Tag Archives: Robert Feick

Getting a Better Handle on Geosocial Data with Geothink Co-Applicant Robert Feick

 Images and text from sites like Flickr (the source of this image) provide geosocial data which University of Waterloo Associate Professor Robert Feick and his graduate students work to make more useful to planners and citizens.

Images and text from sites like Flickr (the source of this image) provide geosocial data that University of Waterloo Associate Professor Robert Feick and his graduate students work to make more useful to planners and citizens.

By Drew Bush

A prevailing view of volunteered geographic information (VGI) is that large datasets exist equally across North American cities and spaces within them. Such data should therefore be readily available for planners wishing to use it to aid in decision-making. In a paper published last August in Cartography and Geographic Information Science, Geothink Co-Applicant Rob Feick put this idea to the test.

He and co-author Colin Robertson tracked Flickr data across 481 urban areas in the United States to determine what characteristics of a given city space correspond to the most plentiful data sets. This research allowed Feick, an associate professor in the University of Waterloo’s School of Planning, to determine how representative this type of user generated data are across and within cities.

The paper (entitled Bumps and bruises in the digital skins of cities: Unevenly distributed user-generated content across U.S. urban areas) reports that coverage varies greatly between downtown cores and suburban spaces, as may be expected, but also that such patterns differ markedly between cities that appear similar in terms of size, function and other characteristics.

“Often it’s portrayed as if these large data resources are available everywhere for everyone and there aren’t any constraints,” he told Geothink.ca recently about this on-going research. Since these data sets are often repurposed to learn more about how people perceive places, this misconception can have clear implications for those working with such data sets, he added.

“Leaving aside all the other challenges with user generated data, can we take an approach that’s been piloted let’s say in Montreal and assume that’s it going to work as well in Hamilton, or Calgary, or Edmonton and so on?” he said. Due to variations in VGI coverage, tools developed in one local context may not produce the same results elsewhere in the same city or in other cities.

The actual types of data used in research like Feick’s can vary. Growing amounts of data from social media sites such as Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter, and transit or mobility applications developed by municipalities include geographic references. Feick and his graduate students work to transform such large datasets—which often include many irrelevant (and unruly) user comments or posts—into something that can be useful to citizens and city officials for planning and public engagement.

“My work tends to center on two themes within the overall Geothink project,” Feick said. “I have a longstanding interest in public engagement and participation from a GIS perspective—looking at how spatial data and tools condition and, hopefully, improve public dialogue. And the other broad area that I’m interested in is methods that help us to transform these new types of spatial data into information that is useful for governments and citizens.”

“That’s a pretty broad statement,” he added. “But in a community and local context, I’m interested in both understanding better the characteristics of these data sources, particularly data quality, as well as the methods we can develop to extract new types of information from large scale VGI resources.”

Applying this Research Approach to Canadian Municipalities

Much of Feick’s Geothink related research at University of Waterloo naturally involves work in the Canadian context of Kitchener, Waterloo, and the province of Ontario. He’s particularly proud of the work being done by his graduate students, Ashley Zhang and Maju Sadagopan. Both are undertaking projects that are illustrative of Feick’s above-mentioned two areas of research focus.

Many municipalities offer Web map interfaces that allow the public to place comments in areas of interest to them. Sadagopan’s work centres on providing a semi-automated approach for classifying these comments. In many cases, municipal staff have to read each comment and manually view where the comment was placed in order to interpret a citizen’s concerns.

Sadagopan is developing spatial database tools and rule-based logic that use keywords in comments as well as information about features (e.g. buildings, roads, etc.) near their locations to filter and classify hundreds of comments and identify issues and areas of common concern. This work is being piloted with the City of Kitchener using data from a recent planning study of the Iron Horse Trail that that runs throughout Kitchener and Waterloo.

Zhang’s work revolves around two projects that relate to light rail construction that is underway in the region of Waterloo. First, she is using topic modeling approaches to monitor less structured social media and filter data that may have relevance to local governments.

“She’s doing work that’s really focused on mining place-based and participation related information from geosocial media as well as other types of popular media, such as online newspapers and blogs, etc.,” Feick said. “She has developed tools that help to start to identify locales of concern and topics that over space and time vary in terms of their resonance with a community.”

“She’s moving towards the idea of changing public feedback and engagement from something that’s solely episodic and project related to something that could include also this idea of more continuous forms of monitoring,” he added.

To explore the data quality issues associated with VGI use in local governments, they are also working on a new project with Kitchener that will provide pedestrian routing services based on different types of mobility. The light rail project mentioned above has disrupted roadways and sidewalks with construction in the core area and will do so until the project is completed in 2017. Citizen feedback on the impacts of different barriers and temporary walking routes for people with different modes of mobility (e.g. use of wheelchairs, walkers, etc.) will be used to study how to gauge VGI quality and develop best practices for integrating public VGI into government data processes.

The work of Feick and his students provides important insight for the Geothink partnership on how VGI can be used to improve communication between cities and their citizens. Each of the above projects has improved service for citizens in Kitchener and Waterloo or enhanced the way in which these cities make and communicate decisions. Feick’s past projects and future research directions are similarly oriented toward practical, local applications.

