A full time PhD position available at the University of Edinburgh – smartphone technology & VGI

A full time PhD position available at the University of Edinburgh – smartphone technology & VGI

The Role of Crowd Sourced Data in the Establishment of Land Rights Among Scottish Crofters

PhD Studentship commencing January 2017 – 3 yr jointly funded by Ordnance Survey and The School of GeoSciences, the studentship covers fee and stipend for a UK student.

Project Description
Land registration is important in land tenure security and reduces land-related issues such as boundary conflicts and land grabbing. The creation of land registers is costly requiring specialist equipment and expertise, recorded within legal frameworks. Employing volunteered geographic information as a cheaper and quicker alternative for this purpose is gaining recognition, with the latest tool being the smartphone, of which the positioning and multimedia-capturing capabilities can enable individual land owners and tenants to take land registration into their own hands.

This project will investigate the extent to which such tools are meaningful for land registration, with the Scottish crofting community as a case study exploring a range of socio technical issues (such as resistance to technology, and the resilience of crowd sourced data within legal frameworks). The project will build upon the initial implementation and testing of an Android application that was used to record boundary information, photographs and geotagged descriptions. Those results showed that smartphone-based VGI can indeed be collected by individuals for land registration, but future research needs to address issues of 1) compromise between ease of use and functionality, 3) positional accuracy, 4) corroboration, 5) conflict resolution and 6) incentives for use (beyond just the benefit of registration). The research has broader application among developing countries where cadastral systems are in their infancy. More broadly the research reflects a pragmatic need to fundamentally explore different ways of documenting and securing land tenure.

Research Avenues
The research spans a set of social and technical challenges. It offers the opportunity to explore the use of smartphone technology to record boundary, ownership and tenure information using imagery, text, video, and coordinate information ? via an intuitive and easy to use interface. Equally important is the social context and the legal framework in which such information is then stored and utilized. How is adoption secured among (off grid) communities unfamiliar or resistant to such technologies?

The skills required to undertake this research therefore span the technical (in the design implementation, evaluation of field rugged solutions) AND the social dimension (robustness of mixed methodology approaches to gathering cadastral information able to withstand legal scrutiny). The latest VGI technique being explored for the purposes of land registration is the use of smartphones, given their positioning and multimedia capturing capabilities as ubiquitous, low-cost devices; smartphones can be used as tools allowing citizens to directly record land boundaries via:
–      Photographs of annotated paper maps
–      Textual descriptions of boundaries
–      Recorded verbal descriptions of boundaries
–      Geotagged photographs of boundary evidence
–      Videos with commentaries about boundaries
–      Digitisation of boundaries on imagery and mobile map services
–      Recorded boundary point coordinates based on Global Navigation
–      Satellite System positioning

Research Ambitions
This research seeks to evaluate how smartphone-based VGI can play a role in land registration, with the crofters as a sample community; it will look at how individuals could independently participate and police this crowdsourcing approach to register land, and explore the issues that may arise. To this end, a major component of this project is the user-centred design and development of a smartphone application relying on location-based services to capture evidence using a range of capture technology. In essence the research will seek to answer the question: To what extent can smartphone-based volunteered geographic information be employed for land registration?

Please direct any queries to:
Dr William A Mackaness
Institute of Geography,
School of Geosciences,
The University of Edinburgh
Drummond St
Edinburgh EH8 9XP
0131 650 8163


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