Implications of Volunteered Geographic Information for Disaster Management and GIScience: A More Complex World of Volunteered Geography

Billy Tusker Haworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Volunteered geographic information (VGI) refers to changing practices in recent years associated with technological advancements that provide increasing opportunities for private citizens to produce geographic information. VGI activities range from public contributions to online crowdsourced mapping projects to location-related posts on social media sites. These changing practices have important implications for citizens, traditional authoritative systems of geographic knowledge production, and the disciplines of geography and GIScience. One field affected by VGI is disaster management, with numerous studies reporting on the opportunities associated with increased citizen data and involvement in crisis response. There are also significant limitations to the application of VGI, however, notably related to scale, the digital divide, trust, uneven power relations, and adaptability of existing authoritative systems, such as formal emergency management. In this article, these issues and more are critically discussed through examination of three discreet yet related studies of VGI in community bushfire (wildfire) risk reduction in Australia. Although each study has its own unique contributions already published, the collective insight gained by analyzing the studies together provides new and deeper perspectives on critical issues of relevance to both disaster management policies and geography and GIScience. Importantly, the article advocates for greater emphasis on the social aspect of VGI, with citizens mapping and sharing knowledge together, rather than on individual observations and large volumes of data. Further, it raises questions of some of the much-promoted promises of VGI, particularly those that suggest that VGI can allow “everyone” to contribute to geographic knowledge production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-240
Number of pages15
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2018


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