PhD studentship in collaboration with the Ordnance Survey – identifying systematic biases in crowdsourced geographic information

Deadline 31st August 2017

UCL Department of Geography and the Ordnance Survey are inviting applications for a PhD studentship to explore the internal systematic biases in crowd-sourced geographic information datasets (also known as Volunteered Geographic Information – VGI).

The studentship provides an exciting opportunity for a student to work with Ordnance Survey on understanding the use of crowd-sourced geographic information MH DSCN0571and potentially contributing to the use of such data sources by national mapping agencies. Ordnance Survey is an active partner in its sponsored research and offers students opportunities to work on-site and to contribute to workshops and innovation within the business. In addition, the student will be part of the Extreme Citizen Science group at UCL, which is one of the leading research groups in the area of crowdsourced geographic information and the study thereof.

For more information about the project, the studentship and details how to apply, please see here. or below:


Start Date: October 2017

Funding status: Applications are invited from UK and EU citizenship holders.

Funding Body: EPSRC and Ordnance Survey

Funding Details: The scholarship covers UCL student fees at the Home/EU rate and provides a stipend of £16,553 per annum tax free. Travel expenses and research equipment will also be provided to the successful candidate.

Project Description:

UCL Department of Geography and the Ordnance Survey are inviting applications for a PhD studentship to explore the internal systematic biases in crowd-sourced geographic information datasets (also known as Volunteered Geographic Information – VGI).


There has been a rapid increase in information gathered by people from all walks of life who are using connected devices with an ability to collect and share geographic information, such as GPS tracks, photographs with location information, or observations of the natural environment in citizen science projects. There is now a vast array of projects and activities that use this type of information, and each project has its own characteristics. Yet, it can be hypothesised that some of the characteristics of crowd-sourced geographic information will be systematically biased, and these biases differ between projects and data sources.


Crowd-sourced datasets will have some systematic biases that repeat across crowd-sourcing platforms. For example the impact of population density, business activity, and tourism on the places where data is available, or a weekend or seasonal bias of the temporal period of data collection. Others biases are project-specific – for example, some projects manage to attract more young men, and therefore places that are of interest to this demographic will be over-represented. One of the major obstacles that limit the use of such data sources is understanding and separating systematic and project-level biases and then developing statistical methods to evaluate their impact. In order to use such datasets to identify hidden features and patterns, there is a need to identify what are the relationships between a dataset and the world.

The aim of this research project, therefore, is to create a large collection of crowd-sourced GPS tracks and pedestrian trajectories, and use conflation techniques and advanced analytics to develop methodologies to identify and estimate the biases. Once this is done, the aim will be to identify hidden characteristics to be more confident about the patterns that are being observed.

Studentship Description

The studentship provides an exciting opportunity for a student to work with Ordnance Survey on understanding the use of crowd-sourced geographic information, and potentially contributing to the use of such data sources by national mapping agencies. Ordnance Survey is an active partner in its sponsored research and offers students opportunities to work on-site and to contribute to workshops and innovation within the business. In addition, the student will be part of the Extreme Citizen Science group at UCL, which is one of the leading research groups in the area of crowdsourced geographic information and the study thereof.

The project will run for four years and will be supervised by Prof Muki Haklay from UCL and Jeremy Morley from Ordnance Survey. Professor Muki Haklay, who is a professor in the UCL Department of Geography and who has a track record of research and publication relating to crowdsourced data management and quality. Jeremy Morley is the Chief Geospatial Scientist at Ordnance Survey, leading the long-term business research programme, and has research experience in crowd-sourced geographic information.

 Person Specification

Applicants should possess a strong bachelor’s degree (1st Class or 2:1 minimum) or Masters degree in Computer Science, Spatial statistics, Ecology, Geomatics, Geographic Information Science or a related discipline. The skills required to build the required database of case studies and the programming and analytical skills to assess biases and develop algorithms for their identification, are highly desirable. Candidates will ideally have some relevant previous research experience and should also have excellent communication and presentation skills.

The funding is provided for 4 years, and will involve spending time at the Ordnance Survey in Southampton.


