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ABSTRACT

Doctoral Dissertation (2010), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Nama Raj Budhathoki (namabudhathoki@gmail.com)

This dissertation examines volunteered geographic information (VGI), a Web 2.0 phenomenon in which users contribute geographic information online and collaboratively create maps. By examining the case of www.openstreetmap.org, I clarify why citizens contribute geographic information to online communities and offer a framework for researching different aspects of the phenomenon. I also outline its implications for expertdriven production of geographic information and propose a hybrid model for spatial data infrastructure. I find this topic interesting particularly because it offers a new citizen-driven model, defying the traditional mode of production and use of geographic information. The dissertation uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods of inquiry. I analyzed about 3,000 archived text messages (user conversations called talk-pages in OpenStreetMap) and contributions from about 34,000 users between 2004 and 2009. I then conducted a survey to reach globally distributed contributors and tested a set of hypotheses regarding their underlying motives for contributing to VGI. I find that citizens perceive a wide range of motivational factorsgoal of the project, geographic information altruism, learning, local knowledge, self-need, and social/show-offdriving their participation and contribution in online communities. Interestingly, citizens do not perceive monetary gain as their motivation. When the perceived motivations are tested with their actual contribution, local knowledge turns out to be the most significant determinant of contribution. When citizens see that the areas they care about are blank or erroneously mapped, this invokes the instrumentality of their local knowledge. Individuals realize that they are in possession of knowledge about the areas they live and travel, and they are better positioned to update and correct maps than remote agencies. This realization brings their self-efficacy into play and drives them into mapping. For the contributors of an online geographic information community, the map is a way to manifest their identity and a means of representation in cyberspace. When the perceived motivations are compared between two groups of serious and casual mappers, local knowledge, self view and monetary motivations are found to have a positive effect on a contributors likelihood to be a serious mapper (i.e., contribute much more than average contributors). These findings have important implications for the design and management of online information communities. In addition to online communities, the findings of this dissertation have implications for development, community building, local planning, environment monitoring and management, governance and citizen engagement. Citizens excitement to contribute local knowledge should not be understood in limited terms of the geographic information; rather, it should be interpreted as an expression of a desire to participate in the broad processes of social, cultural, and technological transformation. If this excitement can be tapped, it will set a new stage for participatory discourse among citizens as well as between the government and citizens. The resulting collective intelligence might prove to be an asset for transforming 21 st century societies.