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!
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:
- 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
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.
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.
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.
Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a team that has been awarded a SSHRC Partnership Grant for a 5-year study of “How the Geospatial Web 2.0 is reshaping government-citizen interactions”, also called Geothink. This is an unparalleled opportunity to make a long-term impact on emerging research themes of open data, citizen digital participation, and to trace the changing nature of geospatial data creation and use. A description from the grant application:
“Major technology firms like Google, Microsoft and Apple are competing for dominance in web and mobile mapping. These new technologies represent not only a multi-billion dollar industry but a revolution in mapping. Firms build platforms like Google Maps and Bing Maps; individuals “mash” them up on the web or in location-based applications (apps). People contribute the data; they tweet street conditions; their mobile apps deliver directions to the nearest coffee shop, whose reviews also were contributed by individuals. Governments add to the data stream by increasing accessibility of their data, like realtime transportation information. These new forms of map making, called the Geospatial Web 2.0 (Geoweb), are important for Canada, known as a world leader in map making and geographic technologies but whose leadership has since waned.
Our research untangles the hype of the Geoweb. The hype is that the Geoweb increases government efficiency and transparency because more data is online and because non-experts provide data formerly the domain of government. New apps promise to improve citizen participation in a global conversation about where they live and even rewire power relationships. Behind the hype a rapidly evolving Geoweb might rework concepts of individual privacy and collective community. A lack of funding or staff can prevent Geoweb adoption by government; status quo approaches and complex legislation can block efforts to improve government data sharing and may close channels for direct citizen input. Most governments struggle to open their data for sharing or find it difficult to measure the accuracy or authenticity of crowdsourced data. Web 2.0 can reduce respect for experts and increase a tendency for people to be “alone together”, interacting exclusively online.”
I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the recent work that our team at McGill has been involved with as part of the Geoweb for Community Development in Rural Quebec project. One of our partners, the Corporation de développement de la Rivière Noire (CDRN) has become very involved with developing Geoweb sites. The first, Géoweb Junior, was developed during summer 2011 by Andréane and Pierre, two undergraduate research assistants at McGill University. Géoweb Junior was a test case for a more detailed Geoweb tool on forest management that is currently being rolled out by CDRN with McGill support. Géoweb Junior provided students (approx. age 10) at a summer day camp organized by CDRN with info sheets to go and gather information on the local environment.
Students collected all manner of observations, from environmental problems, to species of wildlife. Many of them even drew pictures. This information was plotted on a paper map attached to the observation sheet. Students then input this information onto a Google Maps-based Geoweb site and observations were categorized.
In this way, students were able to participate in the data gathering aspect of environmental science, demonstrating how their local information could be georeferenced, and shared publicly via the Geoweb. You can take a look at their observations on the CDRN web page devoted to the project. This type of project, though fairly simple, demonstrates the ability of the Geoweb as a tool for a variety of community-based organization tasks. These could include data collection, participation, discussions, information and data sharing, and many others.
Technical details: This Geoweb implementation uses a Google Maps API tool (V2). This is hosted on a separate server and integrated into the WordPress CMS (rivierenoire.org) using an iFrame tag. Points that are added via double clicking on the map are saved in the database and can be edited or deleted by the user with an appropriate password. We plan to make this system available as an open-source template for anyone to use.
As part of the project “Geoweb and Community Development in Quebec“, two teams of McGill School of the Environment students spent the fall term 2010 working with a community-based watershed monitoring agency CDRN (Corporation de développement de la rivière Noire) to explore the potential for the Geoweb to serve as a conduit for citizen participation in watershed management. These student groups developed two tools, conducted a series of workshops with community members, and produced reports and instructional materials. McGill Public Affairs produced a short film about the group activities that gives an excellent overview of the project and the potential for the Geoweb in a community development context.
One of the most exciting Geoweb developments of 2010 has to be www.crowdmap.com, a fully packaged, hosted, user-contributed mapping solution produced by the non-profit tech company Ushahidi. You may have heard of Ushahidi, the developers of collaborative map-making technology first used to gather reports of violence from cell phone users during the 2007 Kenyan election. This technology has since been used in many other crisis mapping situations, from the earthquake in Haiti, to the recent New York snowstorm.
Briefly, both the Ushahidi and the Crowdmap.com platforms allow users to contribute spatially-referenced data, such as comments, observations, photos, or other hyperlinked media to a map. Of course you can do this with Google Maps, particularly Google MyMap or with sites developed with the Google Maps API. Crowdmap provides a near-instant, no-coding setup that improves on a Google Map because it can accept data coming from wide variety of input methods and requires no login. We all know that logins are a huge impedance to participation (though there are benefits as well), but the ability to accept input from web users, SMS/text message, twitter #hashtag, and email makes Crowdmap a potentially very powerful tool.
Ushahidi and Crowdmap were originally targeted towards crisis mapping, however there are countless uses for the Crowdmap platform. I just checked the Ushahidi twitter stream and one that jumped out at me is the ATM mapping in Manchester, NH implementation. Setting up this site was as simple and creating a user account and ticking several preference boxes. Another crisis-related use of Crowdmap that is starting to trend on twitter is the Queensland floods map.
Any way that you can think of mobilizing a community to address some spatially-related issue, Crowdmap can help. How are you currently using (or planning to use) Crowdmap?
A recent post on the Quebec government GéoInfo site gives a good general outline of my current project investigating the use of Geoweb technologies within community development in the region of Acton, Quebec. The article is in French, but for you non French speakers, it describes the recent interest in using geospatial Web 2.0 platforms, such as Google Maps as a way to increase community participation within economic development. The region of Acton, located in the Monteregie between Montreal and Quebec City, is a perfect setting for this project, with many complex and often competing issues, such as agricultural diversification, tourism development, water management and quality, and negotiating the impact of stringent government land use regulations. This is an area that is both unique in its outward looking activities (see the excellent economic development web site), and also typical of many regions in Quebec and Canada that are struggling with rapid economic, social, and environmental challenges.
For this project we are liberating small amounts of government geospatial data and providing this data and tools to community members within an economic development context. This process will serve as a pilot project for other regions of Quebec to determine the benefits of the Geoweb for increasing community participation in decision-making. How does the Geoweb enhance or constrain the ability of citizens to interact with their elected and non-elected representatives? What volunteered geographic information can citizens contribute to better inform the decision-making process? How can citizens use the Geoweb to contest the “official” government perspective? These are all questions that support research in what is often termed Government 2.0, a dramatic re-imaging of how citizen and government interact.
This research is supported by grants from a variety of Quebec government departments, but most centrally by the Appui au passage à la société de l’information (APSI) program funded by the Quebec Ministry of Governmental Services (MSG). I am very excited to be playing a key role in this project as primary investigator and look forward to posting research findings and progress on this blog.