGC SensorML. He used the ISO 19100 series of standards. The observation model is trying to address issues of observations that are happening offline and then being shared. The model also deal with stationary and mobile sensing activities, and allowing for flexibility – for example having ad-hoc record that is not following specific process.

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Alex Steblin – The Citclops project includes applications such as Eye on Water (eyeonwater.org). The Citclops have a challenge of maintaining the project’s data once the project finished.

Veljo Runnel covered EU BON work (www.eubon.eu) – mobilising biodiversity ata is challenges. They want a registry of online tools for citizen science projects – tool that will allow people who work with citizen science to record information about the project as related to biodiversity – such as link to GBIF, recording DNA, use of mobile app. Finding the person that run the tool is difficult. On EU BON they have ‘data mobilization helpdesk’, the elements of the standard were discussed within the the EU BON consortium and how they are going to explore how to provide further input.

JRC is exploring the possibility of providing infrastructure for citizen science data – both metadata and the data itself.

Translation of technical information into a language that is accessible is valuable for the people who will be using it. We need to find ways to make information more accessible and digestible. The aim is to start developing reference material and building on existing experiences – sub divide the working group to specific area. There are many sub communities that are not represented within the data groups (and in ECSA) and we need to reach out to different communities and have including more groups. There are also issues about linking the US activities, and activities from the small-scale (neighbourhoods) to large organisations. As we work through information, we need to be careful about technical language, and we need to be able to share information in an accessible way.

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 – as 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 – at 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.

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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 – should 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.

Being philosophical about crowdsourced geographic information

This is a post by Renee Sieber and myself, providing a bit of a background on why we wrote the paper “The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique” – this is in addition to what I’ve written about it in this blog post

Geo: Geography and Environment

By Renée Sieber (McGill University, Canada) and Muki Haklay (University College London, UK)

Our recent paper, The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique, started from a discussion we had about changes within the geographic information science (GIScience) research communities over the past two decades. We’ve both been working in the area of participatory geographic information systems (GIS) and critical studies of geographic information science (GIScience) since the late 1990s, where we engaged with people from all walks of life with the information that is available in GIS. Many times we’d work together with people to create new geographic information and maps. Our goal was to help reflect their point of view of the world and their knowledge about local conditions, not always aim for universal rules and principles. For example, the image below is from a discussion with the community in Hackney Wick, London, where individuals collaborated to…

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