Renée Sieber

Renée Sieber is a professor of geography and environment (jointly appointed) at McGill University, in Montréal, Canada. She is also affiliated with McGill's School of Computer Science, McGill's Digital Humanities Working Group and the Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre of Quebec. Sieber works at the intersection of social theory and computer code. She is best known for her research on Public Participation GIS/ Participatory GIS. She authored the definitive literature review of PPGIS, which has been cited over 400 times. Because research also advances due to cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary collaboration, she created and then chaired the first three International PPGIS Conferences.

In addition to PPGIS, she's written on spatial cyberinfrastructures (applied to the digital humanities but also to geostatistics) and geospatial ontologies (particularly applied to indigenous peoples). She's currently researching the Geoweb and Open Data. In March 2013 she was awarded a $7millionCAD grant to investigate how citizens and cities interact via the geospatial web 2.0 and open data. The grant has 26 researchers, including several GIScience luminaries, and 30 partners across public and private sectors, and civil society.

Within her own country, Sieber has profoundly shaped the GIScience research agenda. She created the GIS study group for the Canadian Association of Geographers in 2001. She co-created and currently sits on the executive committee of Spatial Knowledge and Information Canada, the association of GIS/RS/GIScience/spatial model using researchers. The conference is now in its fourth year.

Talk: "The Science of Citizen Science, Volunteered Geographic Information and Public Participation GIS"

Abstract: If we believe the rhetoric, geospatial technologies have transformed the role of the citizen in contributing information related to place. I refer here broadly to citizen engagement, usually by non-expert members of specific geography communities who tweet, text, photoblog, and GPS about their everyday lived experience. Citizen engagement appears to have been impacted by new mapping platforms (e.g., Google Maps), which allow people to interactively navigate digital representations at increasingly hyperlocal resolutions. Location based services bring geospatial specific content to your mobile device where you are right now. To these digital maps experts and non-experts alike can add geotagged content of practically anything place-based, whether a restaurant review or a favourite park, a notice of a protest march or a siting of a pothole. The intersection of engagement and technology generated new areas of research: volunteered geographic information (VGI) and Public Participation GIS and renewed interest in existing ones like citizen science. Interested publics have participated in zooniverse and the Great Backyard Bird Count. They have digitized the world’s road network and much more in the massive crowdsourced application, OpenStreetMap. To the petabytes of citizen-contributed, cloud-based geolocated data on the web, governments, such as cities, are opening up data sets as well as accepting data from the public, for example via Open 311 type systems. Community residents can monitor or appify the cities in which they live. The new hardware, software platforms, the apps, and the content appear to transform the way that government can talk to citizens, citizens can talk to government and citizens can talk to each other.

This talk traces the past twenty years of research on citizen, volunteer, and public using geospatial technologies and data. I’ll talk about what we know about the science of engagement and contributions on these platforms, in terms of data quality and motivations. I’ll describe how civic engagement on this new medium can blur experts and non-experts, disrupt existing legal and political regimes, and potentially distance participation from channels of influence. The new technologies have demanded changes in methods to assess effect and effectiveness. Indeed, they have challenged what constitues effectiveness on these new platforms. This talk will be as much about the science of the citizen, volunteer and public as it will be about the questioning of GIScience in its approach to quantifying the citizen. I’ll conclude with some scenarios of future where people, whether citizen scientist (via processes like machine learning) or GIScientist (via a type of techno-libertarianism) may no longer be needed.

Date: TBA

Room: TBA