Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)
Volunteered geographic information, that is, geospatial content generated by non-professionals using mapping systems available on the Internet, offers possibilities for government agencies at all levels to enhance their geospatial databases. The presumed inaccuracy of VGI is often cited as a barrier to its wider use by official mapping agencies. CEGIS research has shown that some participatory mapping projects can produce data that are as accurate as those produced by these agencies. Moreover, in some instances, the "eyes on the ground" of VGI have an advantage over more expensive accuracy testing by official agencies because contributors have unique local knowledge. CEGIS researchers analyzed the accuracy of data produced by volunteers in an early phase of The National Map Corps. The data on structures—schools, hospitals and the like—contributed by these volunteers proved to be sufficiently accurate to incorporate into the official databases that comprise The National Map. CEGIS researchers are also exploring user motivations, changes to business models and institutional cultures, online community formation, and policy barriers to VGI.
Social Media and Crowdsourcing
A major application area of participatory mapping and crowdsourcing is in the crisis domain, particularly around natural hazards such as hurricanes and earthquakes. After a crisis event, different communities will use online mapping and social media such as Twitter to communicate information about the event. CEGIS researchers have produced a crowdsourcing framework to guide the development of future crowdsourcing projects for hazards science projects at the USGS. One project currently being developed is to test how different crowds can use remotely sensed aerial images to assess sea level rise and hurricane damage to coastal areas in the aftermath of extreme storms. Crowdsourcing the analysis of coastal imagery has the potential to improve the predictive models of coastal change. The primary goal of this research is to investigate the opportunities and challenges with integrating official and crowdsourced geospatial data around hazards not only for scientific research but also for operational purposes in emergency management. Understanding the potential of crowdsourcing for the crisis domain can inform future applications of The National Map for disaster response and risk reduction.
Citizen Science covers a wide range of projects in which non-professionals collaborate with scientists. At the USGS, these may involve observing the occurrence of particular species in order to contribute data to a national database, analyzing fallout from the ash plumes of volcanoes in Alaska, collecting samples from streams and analyzing the chemical composition of the water, using the Internet to map structures for digital topographic maps, or recording the effects of earthquakes. CEGIS researchers are investigating participant motivations, data collection, the use of mobile technologies, and policy issues surrounding Citizen Science at the USGS in order to recommend the best practices and strategies for the integration of these projects into USGS science. The ultimate goal is to both strengthen USGS science and provide opportunities for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education for citizens.