Tag Archives: Jon Corbett

Rural open data: more than just a technical issue

By Suthee Sangiambut

The conversation around open data is most commonly found at the city level. Ian Parfitt, GIS instructor and Coordinator of Selkirk College’s Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre, has a project looking at open data for rural communities. Parfitt’s past challenges in gaining access to data led to his project, which is helping to develop open data for planning in rural British Columbia. In an interview, Parfitt talked about issues of scale at both demand and supply sides for open data in the region stating that, “in the smaller communities, even digitisation is an issue. Some small communities still use paper maps.” Regarding the digital divide, internet connectivity in rural Canada lags behind larger urban centres, but it is unclear whether the pool of skills to draw upon is smaller than in cities says Parfitt. However, he noted that “if there is a divide in skills amongst users, that is likely to change.” The province of British Columbia is in the process of making programming an integral part of the school curriculum while initiatives such as CODE BC, supported by the provincial government, connect teachers with teaching material. Parfitt also notes that rural tech communities, such as in Nelson, BC are continuing to grow.

Some of the disparities between urban and rural data collection are due to population – larger population centres with more institutions and infrastructure simply produce more data. With economies of scale and an economic stimulus, it makes sense to have real-time data collection and analysis. Cities are also host to more consumers of data of all kinds. Parfitt says that it is “all about scale. Since federal institutions are interested in data they can roll out nationwide, and local governments focus on their own scales, rural areas tend to get left behind. At the same time, national and sub-national decision makers tend to be quite far away.”

Without the resources of federal government or a large municipality, rural areas face relatively high, and potentially unjustifiable costs when it comes to geospatial data collection and analysis. However, for Parfitt, rural data collection is more than just a cost issue. While he agreed that “centralization would help in certain cases”, particularly when it comes to the work on data standards of his own research group, Parfitt also emphasised that empowerment and autonomy are important to keep decision-making local. This ensures that “data serves some purpose and that those purposes are determined locally.” This, he admits, can be difficult when rural governments produce data in collaboration with other levels of government. The needs of rural communities can also be very different from urban communities such as risks of natural hazards, “we live in a mountainous area with big lakes. The transportation system is fragile. When only one road goes along the lake, a single fire or landslide could isolate the community.” For this reason, Parfitt’s research group is focusing on open data for planning around natural hazards.

Putting open data into the regional context, Dr. Jon Corbett (Geothink co-applicant, University of British Columbia Okanagan) says it is “completely different usership. Often, data has not been collected and archived because the needs for up-to-date information are not the same as in cities.” Therefore, rural data tends to be more static. However, Corbett continued, “this does not mean that legislators aren’t still subject to the same demands and requirements for participation, engagement, and informed decision-making.”

The effects of data release may also be different in rural areas says Corbett, “industry around land, such as resource extraction, use data often created and curated by government. If that data is made available, it would be good. On the other hand, look at issues around pipelines and dams. If we made that data available, it could even have adverse effects. Data for countermapping is a good idea, but sometimes that process can be appropriated by all kinds of groups, particularly those already in power.” Corbett highlighted that rural open data brings up even more issues of contention when put in context with First Nations, who need access to data to support land claims and review resource extraction proposals.

To address the above issues, Parfitt’s project is looking to collaborate with regional districts to make data available across communities. Key questions being asked are, “who is producing data, why, and how?” For more information on Ian Parfitt’s research group, visit the Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre website.

Dr. Corbett offered up some food for thought, “in the spirit of sharing government data, why don’t we expand our data repositories and include those outside government?”

On the Hunt for Social Justice and Empowerment

By Logan Cochrane, Mark Gill, Jon Corbett

The participatory geoweb has the potential to transform relations of power – who contributes and names places, what is excluded and labeled. This transformation can occur through newfound opportunities for engagement and giving voice to spatially relevant issues. In the 1990s, GIScience recognized this potential and made explicit the importance that social issues would, and should take within the discipline and practice. Geothink did likewise, making social justice one of its key themes. While Web 2.0 and the geoweb has promised greater forms of equality, particularly through supporting user generated content, we know that maps remain value-laden, and are embedded with particular power relations that are not necessarily equally distributed. Social justice is a term that describes the equitable distribution of resources, opportunities, and privileges within society. Amidst the Web 2.0 enthusiasm, we were interested in how issues of social justice are being addressed within the context of the geoweb in academic literature. You might be surprised what we found.

