Volunteered Drone Imagery: Challenges and constraints to the development of an open shared image repository

I recently had the pleasure of working on a new project called “Volunteered Drone Imagery: Challenges and constraints to the development of an open shared image repository”, with Dr. Britta Ricker, University of Washington-Tacoma, and Sara Harrison, a recently-graduated MES student from Waterloo.

OpenAerialMap Data Browsing Interface

We were inspired by the overall concept of OpenStreetMap, a user-generated map of the world, and wanted to think about how the same concept – volunteered geographic information, could be applied to the explosion of imagery data now being made available through the use of recreational drones. There is an emerging ecosystem of technologies and systems to support not only the creation of micro-level imagery, but to overcome the daunting task of sharing this information. We looked to the OpenAerialMap project as an example of this. Drawing on technology adoption constraints literature, we consider the main challenges to creating this open shared image repository (emphasis on open here – there are a number of private-sector options that do not allow imagery to be shared or re-purposed).

Together, we wrote a peer-reviewed paper that was accepted at the long-running and highly-competitive Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences (HICSS-50) for 2017. Dr. Ricker was happy to present this on our behalf, and this paper will serve as a jumping off point for further research into how volunteered imagery sources can be both contributed and shared more easily. This paper is available open access through the University of Hawaii at Manoa repository.

New Paper: Strategic analysis of a water rights conflict in the south western United States

A new paper by PhD Candidate Simone Philpot has just been published in the Journal of Environmental Management! Download a copy here: http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1T8CR14Z6tPQ~k 

Simone, along with co-authors Dr. Keith Hipel and Dr. Peter Johnson, uses the Graph Model for Conflict Resolution to model the longstanding dispute over water allocation between Nevada and Utah. This modeling process allows for new insights into how different actors perform in different situations. Congrats to Simone for publishing her work in a very prestigious venue!


A strategic analysis of the ongoing conflict between Nevada and Utah, over groundwater allocation at Snake Valley, is carried out in order to investigate ways on how to resolve this dispute. More specifically, the Graph Model for Conflict Resolution is employed to formally model and analyze this conflict using the decision support system called GMCR+. The conflict analysis findings indicate that the dispute is enduring because of a lack of incentive and opportunity for any party to move beyond the present circumstances. Continued negotiations are not likely to resolve this conflict. A substantial change in the preferences or options of the disputants, or new governance tools will be required to move this conflict forward. This may hold lessons for future groundwater conflicts. It is, however, increasingly likely that the parties will require a third party intervention, such as equal apportionment by the US Supreme Court.


  • Trans-boundary resource management;
  • Groundwater;
  • Water rights;
  • Decision support system;
  • Conflict analysis

Group Members at AAG 2016: San Francisco

Looking forward to some sun (or fog) in California! Myself and two group members, Sara Harrison and Qing Lu are off to present at the Association of American Geographers annual conference in San Francisco. I’ve pasted the links to sessions below. Also check out other Geothink.ca presenters as well. Hope to see you there!

The Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers will be in San Francisco, CA from March 29 to April 2.

Sara Harrison

Crowdsourcing in Emergency Management: A comparative analysis of crowdsourcing adoption by governments in the United States and Canada


Qing Lu 

Potential and challenges of mobile technologies in the public sector: a case study of 311 requests in Edmonton, Canada


Peter Johnson

Reflecting on the Success of Open Data: How Municipal Governments Evaluate Open Data Programs



Measuring the Value and Impact of Open Data: Recruiting Doctoral Students

I’ve recently been successful with obtaining five years of funding from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Early Researcher Award (ERA). This generous funding will allow me to measure the value and impact of open data initiatives, assessing how open data is accessed, used, and exploited. This research will directly impact how governments provide open data and how stakeholders such as private developers, other governments, non-profits, and citizens build applications and businesses models that rely on open data.

As part of this award, I am now currently recruiting for graduate students (PhD students in particular) that are interested in working with me on open data topics, with a focus on government provision, measuring value, and the development of metrics. If you are interested in these topics, please take a look at my comments for prospective students and the Faculty of Environment Dean’s Doctoral Initiative page for funding opportunities.

This work will build on my current open data work as a part of the SSHRC-funded Partnership Grant geothink.ca, led by Dr. Renee Sieber at McGill University.

New Publication: Evolving Relationships in Community Participatory Geoweb Projects

At long last, a team publication from the GEOIDE grant The Participatory Geoweb has been published in ACME journal. This paper, co-authored by myself, Jon Corbett, Chris Gore, Pamela Robinson, Renee Sieber, and Patrick Allen, takes a critical view of the general enthusiasm for Geoweb projects. We challenge the commonly held notions that the Geoweb is ‘easy’, and highlight several implementation challenges derived from a variety of case studies. For those working with the Geoweb, crowdsourcing, and VGI, I would recommend this as a good overview of the challenges of both developing these types of tools and implementing them within a community context. It’s open-access, so please check it out!


