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Using volunteered geographic information (VGI) in design-based statistical inference for area estimation and accuracy assessment of land cover

Stephen V. Stehman, Cidália C. Fonte, Giles M. Foody, Linda See



Highlights.
Use of VGI in design-based inference requires adhering to rigorous protocols.
Collecting VGI using a probability sample is best option for design-based inference.
Certainty stratum approach incorporates VGI to reduce standard errors.
Incorporating VGI in a model-assisted estimator is beneficial in limited situations.
VGI from non-probability sample requires difficult to verify assumptions.

Abstract. Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) offers a potentially inexpensive source of reference data for estimating area and assessing map accuracy in the context of remote-sensing based land-cover monitoring. The quality of observations from VGI and the typical lack of an underlying probability sampling design raise concerns regarding use of VGI in widely-applied design-based statistical inference. This article focuses on the fundamental issue of sampling design used to acquire VGI. Design-based inference requires the sample data to be obtained via a probability sampling design. Options for incorporating VGI within design-based inference include: 1) directing volunteers to obtain data for locations selected by a probability sampling design; 2) treating VGI data as a “certainty stratum” and augmenting the VGI with data obtained from a probability sample; and 3) using VGI to create an auxiliary variable that is then used in a model-assisted estimator to reduce the standard error of an estimate produced from a probability sample. The latter two options can be implemented using VGI data that were obtained from a non-probability sampling design, but require additional sample data to be acquired via a probability sampling design. If the only data available are VGI obtained from a non-probability sample, properties of design-based inference that are ensured by probability sampling must be replaced by assumptions that may be difficult to verify. For example, pseudo-estimation weights can be constructed that mimic weights used in stratified sampling estimators. However, accuracy and area estimates produced using these pseudo-weights still require the VGI data to be representative of the full population, a property known as “external validity”. Because design-based inference requires a probability sampling design, directing volunteers to locations specified by a probability sampling design is the most straightforward option for use of VGI in design-based inference. Combining VGI from a non-probability sample with data from a probability sample using the certainty stratum approach or the model-assisted approach are viable alternatives that meet the conditions required for design-based inference and use the VGI data to advantage to reduce standard errors.


Remote Sensing of Environment, Vol. 212 (June 2018), pp. 47-59, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2018.04.014 
Key: INRMM:14621714

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