We first set out to take stock of the current state of GIScience literature (Cochrane et al, 2016). Using the ten most highly ranked academic journals by GIScientists. We assessed ten years of literature. We narrowed the more than 14,000 articles published from 2005 to 2014 to those having some relationship to the geoweb and/or crowdsourcing, using broad and inclusive terms. Of the resulting sub-set, we searched for social justice, and terms related to it, for example empowerment. We found that only three articles engaged explicitly with social justice . Even more surprising, terms related to social justice (empowerment, marginalization, social change, environmental justice, spatial justice, etc), were limited to the marginal periphery of these top tier journals. In other words, these ideas tended not to be the main content of the research. We argue that GIScience runs the risk of missing important insights , as mapmakers around the world are engaged in practice, but ignored in top tier GIScience journals.

Finding that social justice was more likely to be a footnote than a substantial focus of the research endeavour or engagement, we then wondered about empowerment. We had searched for it in the original article, but wanted to expand the search (adding ten more years of journals, 1996-2014, and using an open search rather than specific journals) and go into more detail (Corbett, Cochrane and Gill, 2016). Empowerment is of particular interest for GIScience because so many assume the use of the participatory geoweb results in empowerment. While the usage of the term has increased with time, the concept was consistently ill-defined and insufficiently measured. Amazingly, almost one quarter (24%) of the articles that mentioned “empowerment” were not included in the main text, but in places such as the works cited list or an endnote. Even of those that did engage with the concept in a substantial way, only a minority defined the term, fewer still explained how they measured it, and only five listed the specific metrics. We argue that researchers should make a greater effort to adequately define what they mean by “empowerment” and provide a way to actually assess how projects are providing that particular empowerment.

These two papers act as key reference points for those interested in the participatory geoweb. While our papers do not negate the potential for positive impacts, they highlight the fact that research commonly does not engage with social justice, and when terms like empowerment are used, they are often not defined or cannot justify claims of positive impact. As Web 2.0 technologies encourage people to take part in creating knowledge, through maps or otherwise, we need researchers to study how participatory and crowdsourcing approaches to map making intersect with issues of social justice. Based on these findings, we hope to draw attention to this important aspect of GIScience which has long been identified as a crucial area of research.

Dr. Corbett's research team are tackling issues of empowerment via the geoweb and have developed tools such as GeoLive

Dr. Corbett’s research team are tackling issues of empowerment via the geoweb and have developed tools such as GeoLive

For more information, see the two papers this post was based on:
Cochrane, L., Corbett, J., Evans, M. and Gill, M. 2016. Searching for Social Justice in GIScience Publications. Cartography and Geographic Information Science http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15230406.2016.1212673

Corbett, J., Cochrane, L. and Gill, M. 2016. Powering Up: Revisiting Participatory GIS and Empowerment. The Cartographic Journal http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00087041.2016.1209624

Local News Map Will Be First To Highlight Disparities in Coverage Across Canada

The Local News Map launched by Geothink Co-Applicant Jon Corbett and Partner April Lindgren asks Canadian communities to report how news coverage has changed for them.

The Local News Map launched by Geothink Co-Applicant Jon Corbett and Partner April Lindgren asks Canadian communities to report how news coverage has changed for them.

By Drew Bush

The impact of newsroom cutbacks, consolidations, and closures across Canada will be the focus of a new crowdsourced online geoweb map. The public can contribute to it now—with the full map available online this June.

“The idea of the map is it will allow us to gather data that we haven’t been able to gather on our own just because there is so much data out there,” said Geothink Partner April Lindgren, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, and founding director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

The map will be one part of a project (Election News, local information and community discourse: Is Twitter the new public sphere?) that’s headed by Jaigris Hodson, an assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Royal Roads University. Geothink Co-Applicant Jon Corbett, an associate professor in Community, Culture and Global Studies at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, helped design it with his graduate students in the Spatial Information for Community Engagement (SPICE Lab) using the GeoLive platform featured in previous Geothink research.