Applications are invited from UK and EU citizens residing in UK. In particular, applicants must meet EPSRC eligibility and residency requirements found here:

Application Procedure

Applicants should send the following by e-mail to Judy Barrett ( and Prof Haklay (

  1. Cover letter, including a personal statement explaining your interest in the project.
  2. Examples of academic writing and outputs from past work (e.g. a dissertation or assignment)
  3. Academic transcripts
  4. A CV

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview during September 2017. Any incomplete applications will not be considered.


Cambridge Conference 2017 – The Willing Volunteer

wp-1499185668092The Cambridge Conference is an event that is held every 4 years, organised  by the Ordnance Survey, and it is a meeting of many heads of National Mapping Agencies who come together to discuss shared interests and learn from each other.

The history of the conference is available here. This year, I was asked to provide a talk about volunteered geographic information and the role of crowdsourced information in the service of national mapping bodies. As common in these conferences, I was given a title for the talk and request on the topic – this was “The Willing Volunteer –
Incorporating voluntary data into national databases” – and the description was: At present few mapping databases contain crowd sourced or voluntary data. Consider how, in the future, this will be a valuable source of data for national geospatial, cadastral and mapping agencies.

The talk itself covered 4 parts – since the conference as a whole looked at the future needs of mapping in the next 15 years, I’ve mentioned the trends that will influence crowdsourcing over this period. I’ve included both the technical and the social trends that will influence this area. I then covered few examples, and paid attention to the need to think differently about crowdsourced information (using the metaphor of scarcity/abundance as a way to explain that), then provided two insights from the “crowdsourcing geographic information in government” study that I’m currently leading. I’ve finished with few slides that demonstrate that engagement can reach out to everyone, regardless of their literacy.

Here are the slides:

PPGIS 2017 – Poznan, Poland (Day 1) – different notions and tools of public participation GIS

These notes are from the workshop Modern Methods and Tools for Public Participation in Urban Planning 2017, held in Palac Obrzycko near Poznan, Poland on 22nd and 23rd June 2017 – the outline of the workshop stated “Researchers and practitioners of urban planning have had a variable interest in developing and applying methods of public participation since the 1970s… The interest in methods accelerated in the mid-1990s, accompanied by the developments in public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS) and participatory GIS (PGIS). The arrival of Web 2.0 in the 2000s and improvements in geographic information technologies resulted in the proliferation of geographically related tools and Web services (Geoweb) for individuals and groups. Developments in P/PGIS, volunteered geographic information (VGI), and Geoweb have been recently paralleled by the growth of holistic approach to public participation in urban planning exemplified by Geodesign – a process relying on geographic digital methods and tools for integrating analysis, evaluation, design and public involvement in urban and regional planning. Despite much interest in participatory methods rooted in mapping and visualisation of geographical data, there has not been a gathering of scholars in P/PGIS, VGI, Geoweb, and Geodesign sharing their research and learning from one another.” (see

Piotr Jankowski opened the meeting explaining the background of the symposium explaining a local project at the Adam Mickiewicz University on participatory GIS and geodesign in Poznan. The workshop is mostly by invitation and was set to allow for detailed discussions. The purpose is to have a discussion on the themes of participatory GIS, citizen science, VGI, Geodesign and urban planning.

