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Open-File Report 2012–1209

Structures Data Collection for The National Map using Volunteered Geographic Information

By Barbara S. Poore, Eric B. Wolf, Erin M. Korris, Jennifer L. Walter, Greg D. Matthews

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Executive Summary

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has historically sponsored volunteered data collection projects to enhance its topographic paper and digital map products. This report describes one phase of an ongoing project to encourage volunteers to contribute data to The National Map using online editing tools. The USGS recruited students studying geographic information systems (GIS) at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of Denver in the spring of 2011 to add data on structures—manmade features such as schools, hospitals, and libraries—to four quadrangles covering metropolitan Denver. The USGS customized a version of the online Potlatch editor created by the OpenStreetMap project and populated it with 30 structure types drawn from the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), a USGS database of geographic features. The students corrected the location and attributes of these points and added information on structures that were missing. There were two rounds of quality control. Student volunteers reviewed each point, and an in-house review of each point by the USGS followed.

Nine-hundred and thirty-eight structure points were initially downloaded from the USGS database. Editing and quality control resulted in 1,214 structure points that were subsequently added to The National Map. A post-project analysis of the data shows that after student edit and peer review, 92 percent of the points contributed by volunteers met National Map Accuracy Standards for horizontal accuracy. Lessons from this project will be applied to later phases. These include:

  • simplifying editing tasks and the user interfaces,
  • stressing to volunteers the importance of adding structures that are missing, and
  • emphasizing the importance of conforming to editorial guidelines for formatting names and addresses of structures.
The next phase of the project will encompass the entire State of Colorado and will allow any citizen to contribute structures data. Volunteers will benefit from this project by engaging with their local geography and contributing to a national resource of topographic information that remains in the public domain for anyone to download.

First posted October 4, 2012

For additional information contact:
Barbara S. Poore
St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
600 4th Street South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
The National Map

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Poore, B.S., Wolf, E.B., Korris, E.M., Walter, J.L., and Matthews, G.D., 2012, Structures data collection for The National Map using volunteered geographic information: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1209, 34 p., available only at


Executive Summary



Technologies: Software and User Interface


Working with Student Volunteers

Volunteer Editing Process

Results—Data Quality

Lessons Learned

The Future

For More Information



Appendix A. Editorial guidelines for populating the “Address” attribute fields in The National Structures Dataset

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