Learning From the Crowd: The Role of Volunteered Geographic Information in Realising a Spatially Enabled Society

  • Ho S
  • Rajabifard A
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Governments around the world are currently striving to realise a spatially enabled society. This is achieved when location is used to organise information, which is then made freely available to society to endeavour towards benefits in creativity and productivity, and improvements in transparency and decision- making. The currency of this ideal is a corollary of the changing relationship between people and information, in which geo-referenced information is rapidly becoming normative as it provides an additional degree of personal relevance. People’s roles are also changing; they are no longer passive consumers of information but are becoming active producers – a behaviour manifested most obviously online. One of the challenges that have been identified in realising a spatially enabled society is the development of a spatial data infrastructure (SDI) that would support the wider society. Most SDIs typically comprise participants such as national spatial data agencies, government or private organisations, who have traditional or commercial roles in producing spatial information. This leaves a large part of society, such as community groups or ordinary citizens, with nominal roles within the SDI and potentially disengaged. The challenge of how the SDI can support the wider society would therefore need to address two inherent issues: recognising society’s role, and the design itself of the SDI to facilitate the functions of that role. The nascent discipline of volunteered geographic information (VGI) offers an opportunity to investigate both these issues, especially from society’s perspective. Although voluntarism has always been present in some way or form in the collection of spatial information, it has never before existed on such a prolific scale as evidenced from the plethora of sites on the internet that use, produce and share geo-referenced data. VGI is essentially the production of spatial information for society by society and this paper is predicated on VGI being a potential role for society and a function within the SDI. Therefore, how can we engage with the significant volume of spatial information that has been  generated from VGI? How can VGI be facilitated and supported with the eventual aim of incorporating it into a national SDI? This paper will discuss the body of research that has been conducted to examine and understand the nature of VGI and the issues and challenges in engaging with it. It will use case studies of web applications that can demonstrate successful participation with their target communities to deliberate the technical, social, institutional and legal issues associated with designing an enabling platform, specifically the user interface, to act as a portal for VGI. It will also look to the future and consider new concepts and technologies such as the spatial marketplace and the impending ICT revolution. Finally, the paper will conclude with proposed guidelines for the design of an enabling platform for VGI so it can be a means of facilitating engagement, and eventually allow for incorporation into any vision for realising a spatially enabled society.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Volunteered geographic information
  • enabling platform.
  • framework
  • spatial data infrastructure
  • spatially enabled society

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  • Serene Ho

  • Abbas Rajabifard

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