Marketta Kyttä (Aalto University, Aalto, Finland) – gave the keynote address to start the workshop. Marketta talked about 10 years of public participation GIS research and practice in Finland, reflecting on the experience since 2000. From a background in environment psychology, with a PhD in architecture, had an interest in the human side. There are claims that tacit and experiential knowledge cannot be integrated into design and practice. In the 1990s, she felt that environmental psychology is focusing on the person and how they feel, but forgotten about the environment. She believes that the interaction between the environment and the person is generating experiences, and there were few approaches to thinking about it – there are precedents from Wohlwill in 1973, pointing the environment is not in the head and others. Her work got into place-based, “softGIS” – as psychologist heard about it and wanted to study about human behaviour and experience over the physical environment. Thinking about how to link perceptions and emotions and the different ways of understanding space with a physical location. The new methodology was started in 2003 and the first prototype was developed in 2005, but the technology was weak. They then progressed to SoftGIS survey tools which are more robust technically, but each survey requires a lot of investment. This is now evolved to maptionnaire service that allows using these in a more structured way since 2015. They have done projects in Japan, or in USA, or in Aalto University campus, and many other places. Through the literature, she discovered relevant areas which she was not aware of at the beginning – PGIS, PPGIS, Citizen Science, VGI. The work that they’ve been doing is the nearest to Greg Brown – conceptually and structurally there are many similarities in the methodology. She sees the person-environmental relationship and participatory planning are in yin-yang relationship – they contribute to each other. They have looked at social sustainability, mobility, environmental memories and more. Across different groups – from children to elderly. Also at different scales, various planning stages, and various planning approaches. They have done over 70 research project that used place-based research ad over 150 participatory planning projects. Cases that were analysed between 2013-2017 show majority of participatory cases in planning – over 46% and 27% in research. The personal relationship to participatory planning – on how the effort of participatory planning is for few people to show up and lots of time have negative views. There are some people who are activists – but not all of us this way. There need to be an additional way of engaging people for people who are less assertive. The Finnish law mandated participatory planning since 2000, but things haven’t changed over the night and a slow process: only a handful of people participate, participation tool late, non-influential participation, concentration on resisting changes, data that have been collected is invisible, and the process is demanding process for the organisers and the participants. The experience of using PPGIS as a crowdsourcing tool in urban planning – a questionnaire tool. The pros are data volume, high quality and usable knowledge, foster collaborative participation. The cons are issues of digitalisation, limitations in the digital process, data quality, and practices in planning regarding the use of the information.

Data volume online allows collecting large datasets with little effort, and facilitating inclusiveness – wider groups of people that can be reached (2100 respondent about water in Helsinki), the representativeness look good across classes – the impact of level of education, but generally it can be argued that it is a representative group. There is also an ability to provide the same tool in different languages and reach different groups, and children and young people with appropriate tools. Children can give good quality data. It is also an easier way to reach a wider group of participants – getting 3750 people responding to get Helsinki Master Plan survey, with 33,000 place marking.

The second point that the data is high quality and usable knowledge – the methodology fosters individual participation – Kahila-Tani (2016) pointed about individual participation and collective participation issues – an ability to maintain the diversity of opinion, also independence, decentralisation, but it also requires aggregation. The maps allow a new type of knowledge in a visible format – such as the location of new building and green areas. Also allowing to do different analysis of green structures, and finding out about people home and which places they notice and use buffering to calculate densities around it. Using urban structure, behavioural and experiential factors, and then linked it to health and wellbeing. In the city centre, they found one set of a link: density increases the perceived environmental quality if it brings the everyday services closer. In the suburbs, the closer the services were, the lower the perceived environmental quality – why is this happening in the suburbs is a question. PPGIS allows for exploring different context.

Can we foster deep collaboration? The Maptionnaire tool allows the creation of a geographical survey with the survey. Asking many questions to participants. Reaching out to participants can be done by a representative sample and trying to reach them, sometimes offline, or more opportunistic approaches of using publicity online, or through a specific event. In a public-participation support system (Kahila-Tani 2016) considered the different stages that have participation potential, and the initiation phase is important. This was indeed in many cases the way Maptionnaire is being used. Is the participation influential in terms of impacting on the decision process. In the Helsinki master plan it was possible to see the impact of suggestion as the plan was published on a grid, and it was possible to compare it to the public survey and it shows that about 25% of the areas that people want to protect are threatened by the plan. PPGIS can be also integrated into existing systems, which is demonstrated in the City of Lahti.

The issues in PPGIS include first, use of digitisation: digital divide, technology stress that exists among older participants – examining people over 80s, addressing the problems in the redesign of the application.

Second, it is important to see the PPGIS in addition to deliberative processes that are linked to PPGIS data – people pointed that the PPGIS data is wrong as it didn’t represent their opinion.

