EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Prof. Muki Haklay : 16th Jan

The talk by Muki Haklay on GIScience and Citizen Science reflected on the developments in Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and Citizen Science, their areas of overlap and in particular the existence of potential reciprocal contributions between them. He made extensive use of the trends in VGI and Citizen Science to help illustrate how the two are increasingly overlapping and hence the potential for mutual contributions.

VGI, also known as Crowdsourced Geographic Information, first gained academic recognition from scholars like Michael Goodchild about eight years ago and has undergone massive changes ever since. It is now considered a vital source of geographical data for GIScience which is both low cost and in most cases, of good quality. Muki gave an outline of developments in the web mapping industry which have led to the current state of VGI. The coming in of Web 2.0, increased GPS availability (removal of selective availability), reduced costs to data storage and increased broadband access can all be credited with making it far much easier for the ordinary person to contribute geographic content from different parts of the world.

Citizen science unlike VGI, has been around for much longer and can be defined as being “any scientific work undertaken by the general public in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists or scientific institutions”. It can be traced back to the early 19th century, to some of the work by Marry Anning which was done outside the confines of official research structures. Over the years Citizen Science has consisted of an ever increasing number facets ranging from biological recording (e.g. bird counts), environmental observations and different other forms of community science many of which are non-geographical. Muki attributed the current state of Citizen Science to trends in levels of education, evolution of scientific standards and also massive developments in technology.

It is interesting to note how the trends outlined above, in particular developments to the web, have extended the capabilities of both VGI and Citizen Science in a remarkable way. Citizen Science has, over the last decade taken new forms such as ‘Citizen CyberScience’ and now consists of activities such as volunteer thinking, volunteer computing and do-it-yourself (DIY) science with an increased involvement of the general public. Muki managed to reveal how traditional facets of Citizen Science like biological recording and environmental observations which have always possessed a spatial component, are increasingly overlapping with VGI. Web-based and mobile applications such as eBird, iSpot and MySoil which are now considered indispensable tools in Citizen Science are not entirely different from projects such as OpenStreetMap used in VGI.

Considering the various areas of overlap between the two fields, it then becomes useful to identify ways in which the two can contribute to each other. GIScience can contribute to Citizen Science in a number of ways. The data quality assurance methods, standards and interoperability aspects currently emerging in VGI can be similarly applied to Citizen Science. GeoVisualisation and human-computer interaction methods in GIS can be used as well to develop very useful and more effective applications for Citizen Scientists. There are also a number of Spatial Analysis methods which make use of heterogeneity that can be applied to Citizen Science data. In turn Citizen Science has much to offer to GIScience, particularly to VGI. Citizen Science can provide large, complex, heterogeneous datasets dating from way back whose interrogation can allow formulation of a variety of interesting questions about different phenomena. It also presents GIScientists with opportunities to contribute to critical societal issues such as biodiversity and climate change as well as possibilities for interdisciplinary contributions.

Reason Mlambo
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)

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