We welcome you to the first in our new “Citizen Science, GIS, and Society” Guest Blog Series designed to share insights about the future of GIS in society from leaders in the field.  We are very pleased that our first guest blogger is the very talented Dr. Joseph Kerski​, Education Manager at Esri​.  Please share with your pals using #citizensciencegis and #openreef and #esri.  We and Dr. Kerski would love to hear your thoughts on his blog post.

Connecting Citizen Science, GIS, Community Partnerships, and Education

Dr. Joseph Kerski of Esri, our first guest blogger

Written by Joseph Kerski, PhD, GISP

Esri and University of Denver

jkerski@esri.com    http://twitter.com/josephkerski

What are some roles for GIS in Community Partnerships?

I submit that five forces are bringing geography and GIS to the brink of widespread adoption by the global community.  These include geo-awareness (the rising awareness by the general public of issues that have long been largely the concern of geographers and GIS analysts, such as water, energy, natural hazards), geo-enablement (the increasing use of geotechnologies and mapped data by the general public), geotechnologies (the advent of GIS to the cloud and to mobile devices), storytelling with maps, and citizen science.  Because of the advent of these forces, I believe that the time has never been better for GIS to have a significant role in fostering partnerships for smarter and more sustainable communities.

GIS can help interest the general public in becoming involved in their own communities.  Maps have long been excellent means for communicating, exploring, and investigating, and today’s web maps have the added advantage of providing instant feedback to the public.  This “instant gratification” can help foster additional questions about not only what their community is like, but predictive models can help them understand what the community could be like in the future.  And how can the community be like the model illustrates?  By the involvement of its citizens.

What are some of the possibilities and challenges for Citizen Science in GIS?  

Dr. Joseph Kerski, a leader in the field of GIS and education

The advent of several key web GIS capabilities opens up new possibilities for citizen science.  One simple, powerful app is Esri’s Snap2Map, which allows citizens to make a story map using photographs in the field, which can be shared with the public.  Another is the Survey123 app, which allows citizen scientists to submit attribute and location data via a simple web form tied to a map.   Another is the Esri crowdsource story map, where via a web browser, citizens can submit photographs and text about a specific community issue, and see their results and those results from fellow citizens.  These could include observations about birds, noise, weather, or anything else that can be tied to a location.   Imagine thousands of citizens through tools such as these, submitting data about tree health, sidewalk condition, or other data about their community—and then wanting to become involved in enhancing the quality of life and the quality of the environment.

The citizen science community faces challenges with a population that is in large part disconnected from the outdoors, documented in Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods—dubbed “nature-deficit disorder.”  Another challenge is the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of maps, in part because geography and cartography are not taught rigorously in many of our country’s schools.  The technical challenge of bandwidth for easy transfer of map data remains, as do ongoing location privacy concerns.  Another challenge is that some do not perceive that their actions will make a difference in their city’s decision making.  A further challenge is the temptation to accept mapped data as it is, simply because it is online, without being critical of it; a challenge that my colleague and I address in the book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data and the data blog on http://spatialreserves.wordpress.com.

How can students become more involved in public uses of GIS through their academic training and experiences?

Students can become more involved in public uses of GIS by sharing some of their maps with the public.  They can create a story map about an issue in the community that they care about.  Students can set up a campus map for their campus administration, or for a parent or alumni visitation day.  Students can become a GeoMentor (www.geomentors.net), supported by Esri and the American Association of Geographers, and help schools use GIS in science, geography, language arts, history, and other disciplines by providing assistance with using ArcGIS Online or web mapping applications, by preparing spatial data, or giving classroom presentations.   Students can contribute to the Esri Campus Mapping Program, to digital base map efforts (OpenStreetMap), or features to the USGS National Map Corps.  Students can use citizen science data in their own research.  Students can be advocates for rigorous geographic content to be taught in schools, and support initiatives such as the proposed high school Advanced Placement GIS course.

Through citizen science’s ability to engage vast numbers of people, it has the potential to greatly increase the amount of scientific data—all with a geographic component.  Thus, it can enable a better understanding of the planet, and, as a result, wiser and more sustainable decisions.

Recommended Reading

Goodchild, Michael F.  2007.  Citizens as sensors:  The world of volunteered geography.  GeoJournal 69:  211-221.   http://web.simmons.edu/~benoit/infovis/Goodchild.pdf

Spatial Reserves data blog.  2017.  http://spatialreserves.wordpress.com

Stelle, Lei Lani.  2015.  GIS makes citizen science more accessible.  ArcNews.  Summer.  http://www.esri.com/esri-news/arcnews/summer15articles/gis-makes-citizen-science-more-accessible


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