Participatory GIS

At a very vibrant meeting of an online participation community of practice meeting on Thursday, Jasmin Callosa-Tarr gave a presentation on participatory 3d modelling. From what I picked up GIS is being used to create real-life scale models of physical environments, then, using skilled facilitation, locals describe land-use, vegetation, infrastructure or even social patterns. The modelling can then be recreated using GIS software and shared with decision-makers, policy officials, etc. The uses are many.

Over 60 different projects have been run since the approach came about in the mid-90s. Most of the projects have been run in the south, including in the Phillipines – Jasmine’s birthplace. Each project has had a different focus such as awareness raising and education, increasing local communications capacity, collaborative clanning, collaborative research, protected area management, self-determination, participatory monitoring and evaluation, and conflict resolution.

A short video on the Integrated Approaches to Participatory Development website gives a general overview, along with a case study from a particpatory GIS exercise in the Pu Mat National Park, a protected area in Vietnam.

What really impressed me was Jasmin’s description 0f how the technology helps negotiate difficulties of communication. We all know the meanings of words can be contested and without shared definitions can lead to misinterpretation. Participatory GIS involves people talking about local environments and coming to consensus about actual use. It’s tactile and descriptive, so rather than relying on words, actual land uses in the physical world can be attributed to geograhpy locations.

In guidance material on the process it’s put this way:

In providing open access to information, 3-D models add transparency and create common grounds for discussion. They limit the distortion of messages between communicating parties, by offering a shared language of colours, shapes and dimensions, and broaden individual perspectives. In doing this, 3-dimensional models bridge language barriers and ease communication on issues bound to the territory and its resources. This is particularly relevant for people having different education levels, cultural backgrounds and eventually diverse or conflicting interests.

Jasmin was very strong on the ethical dimensions of the approach. She talked about how the process validates peoples’ knowledge, something too easily ignored when experts fly in or science is relied upon. During the talk Jasmin talked about a modified version of Arnstein’s classic ladder of participation. The approach she promoted placed participatory GIS at the end of the ladder giving more control to citizens than to decision-makers.

There was some good discussion at the meeting. SCC have set up regular community of practice meetings in response to demand for people working in the field of community relation, community engagement and public participation. Apparently there are already over 80 people signed up. A wiki is being launched soon for sharing ideas, experience, etc.

There are at least three more meetings in the next month. I’ll post again after the next meeting on official information and participation.