, Volume 78, Issue 4, pp 657–674 | Cite as

Confronting the data-divide in a time of spatial turns and volunteered geographic information

  • Jonathan CinnamonEmail author
  • Nadine Schuurman


Geography is enjoying a period of unparalleled visibility, driven by the growing use of geographic methods and concepts across the sciences and humanities—the so-called spatial turn—and the pervasive use of geospatial Web technologies and their concomitant influence on society, especially the phenomenon of volunteered geographic information (VGI). The field of public health is beginning to harness spatiality with gusto; however, the geospatial Web and its social phenomena are underexplored in this context even though they may be particularly useful for public health enquiry, especially in low-resource settings that lack traditional data collection mechanisms. A case study framed within these two current phenomena is presented to illustrate the influence of geography and its potential for addressing the data-divide—the disparity in availability of data for scientific enquiry and decision-making most felt in low-and middle income countries. A facilitated VGI data collection initiative collected public health-related injury data in Cape Town, South Africa, as a pragmatic alternative given the lack of data from traditional sources. Emergency medical services personnel interacted with a GeoWeb interface to volunteer their informed opinions of high-incident injury locations. Previously unrecorded injury location data were created, and combined with traditional injury data for use in an ongoing study examining the environmental determinants of injury in this setting, which speaks to the possibility for hybrid authoritative/asserted data collection strategies. This study speaks to the growing influence of geography and one of its driving forces, the techno-social revolution in geospatial technology and data. Future work should continue to examine their potential to address the data-divide.


Spatial turn Geography Volunteered geographic information GeoWeb Public health Data access 



This research was funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Standard Research Grant. Additional research support for Cinnamon was provided by a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship doctoral award. Schuurman is also supported by a career award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR). We are grateful to Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town for collaboration opportunities and assistance on this project.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Simon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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