top of page
  • Vivian Arriaga, Arizona State University

YouthMappers ASU x UCR Visit: Exploring VGI Use in Official GI

Progress in crucial evidence-based decision making by government agencies is often limited by lack of geospatial data. Youth, academic, and non-governmental organizations  and solo citizen scientists contribute to open geospatial data every day, especially in areas at risk of disaster (like natural hazard or conflict prone states) in an effort to increase community resilience. Data like these are immensely valuable as they have helped to expedite time-sensitive work like evacuation and medical aid efforts. However, volunteered geospatial data are very infrequently integrated with official data.

Dr. Patricia Solís, based at Arizona State University, with funding by the National Science Foundation, works to bridge the gap between VGI and official data and cartographies in Latin America. A basic goal of this research is to understand the current role of VGI in public decision-making within the region from the United States, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, and Colombia. Understanding the specific needs in the government’s data and the limitations of VGI contributors (independent and groups) will identify barriers that must be overcome in order for that relationship to grow. As a vehicle to collect this qualitative information about those countries’ contexts and opportunities for VGI support to official cartographies, Dr. Solís has enlisted the help of YouthMappers members to visit with their counterparts in those countries.

For the next two months, I will be working alongside the YouthMappers chapter at Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). I am tasked with studying the projects that the chapter is developing or active in, specifically what happens afterwards with the data they create. With the strategic Pan American Institute of Geography and History contacts I have been connected with here — as well as with the research faculty at the school of Geography — there is a great opportunity to have a close look at Costa Rican official geospatial data, whom it comes from, and how it is used and shared.

In my first couple weeks at UCR, I have learned about several research projects currently being developed at the Geography school by faculty and students in collaboration with government entities. One of these in particular shows great potential for VGI to be integrated to official cartography. This project aims to further empower ASADAS, a program under the Costa Rican water authority in which members of communities throughout the country participate directly in their local community’s water resource management. As women in ASADAS show greater interest in smart water management for their communities already, this UCR project will train those in the Guanacaste region on geospatial information tools so that they may map water features and report water issues in their own communities. As we know, women involved and leading in mapping make a difference: #LetGirlsMap.

This is distinctly promising because of the project’s basic subject matter. The last full reporting on policies for distribution of geospatial information in Costa Rica indicated that geospatial information was not open, not free to the public nor to government entities, and that no internet map service, data license, or File Transfer Protocol existed. There are now two official Costa Rican internet national map services available to the public; a water resource and infrastructure map, and a compilation of layers from various govt. entities, research institutes, and cities hosted by the National Register’s National Institute of Geography.

Another exciting project is under development by the UCR YouthMappers chapter. A young community in the Alajuela province, Rio Cuarto, that recently became Alajuela’s newest Canton. Given the recent formality of Rio Cuarto, the community is in need of mapping. As YouthMappers @ UCR prepare to map an entire community from zero, representatives from Rio Cuarto are informing YouthMappers leaders of their mapping priorities. As this is a budding eco-tourism town, they want to pay close attention to mapping key features relevant to tourists (lodging, dining, services, landmarks, attractions, etc.). It is up to the YouthMappers team to achieve a balance in mapping efforts between tending to Rio Cuarto’s goals, — which will involve a good deal of verification on-ground — as well as to infrastructure that is crucial to a community’s long-term development.

Most relevant to the scope of my exploration here in Costa Rica is that Rio Cuarto will be able, and is enthusiastic, to use the Rio Cuarto-YouthMappers created GI in their community development decision-making. All in all, while volunteer-federal data integration seems to remain a long way off for the moment, cases of volunteer data being integrated to local official data in the cantones and distritos of Costa Rica are already evident. In the two coming weeks, I will focus on finding: the quantity and whereabouts of volunteer mappers in Costa Rica, and what they work on; finalized VGI creation projects currently in use in cantones and distritos; and changes to regulations in distribution of geospatial information in Costa Rica at the federal level.

Vivian Arriaga | YouthMappersASU, President & Co-Founder

Never quite American enough and never quite Mexican enough, I chose to become a geographer. As a junior majoring in Geographic Information Science at Arizona State University, I helped to start up one of YouthMappers newest chapters last year. My multicultural background, bilingualism, and past experience in the country made me a great candidate to explore the status of VGI in Costa Rica. Please get in touch with me at if you would like to know more about the NSF research I am contributing to, about my current exploratory work for it, or about GIS. I am also always eager to discuss all things geography, life, hiking, and music.

bottom of page