The project stems from a belief that Canadians who live in smaller cities, suburban municipalities, and rural areas typically have fewer media outlets to turn to for media coverage. For that reason, the project’s list of communities includes municipalities that have experienced a major disruption in local news sources (such as the closure of a daily newspaper or television station).

“What we did is we went back to 2008 and we tried to find all the instances where a local news organization had either closed or scaled back service or something new had been launched,” Lindgren told Geothink.ca in March while the map was being developed. “And so we populated the map as much as possible with information that we could find. But obviously there is lots and lots of other information out there that’s happened since 2008. And there’s probably lots of stuff going on right now that we don’t know about.”

“So the idea of the crowdsourcing is it will allow us to obviously draw upon the expertise and knowledge of the local news landscape of people who live in communities,” she added. “And they’ll be able to contribute those pieces of information to the map to make it more robust and comprehensive.”

The map can document gains, losses, service increases, and service reductions at local online, radio, television and newspaper outlets across the country. Now that the map is open to contributions, members of the public can add information about changes to the local news landscape in their own communities. The map’s administrators will verify user submitted content so that the map remains accurate.

For a closer look at this project and the map, check out our video where Corbett walks the user through a step-by-step view of the map and how to contribute, and Lindgren talks about the importance of this work.

Making the Map

Many researchers have looked at the critical information needs of communities on topics such as education, health, security and emergency responses, Lindgren said. This in turn led her to think about how we know if there is adequate media provision in Canadian communities, and where media have been lost or added. Still another related question is what online local news sites or social media have sprung up to fill any missing gaps.

Through attendance at last year’s Geothink Annual General Meeting in Waterloo, Lindgren was put in touch with Corbett. Eight months later, they had created a beta version of the map completed that included a couple hundred entries. Some emerging trends in the data include the consolidation and closure of community newspapers in Quebec and British Columbia.

“April had this idea that she wanted to better communicate information about how news media had changed over the period of the last eight years or so in Canada,” Corbett says of his meeting last May with Lindgren that began work by his lab to develop the map. “Because there really has been a lot of activity. Some newspapers have gotten larger. Others have closed down. There is a general move to web based media.”

His group has spent months ironing out the technical details of making this map presentable and ready for launch. Lindgren has provided feedback and advice on it through each stage.

“It’s been an awful lot more complicated than we originally intended precisely because there’s been so much activity and there’s so much difference in this type of activity across Canada,” Corbett added. “For example, we have four major types of media. We have newspaper, we have radio, we have TV, and we have the web. And then within each one of those different types, we have a whole series of other information we need to convey.”

For example, the newspaper category of the map alone contains free dailies, free weeklies, and paid newspapers. It also must contain a measure of how such types have either declined or increased in different localities through time.

“And so we see all of this sort of compounding levels of complexity around the data that we need to present,” he said. “Because of course one of the problems with maps—Maps to present information in an effective way require an awful lot of thought about the types of information being presented and how you actually present that type of information. It needs to be beautiful, it needs to be engaging, but it also needs to be informative.”

Corbett’s group has used color, typography, and more to make the map easily accessible to users. But he notes it is still a challenge to display all the transformations from January 2008 to the present. And the issue of time—as it’s portrayed in the map—will only become more important as users begin to use it to display events taking place during specific years.

Getting Involved

Lindgren and Corbett are both excited for the map’s launch and the public’s participation. Right now the map needs richer input on new online news sites launched in Canada, Lindgren said. This is an issue she plans to keep an eye on when users begin contributing in greater frequency to determine to what extent these organizations are viable and filling gaps left by the closure of local newspapers and television stations.

Lindgren also believes the map has wide appeal to specific communities including local governments, individual community members, and journalists. She points out that in coming weeks there is a number of ways for the public to get involved.

“First of all, when they add a piece of data, they can comment. Or they can comment on any other developments on the map that they want. And we’ve also incorporated a survey so that people can fill out the survey and tell us a little bit about where they go for their local news. Whether they feel adequately informed about various topics ranging from politics to education to other local issues.”

