How urban crowdsourcing platforms draw a world map of citizen contributions

In a systematic review, Idiap researchers analyzed urban data crowdsourcing platforms around the world. Their work highlights the growing role of these platforms to inform urban policies and shed light on the state of development of these tools.

Cities are at the forefront of numerous challenges, ranging from mitigation of effects of climate change to mobility and security issues. Well-informed policies are crucial to take up these challenges. For these purposes, cities are increasingly gathering data thanks to volunteers through crowdsourcing platforms. People use the sensors embedded in mobile phones—GPS, cameras, microphones—to contribute to observations taken on the ground. As this type of urban tool is increasingly discussed in academic literature, researchers from the Social Computing group at Idiap conducted a systematic review of these studies worldwide. Their work examined and catalogued the platforms, focusing on their geographic location, specific purposes, and public data availability. The research provides a more comprehensive picture of these tools across the world. The work by Alessandro Fornaroli (a former master’s student at EPFL) and Prof. Daniel Gatica-Perez was conducted in the context of the EU H2020 ICARUS project.

From citizen science to urbanism

Thanks to a rigorous selection and classification, researchers were able to analyze 30 studies covering 32 crowdsourcing platforms for urban data gathering that were launched and maintained by local authorities. The geographic distribution of these platforms is wide. Cities covered in the reviewed studies included four continents, namely Africa, America, Asia, and Europe. In the systematic review, it was found that urban reporting, which allow people to report issues to city administrations or local authorities, such as potholes, garbage, or broken public objects, is indeed a popular practice.

Future endeavours

“Even if our work provides valuable insights about the state of urban platforms for citizen-contributed data gathering, there are several open questions. For example, we observed that a large majority of platforms—about 70%—are based in the US and Europe. As we only analyzed academic literature written in English, we cannot say whether the imbalance is a result of this methodological choice, or a real discrepancy in the existence of such platforms across different world regions,” Gatica-Perez, head of the Social Computing group, explains. The review also highlighted disparities in terms of the data that platforms make available to the public. “Understanding why local decisions are made with respect to public availability of data is another open question. This could be the result of different legal and cultural perspectives on data, and underlines the value of human-centered research in this domain,” Gatica-Perez concludes.


More information

- “Urban Crowdsourcing Platforms Across the World: A Systematic Review,” A. Fornaroli and D. Gatica-Perez, ACM Digital Government: Research and Practice (DGOV), published online August 2023
- Social computing research group
- EU H2020 ICARUS project