Third, there are issues of data quality: representatives, cherry picking, user privacy, manipulation, and skills to use the data. The Helsinki data is over-represented in 20-40 year old. Because the issue is about the opportunity to participate and not only about representativeness. It is possible to compare the representative sample with the wider response. All sort of arguments: other age groups are represented in other processes, or that they will be impacted by the programme, etc.

Fourth, there are also ineffective planning practices: lack of willingness to allow participation or influence, challenges in integrating the data into practice, and there is also an issue that surveys are a continuation of top-down participation. There is a demand towards co-created surveys and co-analysed data sets. There aren’t examples for this and that is a future challenge. PPGIS can be used as a therapeutic participatory device

There are pros and cons – where is the balance. We can think about smart participation using social media – Foursquare, Instagram, OpenStreetMap or Twitter – we need to think about how to make them work. Looking ah how high-quality GIS knowledge from people can support smart, friendly urban planning.


14:30 – 15:00: Examining the values that are embedded in the processes and technologies of participatory GIS.
Muki Haklay (University College London, London, Great Britain) My talk started with noting that a persistent question about participatory methodologies that rely on technologies, such as public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS), is how to integrate values, such as inclusiveness of all the people that are impacted by a decision, or identifying options that are popular with the majority but acceptable to the minority, within technologically focused projects. Moreover, technologies do not operate by themselves – they are embedded in organisational, political, and social processes that set how they are used, who can use them, and in what context. Therefore, we should explore where the values reside? Two factors obscure our view: The misleading conceptualisation that technologies are value free, and can be used for good or for bad – which put all the weight on the process and ignores the way in which any technology allows only certain actions to be taken. Another popular view of technology conceptualisation is to emphasise their advantages (upside) and ignore their limitations. If we move beyond these, and other “common sense” views of technologies, we can notice how process and technology intertwine.

We can, therefore, look at the way the process/technology reinforce and limit each other, and the way that the values are integrated and influence them. With this analysis, we can also consider how technological development can explicitly include considerations of values, and be philosophically, politically, and social theory informed. We need to consider the roles, skills, and knowledge of the people that are involved in each part of the process – from community facilitation to software development.

The talk draws on the experience of developing participatory geographic information technologies over the past 20 years and will suggest future directions for values-based participatory technology development.

Formal ontologies to support participatory urban planning through the prism of roles theory
Alessia Calafiore (University of Torino, Torino, Italy) – covering aspects of Firstlife – which is about collecting knowledge through crowdsourcing and then support for informed urban planning. The aim is collecting information about places and representation in place. A practical concern in GIS is to make explicit the assumption about daily special experiences. How is place specially constructed? People behaviour is many times unexpected – places that can be used to unexpected use. In an ontological analysis, she tries to represent spatially located social practices. Urban artefacts are interacting with people through social practices. She’s developed her concept on the DOLCE ontological framework. She went on to define urban artefacts – including design and normative constraints and look at some of the aspects that are rigid. A social place is a non-rigid aspect of a space and she’s using social roles theory for this aspect. She defines social practices with predicate logic

G-ICT and creative thinking in the context of urban resilience
Zorica Nedovic-Budic, Aoife Corcoran (University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland) – talking about the role of geographical ICT in creative thinking on urban planning, based on the result of TURAS project ( She specifically looking on several projects: reusing Dublin, Meadows Timeline, and TwitterGI. She specifically looking a the way these ICT tools can be used to improve resilience. Addressing issues such as flooding, lack of green infrastructure in inner cities or use of empty spaces. The task for cities is to move to more resilience stage. The city needs to build capacity to address change. Social-ecological resilience is the ability to adapt and transform as results of a change. Her three cases looked at empty places in Dublin, community history and interventions in the Meadows Communities in Nottingham and supporting researchers on urban resilience at UEL in London. In each case, she carried out a focus group with different stakeholders and carried out different tests. In Dublin, ReusingDublin provided 400 entries about different locations that can be used, and in Nottingham, a geographic timeline about the history of an estate.  In London, it was information from Twitter that can assist researchers. Also carried out a serious of events. There is different evident that some of the technologies helped in creating new ideas, but she actually realised that a co-creation process is quite central. The data alone is not enough to generate new ideas but require a more deliberative project. The mutability of technology is important – Reusing Dublin is being used by a homeless charity to raise awareness and collect data that can be used to lead to a change. Citizens + Data = Change – with data, awareness and joint effort. She is now setting the up the space engagers social enterprise to address some spatial issues in different communities in Ireland. Geospatial technologies – by having people engaged for a short time will allow people to get involved in coming up with ideas or contribute to wider social goods. 