In case you missed it in the links above, find the map here to contribute your information: https://localnewsmap.geolive.ca/

If you have thoughts or questions about the article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

Geothink in the Okanagan: A Winter Student Exchange


This is a guest post from Geothink Student Tenille Brown, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. She writes about her experiences as the first student in Geothink’s student exchange program.


By Tenille Brown

This past winter, I had the opportunity to be the inaugural ‘student visiting researcher’ through a new Geothink learning initiative focusing on student exchanges. Geothink is a Canada wide, multi-disciplinary grant. In practical terms this means there are university partners in disciplines as diverse as GIScience, urban planning, geography, communication and law. The visiting researcher programme has been established to give students the opportunity to see how other disciplines work. Through this programme, I — a graduate student in law at the University of Ottawa, and member of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre — found myself at a lab at UBC Okanagan. Professor Jon Corbett, a Geothink co-applicant, hosted me as I learnt about the lab, university and the city of Kelowna.

The SPICE Lab: Spatial Information for Community Mapping

The SPICE Lab, Spatial Information for Community Mapping, is housed at the Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice (CSSEJ) at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus. Led by Professor Corbett, the Centre looks at digital cartographic processes and tools that can be used by local communities to help express their relationship to, and knowledge of, their land and resources. A mapping tool that we have heard about at Geothink in the past, Geolive, was developed here. I was able to get an inside look at the mechanics of the Geolive system and learned about the process of collecting and coding the mapped information. As well as learning about the huge amount of resources that go into maintaining a system like Geolive (important information for the arm-chair geo-cartographers out there). I was also fortunate to get a preview of a recent collaboration between the Geolive team and Professor April Lindgren, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism and, academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, and Geothink partner. Their project map titled, “The Local News Map: Tell us what is happening to local news in your community,” explores the issue of news poverty in Canada at a time of significant disruption in the news industry. The crowdsourced map will be available to the public so people can add information about the closure, launch or merger of local news outlets in their community. This collaboration between journalism and mapping was conceived at the 2015 Geothink AGM and will go live in the coming weeks (read more about it here).

Geolive news poverty map

Other activities I got involved in during my short stay in BC, included, observing community interviews carried out by Ailsa Beischer a student of Professor Corbett as she interviewed public health offices about food security (you can read about her work in a recent publication here). My visit coincided with a graduate programme lecture in Indigenous research methodology hosted by the En’owkin Centre, a First Nations community centre in the Okanagan valley. Of course, I got the chance to visit local Okanagan cultural sites.

Okanagan Vineyards
So, what’s a law student to do in a geo-spatial lab?

One of the core aims of Geothink is interdisciplinary research. This is a logical research objective given how integral multiple perspectives are to citizen-engagement; but from the often-siloed academy, surprisingly difficult to implement. My research is focused on property law and liability issues. I ask questions about ownership and legal adjudication of land and property, but from an interdisciplinary – law and geography – perspective. Adopting insights put into practice by the SpICE lab, I ask how cyber-cartography and the geoweb could be adopted to support individual and community experiences of property and land in ways beyond typical legal adjudication. In particular, the work of Geolive provides an opportunity to look at how community needs can be documented, raising the potential for critical insights about governance of land.

The visiting researcher position provided me with the opportunity to learn about the research processes of another discipline, in ways that I do not get to in my daily research schedule. In practical terms, I am deeply interested in both the utility and accuracy of information contained in the geoweb, and how programmers navigate the pressures of coding information to capture communities’ perspectives. These considerations – of accuracy and perspective – are of course long standing preoccupations of the legal field. But seeing the disciplinary similarities was apparent to me by visiting the SpICE lab and seeing the development process first hand. Having the opportunity to engage directly with the processes of researching and realizing digital-mapping projects, has been an impactful experience for my academic research, collaborations with Geothink researchers and personally.

Thank you to the Geothink team for sending me to UBC Okanagan. A huge thank you to Professor Corbett and his wonderful community of the CSSEJ for their support for my visit.

If you would like more information about my visit, or are a Geothink student thinking about going but still have questions, then please reach out to me.