Past Projects and Future Directions

Past projects Feick has completed with students include creation of a solar mapping tool for Toronto that showed homeowners how much money they might make from the provincial feed-in-tariff that pays for rooftop solar energy they provide to the grid. It used a model of solar radiation to determine the payoff from positioning panels on different parts of a homeowner’s roof.

Future research Feick has planned includes work on how to more effectively harness different sources of geosocial media given large data sizes and extraneous comments, further research into disparities in such data between and within cities, and a project with Geothink Co-Applicant Stéphane Roche to present spatial data quality and appropriate uses of open data in easy-to-understand visual formats.

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.

Abstract of Paper mentioned in the above article:

Bumps and bruises in the digital skins of cities: Unevenly distributed user-generated content across U.S. urban areas
As momentum and interest builds to leverage new user-generated forms of digital expression with geographical content, classical issues of data quality remain significant research challenges. In this paper we highlight the uneven textures of one form of user-generated data: geotagged photographs in U.S. urban centers as a case study into representativeness. We use generalized linear modeling to associate photograph distribution with underlying socioeconomic descriptors at the city-scale, and examine intra-city variation in relation to income inequality. We conclude with a detailed analysis of Dallas, Seattle, and New Orleans. Our findings add to the growing volume of evidence outlining uneven representativeness in user-generated data, and our approach contributes to the stock of methods available to investigate geographic variations in representativeness. We show that in addition to city-scale variables relating to distribution of user-generated content, variability remains at localized scales that demand an individual and contextual understanding of their form and nature. The findings demonstrate that careful analysis of representativeness at both macro and micro scales simultaneously can provide important insights into the processes giving rise to user-generated datasets and potentially shed light into their embedded biases and suitability as inputs to analysis.


Mobile Feedback Applications for Base Map Editing

If governments wish to maximize citizen contributions on issues as varied as fixing maps, reporting potholes and commenting on social housing, they likely need easy-to-use tools for citizens to do so. One answer could be on mobile phones. Tool-building is more than a technical issue. Mobile devices have an increasingly central role in our daily activities; they become intermediaries for our interactions with each other, the environment, businesses, and institutions. Recent advances in mobile device and computerized mapping (geographic information system, or GIS) technology have presented us with the potential to develop applications that mediates citizen interactions with government, using geographic base maps as a conduit. This project asks how mobile device technology can allow citizens to contribute to the updating and editing of official maps of their home city. This asserted information would then be incorporated into an authoritative map product. We move beyond the simple citizen-as-sensor or crowdsourcing paradigm to explore how governments not only accept volunteered citizen content (volunteered geographic information, or VGI) delivered through a mobile device, but how citizens become partners with government. This two-way relationship can be formalized through the development of a specific workflow where government workers verify citizen map edits and provide feedback to citizens. In this way, VGI may be integrated into formal governance and decision-making channels.

We anticipate that mobile applications will be the next generation platform for Open 311 and open government. Many issues will arise about their utility and around authentication of data. We want your ideas about and participation in this research! Contact Peter Johnson, pa2johns@uwaterloo.ca, or Rob Feick, robert.feick@uwaterloo.ca.

Accuracy, Authenticity and Technical Aspects of Privacy

At the Universities of Laval and Waterloo, we are interested in what is often seen as the “virtuous cycle” of citizens’ increasing use of open government data and, potentially, for governments to actively leverage information that the public creates. Our work centers on issues of accuracy, authenticity and privacy in citizen-generated spatial data and the changing relationships between governments and citizens in data provision and use. In Year 1, we are concentrating on assembling baseline information that will help us understand how citizens use open data from governments and the extent that Canadian governments’ currently leverage citizen-contributed data. In this first phase, we will assemble a literature review and survey government partners at local, provincial and national levels to:

  1. Identify and characterize the main current open data initiatives (e.g., who is providing what data, in which forms?) and what data standards are used at local and provincial levels (if any?),
  2. Identify existing as well as potential practices for: a) using crowdsourced data (including barriers and opportunities) and, b) for validating crowdsourced data,
  3. Explore the linkages between open data (as a product and as practice) and crowdsourcing at the municipal and provincial levels (e.g. open data not only a service provided by the organization but also a way to improve data and by feedback loops in practice).

Two PhD students (Ashley Zhang – Waterloo, Teriitutea Quesnot – Laval) have been hired to jointly complete the literature review, survey administration and analysis and also participate in reporting the results through a journal paper. Teriitutea Quesnot is from French Polynesia. Teriitutea received his bachelor and masters in France and he has strong geocomputing and programming skills as well as consulting experience. Ashley is from China and has completed her Masters at the University of Georgia with a thesis focus on exploring spatio-temporal changes in the sociao-spatial structure of Beijing. Currently, her PhD research is centred on public engagement and place-making in smart cities. Since our government partners operate in both English and French, the survey will be bilingual to allow a pan-Canadian assessment to be developed. This information relating to current opportunities and barriers will help us develop new methods for promoting and visualizing data authenticity and accuracy. We anticipate that it also will contribute to project-wide efforts to develop best practices for Canadian governments to manage citizen-generated in light of data privacy and quality concerns.

We know that many of our partners and others have considerable experience in utilizing crowdsourced data. Even if you don’t then you probably have questions you’d like explored.

We encourage you to get in touch with us to enrich our research. Feel free to email stephane.roche@scg.ulaval.ca and robert.feick@uwaterloo.ca.