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GIS & Data

What is Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)?

Volunteered geographic information (VGI), sometimes referred to as community mapping, is data that is collected and added to maps by ordinary people that often do not have a GIS, cartography or geography background. It is part of a larger trend that is often referred to as citizen science.

The benefits of VGI include the collections of large amounts of data in a short amount of time, which would not otherwise be possible given limited staffing and budgets. VGI has been used during natural and human-made disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti to assist rescue, health and aid workers get to the people in need of help quickly and efficiently. Often people in certain areas have an intimate understanding of their region. They represent some of the  best people to provide this data, even if they do not have the technical background.

Challenges with VGI include ensuring the accuracy of the data. Access to technology to collect and share data can also be an obstacle, particularly in remote areas. With the large amounts of data being gathered, organizing, storing and sharing it can also become an issue. Finally, questions of privacy, copyright and licensing can hinder VGI.

For more information on VGI, check out these resources:

  • Baumann, J. (2010). The role of volunteered geographic information in a postmodern GIS world: A conversation with Michael Goodchild. ArcUser, 14(2), 20-21. http://www.esri.com/news/arcuser/0410/files/vgi.pdf
  • Goodchild, M. F. (2007). Citizens as sensors: The world of volunteered geography. GeoJournal, 69, 211-221. DOI 10.1007/s10708-007-9111-y
  • See, L., Mooney, P., Foody, G., Bastin, L., Comber, A., Estima, J., . . .Rutzinger, M. (2016). Crowdsourcing, citizen science or volunteered geographic information? The current state of crowdsourced geographic information. ISPRS The International Journal of Geo-Information, 5(5), 55 - 78. doi:10.3390/ijgi5050055