Tenille E. Brown is a PhD Candidate under Professor Elizabeth F. Judge at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, where she is also a student member of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre. Tenille’s research is in the areas of legal geography, including property, spatial and citizen engagement. Tenille can be reached via email at, tenille.brown@uottawa.ca, and on Twitter, @TenilleEBrown

Mapping Inclusive Employment: Community Engagement on the Participatory Geoweb

Project partners exploring the interactive map

Participants were asked to draw pictures representing the five stakeholder groups. The drawings formed the basis for the icons used on the map markers. Photo courtesy the SpICE Lab (Spatial Information for Community Engagement)

 

By Naomi Bloch

In British Columbia, researchers have been using a crowdsourced mapping tool to capture positive employment experiences of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Geothink co-applicant Jon Corbett, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, is one of several UBC contributors to the participatory research project. Recently, the group published findings from its two-year pilot program.

The project is a collaboration between government agencies, the University of British Columbia, as well as self-advocates with intellectual disabilities and community partners. It demonstrates how government and citizens can employ the geoweb and participatory mapping to address community issues. “What we wanted to do specifically,” said Corbett, “was create a crowdsourced tool that would enable people to share their positive experiences, so that other people with intellectual disabilities and their family members and employers and also service providers could come to the site and they could actually see examples of positive employment. And so then they could emulate that, and they could strategize around that.”

This required developing an online environment that could engage all the identified stakeholder groups. To accomplish this, the initiative turned to the GeoLive participatory mapping tool, developed by Corbett’s Spatial Information for Community Engagement (SpICE) Lab. The GeoLive platform is a key component of a number of Geothink partner projects.

According to Corbett, GeoLive was initially conceived as a means to better support excluded and marginalized populations. “We know that when we share information on the cloud we have no idea how that information will be re-purposed, re-used, or stored,” Corbett said. “It can reappear in ways where we might least expect it in the future. So we wanted to get away from that and provide a certain level of guarantee that the information that people shared through the map is actually uniquely stored on our own servers, and should they wish to delete it they can delete it and it will be deleted forever.”

Corbett and GeoLive programmer Nick Blackwell are able to work directly with community members to customize the platform based on user needs. The software, which is built around the familiar Google Maps API,  is now used both by community groups as well as academic researchers. In the process of working with their inclusive employment partners, Corbett and his colleagues gained new insights regarding some of the usability challenges on the participatory geoweb. These included spatial literacy issues, the need to make the platform more mobile-friendly and less reliant on keyboard interaction, as well as accommodating users who have limited familiarity with today’s social media conventions.

Self advocates with intellectual disabilities and other stakeholders collaborated with Corbett’s team to design, evaluate, and further customize the online mapping tool. The group then worked with individuals and organizations throughout the province to collect stories of successful and inclusive employment. Over eighty narratives are now included on the map. While some markers have simple text descriptions, others include video, audio, as well as photos.

The map now serves as a shared space for community engagement. At the same time, university researchers associated with the project have been able to analyze the collected stories to identify some of the common features described in participants’ positive employment experiences. Map contributors discuss issues such as the challenges of finding a job, as well as the social and practical factors that create an enriching work environment. These findings are expected to help inform best practice guidelines that can support employment services for people with intellectual disabilities in the future.

The map is now public, and anyone can contribute their own relevant experiences or explore other people’s stories at http://www.mappinginclusiveemployment.ca/.

Reference: Hole, R., Corbett, J., Cook, S., & de Raaf, S. (2015). Mapping inclusive employment practices for individuals with developmental disabilities: A participatory research mapping project. The BC Centre for Employment Excellence, 32 pages.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.

Spotlight on Recent Publications: Critical Reflections on Outcomes from Three Geoweb Partnerships

ACME_2015By Naomi Bloch

Exploring university–community partnerships

Participatory geospatial technologies have the potential to support and promote citizen engagement. This great promise has led to more collaborations between academics and community partners interested in pursuing this aim. In their recently published paper, “A web of expectations: Evolving relationships in community participatory geoweb projects,” four Geothink researchers and their colleagues cast a reflective eye on the participatory action research processes behind three completed geoweb partnership projects.