Engineering for the local systems of the social participation architecture
Michał Dzięcielski (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland), Maciej Kamiński, Maciej Szarejko (Urban Cybernetics Center, Wrocław University of Technology, Worcław, Poland), Sara Zielińska (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland) – thinking about using ERP tool, lean management to manage a city, but also to have a participatory element. To manage a city, you can’t assume formal order to citizens, but we can’t give complete freedom and anarchy in a city – we’re looking for a golden mean. Suggesting to use Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) that were designed for big companies, so want to have a role for public participation with the outcome of improving the quality of life. The idea of an ERP for a city is the ability to improve city foresight and allow the citizens to show their ideas and how they’ll impact the city. The idea is also to grab ideas from lean management – ensuring that we give citizens the information that will support their needs, and from participatory budgeting, to allow people to create and fund their projects. So their suggested architecture – people who come with ideas, which are going to the participatory projects support office in the city. The PPSO can explore, by using an ERP which projects would result in unwanted outcomes and not improve the quality of life – criteria against which assess projects. Using ERP and lean management by the project support office can help in carrying out such activities in the city.

The afternoon ended with TOOL DEMOS the provided an overview and demonstration of different PPGIS tools.

First GeoCitizen Platform by Karl Atzmanstorfer, Thomas Blaschke (University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria) the GeoCitizen Platform – based on 15 years of work that was done in Salzburg. The platform, – transparent platform for participatory community management with a structured process for communication between all stakeholders and assist decision making processes. They have smartphone interface, web platform, and a management dashboard. The methodology: browsing, collecting geographical information, sharing ideas which are geotagged, then discussing spatial content, rating proposals, and monitoring implementation. The stages that are going through a clear design that show which stage is progressing and aiming to include as many stakeholders as relevant to the process.

The second demonstration was of Geodiscussion Dariusz Walczak (Recoded, Poznań, Poland), Marek Młodkowski (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland) – the project is about supporting public participation in urban planning through GIS. They demonstrate a case study in a suburban location near Poznan and the discussion was about local urban development plan. The Geo-discussion can be viewed on the web and on a mobile phone. They had 65 users, 131 discussion threads and 575 further activities. The Google analytics show that it’s 25-34 people and a bit more male, mostly using the desktop version. Each thread of the discussion has a unique URL and can be used to direct someone to a specific comment. There are details or people, date, and other bits of information. The administrator point of view can see the threads and content of comments and can hide some comments. The process of setting the system include simplification of the technical document to short prompts that can be open for discussion is an important part of the system. The system includes many considerations on how to address the specific aspects of discussions in a way that produces actionable information for planners.

The final demonstration was of Geodesign by Michele Campagna, Chiara Cocco (University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy) showing their Geodesign system. The origin of the system from work that was done by Carl Steinitz in CASA at UCL. There are many planning styles with different outcomes and methodologies. In design together we need planners and participants from the public to deal with information – so we need simple interfaces. The geodesign framework is the core of Steinitz model of Geodesign. We start with representation models and process models – and then have evaluation models. There is a cycle of data-information-knowledge in the assessment phase and the intervention stage. The demonstration of the Geodesign Hub is a web application that is very long and showing suitability maps that are coloured in a consistent way and the input data can be done either by experts or in a collaborative way. The participants are asked to do diagrams to describe the ideas by different participants. People can copy diagrams of different people and adjust them. Diagrams can be created by experts and by general participants. People can mark the ones that they like especially. Then it is possible to create a synthesis. They can then also check and see the different modelling of different activities and their costs. The hub is supporting the process of calculating costs, comparing options and assessing impacts.

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