Crowdsourcing, citizen science or volunteered geographic information? The current state of crowdsourced geographic information

Linda See*, Peter Mooney, Giles Foody, Lucy Bastin, Alexis Comber, Jacinto Estima, Steffen Fritz, Norman Kerle, Bin Jiang, Mari Laakso, Hai Ying Liu, Grega Milčinski, Matej Nikšieč, Marco Painho, Andrea Pődör, Ana Maria Olteanu-Raimond, Martin Rutzinger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


Citizens are increasingly becoming an important source of geographic information, sometimes entering domains that had until recently been the exclusive realm of authoritative agencies. This activity has a very diverse character as it can, amongst other things, be active or passive, involve spatial or aspatial data and the data provided can be variable in terms of key attributes such as format, description and quality. Unsurprisingly, therefore, there are a variety of terms used to describe data arising from citizens. In this article, the expressions used to describe citizen sensing of geographic information are reviewed and their use over time explored, prior to categorizing them and highlighting key issues in the current state of the subject. The latter involved a review of 100 Internet sites with particular focus on their thematic topic, the nature of the data and issues such as incentives for contributors. This review suggests that most sites involve active rather than passive contribution, with citizens typically motivated by the desire to aid a worthy cause, often receiving little training. As such, this article provides a snapshot of the role of citizens in crowdsourcing geographic information and a guide to the current status of this rapidly emerging and evolving subject.

Original languageEnglish
Article number55
JournalISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information
Issue number5
Early online date27 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (


  • citizen science
  • crowdsourcing
  • mapping
  • volunteered geographic information


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