Co-author Jon Corbett, an associate professor in Community, Culture and Global Studies at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, sees their ACME journal article as helping to fill a gap in the geoweb literature.  “For me, one of the things I’m most interested in is how—in a truthful and well-positioned way—we can talk about the veracity of the work that we’ve done in regards to its ability to actually bring about impact and social change,” Corbett said.
In the article, the authors compare the different cases in order to consider some of the tangible, empirical challenges that the projects encountered, concentrating on the frictions that can occur where technical and social considerations intersect.

screenshot of local food map interface

Central Okanagan Community Food Map interface

Participatory geoweb initiatives commonly rely on out-of-the-box mapping tools. For these three projects, a central aim was to employ the expertise of the university researchers to co-develop and co-evaluate custom geospatial web tools that could address community partners’ objectives. Ideally, such collaborations can benefit all parties. Researchers can learn about the potential and the limitations of the geoweb as a tool for civic engagement while partners have the opportunity to reflect on their objectives and access a wider tool set for accomplishing them. In reality, collaborations require compromises and negotiations. The question then becomes: when are researchers’ academic objectives and partners’ community objectives truly complementary?

In the first case study, the geoweb was used to create a participatory business promotion website for a rural Quebec community, intended as one component of a larger regional economic development strategy. The second case was a collaboration between two university partners and a cultural heritage organization in Ontario. The partners hoped the customized online tool could “serve as a ‘living’ repository of cultural heritage information that was both accessible to the public and could facilitate the contribution of knowledge from the public.” In the third project, university researchers worked with government and grassroots organizations at local as well as provincial levels. The vision in this case was to enable non-expert community members in the Okanagan region to share their own knowledge and experiences about local food and its availability.

Corbett explained that in reflecting on their work, the researchers realized that as social scientists with very specific domains of expertise in political science, geographic information systems, and community research, “the types of skills we needed to negotiate the relationships were far different from the sorts of traditional disciplinary fields that we work in.”  Their collaborators tended to identify the academics more as technical consultants than scholars. As the authors write, “most academics remain untrained in software development, design, marketing, long-term application management and updating, legal related issues, [and] terms of service.”

Although the three collaborations were quite different in terms of the publics involved as well as the negotiated objectives of the projects and the tools employed to achieve them, the authors identified several key common themes. The authors note, “In all three case studies, we found that the process of technology development had substantial influence on the relationship between university developers and community organization partners. This influence was seen in the initial expectations of community partners, differential in power between researcher and community, sustainability of tools and collaborations, and the change from research collaboration towards ‘deal making.'”

In the end, Corbett said, “All of the projects were extremely precarious in how we could assign value or success to them. The paper was really an academic reflection on the outcomes of those three different projects.”

Abstract

New forms of participatory online geospatial technology have the potential to support citizen engagement in governance and community development. The mechanisms of this contribution have predominantly been cast in the literature as ‘citizens as sensors’, with individuals acting as a distributed network, feeding academics or government with data. To counter this dominant perspective, we describe our shared experiences with the development of three community-based Geospatial Web 2.0 (Geoweb) projects, where community organizations were engaged as partners, with the general aim to bring about social change in their communities through technology development and implementation. Developing Geoweb tools with community organizations was a process that saw significant evolution of project expectations and relationships. As Geoweb tool development encountered the realities of technological development and implementation in a community context, this served to reduce organizational enthusiasm and support for projects as a whole. We question the power dynamics at play between university researchers and organizations, including project financing, both during development and in the long term. How researchers managed, or perpetuated, many of the popular myths of the Geoweb, namely that it is inexpensive and easy to use (thought not to build, perhaps) impacted the success of each project and the sustainability of relationships between researcher and organization. Ultimately, this research shows the continuing gap between the promise of online geospatial technology, and the realities of its implementation at the community level.

Reference: Johnson, Peter A, Jon Corbett, Christopher Gore, Pamela J Robinson, Patrick Allen, and Renee E Sieber. A web of expectations: Evolving relationships in community participatory geoweb projects. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 2015, 14(3), 827-848.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.

Mapping to Empower Excluded Populations with Jon Corbett at University of British Columbia

Jon Corbett is an associate professor in the University of British Columbia's Community, Culture and Global Studies program and co-director of the Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice.