Civic open data at a crossroads: Dominant models and current challenges

I’ve co-authored an exciting new paper with Dr. Renee Sieber from McGill University. It is currently online first with Government Information Quarterly. With this piece we take a look at the dominant models of open data provision by government and start to lay out what the challenges are for delivering open data. We tried to make this both a reflective look at where open data is, and also to push civic open data forwards, examining how open data works as part of open government strategies. I’ve copied the highlights below. A pre-print copy is available.


  • We define four main models for how government delivers open data; data over the wall, code exchange, civic issue tracker, and participatory open data.
  • We define challenges for the continued delivery of open data, including; conflicting motivations, the shifting role of government, and the fragility of ‘mission accomplished’.
  • We propose that open data be framed as more than provision, but rather as way for government to interact with citizens.

Esri Canada Centres of Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge 2015

This is a guest post by graduate student Qing (Lucy) Liu about her team’s experience at the ESRI Canada App Challenge:

Esri Canada Centres of Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge By Qing (Lucy) Lu

The ECCE App Challenge is a coding completion held by Esri Canada. Started in February 27, 2015, teams of participants were given one week to develop an innovative app using open data and Esri software. The apps to be developed should be on some aspect of government services in Canada, for any of the following themes:

  • Housing
  • Health (human and/or animal/environmental)
  • Parks and recreation
  • Education, including daycare
  • Public/private transport, including infrastructure
  • Garbage collection/snow/branch removal
  • Emergency management
  • Information services (online information access and use
  • Utilities

Chen Chen and I teamed up with Jingwen Huang (a MSc student working with Dr. Su-Yin Tan) and participated in this competition. We named our team as WATERMELON for two reasons. Firstly, with symmetrically distributed stripes that can be seen as longitudes, watermelon is a fruit that look most similar to an earth. Secondly, we are following two leading cell phone companies that also choose a fruit as their names, which are Apple and Blackberry.

Chen, Jingwen, and Qing

Inspired by the theme of World Health Day 2015, “Food Safety: from far to plate, make food safe”, we decided to focus on food safety field. Region of Waterloo happened to provide Food Premise Inspections dataset, we decided to develop a WebGIS application that can be used to help consumers choose right restaurants.

The data used was obtained from Open Data Catalogue held by Region of Waterloo. It represents food safety inspections and re-inspections for geographically fixed food premises. Web AppBuilder was used to build our web application.

The map is composed of two layers; one represents a heatmap of critical infractions and the other contains points of food facilities. The heatmap is presented from red to grey based on the number of critical infractions inspected, and food facilities with the most number of critical infractions are shown in red while those with the least number are represented in grey. The two layers are displayed on the basemap of Streets by default, and the users can select their preferred basemaps. Information of a particular food facility can be displayed once a food facility point is selected, including facility name, address, telephone, number of critical infractions and number of uncritical infractions. In addition, queries are enabled for users to extract detailed infraction information including inspection date, whether a particular infraction is critical and a brief description of the infraction. Users can make the queries by specifying the facility name or a range of dates, and inspection information of facilities with the names specified or inspections carried out between the dates selected will be returned to the users. Further, users can select facilities on the attribute table, and the selected points will be highlighted on the map. On the side of the web page, general information of food safety is displayed, from which users can find instructions on how to report food illness, information of food safety training courses as well as contact information of Public Health.

In addition to developing the web application, we also created a pitch video that describes the usage and characteristics of the application. All the comic pictures were hand-painted by Chen Chen.

Participating in this competition is a great experience for all of us. We have explored government open data, new products and resources offered by Esri. Especially, WebApp Builder is very useful to build GIS applications that can run across any device. Ready-to-use widgets and some app templates save time and efforts for GIS people who are not necessarily skilled at writing codes, and enable developers to focus more on spatial analysis. ArcGIS online is a great tool for creating maps that can be viewed in a browser, desktop or mobile device. Compared to Desktop ArcGIS, it is intuitive and very easy for people without GIS background to create customized maps. One of the limitations of ArcGIS online is that it is not fully free to users. Users are required to buy ArcGIS online annual subscription once their 60-day trial ends. In addition, attribute names cannot be edited via ArcGIS online. This could be a problem as cause some confusions would be caused to end users of the maps if attribute names are not straightforward. Take our case as an example, the attributes of selected points are shown to users. As the data contain redundant attributes, and some attribute names are not straightforward, some useless information is provided, but there is no way to select attributes to show and change the display names of attributes.

Chen drawing graphics for the pitch video

In addition to experimenting with the products and tools, we gained experience in developing a complete web application product as we were also required to provide mission statement, characteristics statement, readme file and pitch video. These files are also very important as they are used for introducing and promoting our product to customers. Traditional GIS courses provide limited opportunities to experiment with new products related to spatial analysis, and they usually focus on very classic GIS concepts and GIS problems. Due to the rapidly advancing information technologies and fierce competitions between service providers, it is likely that students will find what they learn in school is out of date and of little use once they enter the workforce. In recent years, location data has been put enormous attention to, and GIS problems as well as data have entered into new stage. For example, open data provided by government and user-generated data are two new types of data, which are still at the early stage of research. I would recommend that the courses offered by institutions of higher education adapt the learning materials so that students are able to solve problems of the time.

Research on GIS, Open Data, and Mobile Technology, supervised by Peter A. Johnson at the University of Waterloo

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