VGI: A disruptive force with room to grow

In the chapter “Prospects for VGI Research and the Emerging Fourth Paradigm” Elwood, Goodchild, and Sui (2013) touch on important aspects of VGI such as quality concerns, types of engagement, and how it could evolve, especially in terms of coinciding with big data’s emergence. The differentiation between space and place as well as how the distinctions can affect subsequent analysis was potentially an obvious reference for experts in the field but definitely made me look at VGI in a different way. Since my own research has had such a strong focus on spatial scales and geophysical processes, this unfamiliar concept of platial scale was intriguing.

This chapter introduces the reader to the complexities of VGI that they might not have thought of before. Part of that can be attributed to the formatting – the mix of factual literature reviews followed by open-ended musings manages to convey a sense of what VGI looks like now and also what areas should be the focus of further progress. I never thought of VGI as an opposing alternative to spatially focused GIS but rather a citizen-based approach following the same old norms of conventional GIS. The most insightful comments seem to stem from critiques of how participation fundamentally changes the whole input, process and output of VGI. Even more importantly, how VGI is defined can impact much larger institutional structures. Mimicking the authors themselves, I will finish with a few questions that highlight these potential impacts:

“What kinds of state-civil society relationships are produced or transformed through the creation and use of VGI?” (368) And,

“Does VGI imply transformations in the social construction and politics of “data,” “science,” or “geographic information”?” (368)


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