Jon Corbett is an associate professor in the University of British Columbia’s Community, Culture and Global Studies program and co-director of the Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice.

By Drew Bush

In our daily usage, most maps contain a logical representation of a city’s streets or a forest’s hiking trails that allows us to safely navigate to new locations. For many indigenous and excluded populations, maps can play a more fundamental role.

Jon Corbett, an Associate Professor in Community, Culture and Global Studies at the University of British Columbia, has spent decades investigating how cartographic processes and tools used by local communities help express their relationships to and knowledge of land and resources. Corbett has worked in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and in British Columbia with several First Nations communities.

“Often maps, although they are powerful tools, they don’t tell the full story because a lot of indigenous knowledge and a lot of local knowledge is tied up in storytelling, and histories, and is built around specific landmarks within a particular town within a particular place,” he told Geothink last June.

To better capture this relationship with the land, Corbett and his graduate student Nicholas Blackwell first began building their Geolive platform in 2008. Geolive is an online interactive mapping interface based on the Google Maps API that allows administrators to create public maps and place user-generated information on those maps while users can add content and communicate.

In other words, users of this platform can add attributes to specific locations on the map using text, photos, video or other media to show how specific places get used by the community. As the platform has gotten more sophisticated, users have gained the ability to moderate each other, filter info with key words, and use mobile devices to contribute short videos or photos.

The most important element is that users take ownership of the place they live and contribute important local knowledge. Corbett got his start doing this type of work before programs such as Google Earth existed. In fact, he literally used sticks, sand and stones when he began thinking about how to empower often excluded communities with maps during his Ph.D. research in Borneo.

“I am really interested in how maps can become transformative agents in change, particularly social change,” he said. “So my research in the past has involved working with a lot of excluded populations, often indigenous population in different places in the world. Looking at how mapping can become a tool to express a different relationship, or a different set of experiences, or a different set of stories as it relates to that particular group and the land on which they live.”

His work has evolved from using sketch mapping where participants draw rivers, streets, and watershed boundaries from memory to scale mapping where they add or fill in locally-based information on scale maps or three-dimensional modelling where participants build a physical, tactile terrain map. Of the digital, he comments that some elements can be lost from a process that once involved using what was on the ground.

“There is this funny thing that occurs as you move from more tactile, more tangible forms of participation mapping into the digital world,” he said after enumerating the many advantages of digital mapping with communities. “In a sense, your own relationship to those types of projects diminishes as you become more virtual.”

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

Geothink Summer Institute to Kick-off Monday, June 15, 2015!

The   Environment 3 Building (EV3), at the University of Waterloo, where the summer institute will be held.

The Environment 3 Building (EV3), at the University of Waterloo, where the summer institute will be held.

By Drew Bush

Get ready Geothinkers, this year’s Geothink Summer Institute will run from June 15-16, 2015 and will be held at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. Check in at our Summer Institute web site, where we’ll be live tweeting the day’s events.

The agenda is jam-packed with big names in the emergent field of crowdsourcing, which one Geothinker calls “a web-based business model that harnesses the creative solutions of a distributed network of individuals.” That’s from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalistm and Communication Assistant Professor Daren Brabham, who will be giving one of the morning’s first sessions to more than 30 undergraduate and graduate students who have registered to attend.

Other speakers include Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Monica Stephens, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at State University of New York at Buffalo and Geothink Head Renee Sieber, McGill University associate professor in the Department of Geography and School of Environment. Check out the full agenda here.

Speakers will explore topics related to crowdsourcing in a hyperlocal world where geospatial technologies like Google Maps and GPS-enabled cellphones enable massive quantities of data to be collected. In today’s world, there are tweets about potholes, mobile applications which deliver directions to the nearest coffee shop, and large databases only recently opened by many governments around the world.

The summer institute is hosted by Geothink, a five-year partnership grant awarded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in 2012. The partnership includes researchers in different institutions across Canada, as well as partners in Canadian municipal governments, non-profits and the private sector. The expertise of our group is wide-ranging and includes aspects of social sciences as well as humanities such as: geography, GIS/geospatial analysis, urban planning, communications, and law.

If you have thoughts or questions about the article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.