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.

The Potential of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) in Future Transport Systems

dsc01541An aspect of collaborative projects is that they start slowly, and as they become effective and productive, they reached their end! The COST Energic (European Network for Research into Geographic Information Crowdsourcing) led to many useful activities, with some of them leading to academic papers. From COST Energic, we’ve got the European Handbook on Crowdsourced Geographic Information, a paper on VGI quality assessment methods, and more.

One outcome came out from the close collaboration around the summer schools that were organised by the network. Prof Cristina Capineri was the chair of the COST network, and also the organiser of summer schools in Fiesole, near Florence. Prof Maria Attard organised the other summer school of the action, at the University of Malta. Based on our close working relationships (though Maria and I know each other since our PhD studies in CASA) we started working on a joint paper. Maria specialises in transport geography, so the support from COST Energic was a reason to consider how VGI will play out in future transport systems. The paper was published in the journal Urban Planning and the abstract reads:

“As transport systems are pushed to the limits in many cities, governments have tried to resolve problems of traffic and congestion by increasing capacity. Miller (2013) contends the need to identify new capabilities (instead of capacity) of the transport infrastructure in order to increase efficiency without extending the physical infrastructure. Kenyon and Lyons (2003) identified integrated traveller information as a facilitator for better transport decisions. Today, with further developments in the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and a greater disposition by the public to provide volunteered geographic information (VGI), the potential of information is not only integrated across modes but also user-generated, real-time and available on smartphones anywhere. This geographic information plays today an important role in sectors such as politics, businesses and entertainment, and presumably this would extend to transport in revealing people’s preferences for mobility and therefore be useful for decision-making. The widespread availability of networks and smartphones offer new opportunities supported by apps and crowdsourcing through social media such as the successful traffic and navigation app Waze, car sharing programmes such as Zipcar, and ride sharing systems such as Uber. This study aims to develop insights into the potential of governments to use voluntary (crowdsourced) geographic information effectively to achieve sustainable mobility. A review of the literature and existing technology informs this article. Further research into this area is identified and presented at the end of the paper.”

The paper is open, and can be found here

Published: Why is Participation Inequality Important?

bookcoverI’ve mentioned the European Handbook for Crowdsourced Geographic Information in the last post, and explained how it came about. My contribution to the book is a chapter titled ‘Why is Participation Inequality Important?. The issue of participation inequality, also known as the 90:9:1 rule, or skewed contribution, has captured my interest for a while now. I have also explored it in my talk at the ECSA conference on ‘participatory [citizen] science‘ and elsewhere.

In this fairly short chapter what I am trying to communicate is that while we know that participation inequality is happening and part of crowdsourced information, we need to consider how it influences issues such as data quality, and think how it come about. I am trying to make suggest how we ended with skewed contributions – after all, at the beginnings of most projects, everyone are at the same level – zero contribution, and then participation inequality emerge.

I have used the iconic graph of contribution to OpenStreetMap that Harry Wood created, but the chapter is discussing other projects and activities where you can come across this phenomena.

Here is a direct link to the chapter, and I’ll be very happy to hear comments about it!


New book: European Handbook of Crowdsourced Geographic Information

COST EnergicCOST ENERGIC is a network of researchers across Europe (and beyond) that are interested in research crowdsourced geographic information, also known as Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). The acronym stands for ‘Co-Operation in Science & Technology’ (COST) through ‘European Network Researching Geographic Information Crowdsourcing’ (ENREGIC). I have written about this programme before, through events such as twitter chats, meetings, summer schools and publications. We started our activities in December 2012, and now, 4 years later, the funding is coming to an end.

bookcoverOne of the major outcomes of the COST ENERGIC network is an edited book that is dedicated to the research on VGI, and we have decided that following the openness of the field, in which many researchers use open sources to analyse locations, places, and movement, we should have the publication as open access – free to download and reuse. To achieve that, we’ve approached Ubiquity Press, who specialise in open access academic publishing, and set a process of organising the writing of short and accessible chapters from across the spectrum of research interests and topics that are covered by members of the network. Dr Haosheng Huang (TU Wien) volunteered to assist with the editing and management of the process. The chapters then went through internal peer review, and another cycle of peer review following Ubiquity Press own process, so it is thoroughly checked!

The book includes 31 chapters with relevant information about application of VGI and citizen science, management of data, examples of projects, and high level concepts in this area.

The book is now available for download hereHere is the description of the book:

This book focuses on the study of the remarkable new source of geographic information that has become available in the form of user-generated content accessible over the Internet through mobile and Web applications. The exploitation, integration and application of these sources, termed volunteered geographic information (VGI) or crowdsourced geographic information (CGI), offer scientists an unprecedented opportunity to conduct research on a variety of topics at multiple scales and for diversified objectives.
The Handbook is organized in five parts, addressing the fundamental questions:

  • What motivates citizens to provide such information in the public domain, and what factors govern/predict its validity?
  • What methods might be used to validate such information?
  • Can VGI be framed within the larger domain of sensor networks, in which inert and static sensors are replaced or combined by intelligent and mobile humans equipped with sensing devices?
  • What limitations are imposed on VGI by differential access to broadband Internet, mobile phones, and other communication technologies, and by concerns over privacy?
  • How do VGI and crowdsourcing enable innovation applications to benefit human society?

Chapters examine how crowdsourcing techniques and methods, and the VGI phenomenon, have motivated a multidisciplinary research community to identify both fields of applications and quality criteria depending on the use of VGI. Besides harvesting tools and storage of these data, research has paid remarkable attention to these information resources, in an age when information and participation is one of the most important drivers of development.
The collection opens questions and points to new research directions in addition to the findings that each of the authors demonstrates. Despite rapid progress in VGI research, this Handbook also shows that there are technical, social, political and methodological challenges that require further studies and research


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.