Public Participation GIS refers to a range of topics raised by the intersection of community interests and GIS technology.
The use of GIS as a participatory tool raises critical technical, social, and theoretical issues that interest both practitioners and researchers who are concerned with the social consequences of its use. The PPGIS Congress will bring together participants with a rich diversity of experiences that include citizens and citizens groups, public officials, planners, technicians, librarians, policy scientists, and researchers. Presentation topics will range from urban neighborhoods to indigenous people, developing nations, environmental organizations, and virtual communities.
Summary of Conference
By Melinda Laituri, 2006 Chair
The 5th Annual PPGIS Conference was held in conjunction with the URISA Annual Conference. The venue was the Convention Center in Vancouver, British Columbia. PPGIS was a separate track during the URISA Conference over one and a half days of the three day URISA event. PPGIS registrants paid a subsidized registration where they were able to attend all URISA events during the PPGIS conference. Tracks included: Lessons Learned, Empowerment → Technology, Facilitating Engagement, and Indigenous Issues: Engagement and Empowerment. The numbers in attendance for the PPGIS conference were approximately 50 individuals.
New activities: What we learned
This conference was different from previous PPGIS conferences in several ways. This conference was held in conjunction with the URISA conference. This allowed for attendees at the URISA conference to drop in to the PPGIS activities and broaden the audience for PPGIS. However, it also had the effect of reducing attendance at PPGIS sessions due to competition with other tracks at the same time. Additionally, the PPGISers could also attend URISA tracks that allowed for cross-over and cross-fertilization of ideas. Previous PPGIS conferences were hosted by a university and sponsored by URISA: Rutgers, Portland, Madison, and Cleveland. A tentative arrangement had been made with an institution but did not reach fruition. Therefore, plans were made to work conjointly with the URISA conference. The conference was located in an international setting – Vancouver, BC, Canada. The location may have inhibited a wider PPGIS audience due to distance and costs.
Melinda Laituri and Laxmi Ramasubramanian provided the conference introduction and overview. They described the development of PPGIS and key conferences and activities that developed around the topic since the 1990s. These activities all reflect common threads in terms of approach, technology, data and knowledge building. However, PPGIS faces key challenges that include basic conceptual problems, few metrics to measure success, and efforts to develop best practices.
The presenters were engaging and presented innovative and exciting projects – evidence that PPGIS activities are as vibrant as ever:
Lessons Learned Track
Hubert Morgan: Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, http://www.nipc.org/2040/
Morgan described the key lessons learned by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission in developing their regional plan: The 2040 Regional Framework Plan. The process to create the plan involved seven counties that affect 8.5 million people. Morgan pointed out three key aspects of this project related to lessons learned: 1) the planning process called “Common Ground”; 2) the importance of visualization of data, scenarios, and choices; and 3) the scale of engagement.
A key lesson learned was the importance of developing a participatory process that included as many people in the community as possible. Common Ground was the process that invited people to participate through a series of discussions, meetings and workshops to determine important issues, build trust, and develop sustainable relationships for future projects. The result was the identification of goals, key themes and working framework available on a CD-ROM. Part of the CD-ROM was the visualization of choices and scenarios in a digital spatial format. Another important lesson was the need to sift through the maze of data to develop a compilation of choices for regional planning and development. Communication of visual data needed to be conducted in a clear manner that was responsive to community needs and perspectives – output was flexible and representative of “real places”. The scale of engagement was variable in that a regional planning effort needs to also consider local relationships. Multiple avenues of engagement are necessary for meeting venues, goal identification, spatial and visual output, and final decisions.
Empowerment → Technology Track
The intersection of process, technology and empowerment was discussed by a trio of presenters. Wansoo Im, (Vertices LLC, New Brunswick, NJ, www.ilovegeography.com) described the important new technologies that are influencing PPGIS, in particular interactive, web-based GIS. Web-based GIS not only provides information but also creates an environment for public participatory communication. Alyssa Jones described the Community Mapping Network (http://www.shim.bc.ca/) whose dual purpose is to increase accessibility to governmental data to community and indigenous groups and to develop tools for data update and analysis. The main purposes of the project is to develop local knowledge, establish networks, and to standardize methods for metadata, updating procedures, data collection and development. David Biggs described MetroQuest (http://www.envisiontools.com/), an integrated community sustainability planning effort to create land use scenarios “on the fly” and on the web. Identification of multiple bottom lines in terms of society, economics, and the environment are key to the integration of multiple factors that explicitly link the landscape to policy making.
Facilitating Engagement Track
Josh Kirschenbaum presented the results from a national study conducted by Policy Link (http://www.policylink.org/default.html) on the use of geographic data by community groups for neighborhood revitalization. Three key relationship are critical to this project: 1) the relationship between economic and social activity; 2) the relationship between technology and community development (in terms of access, use and understanding of geospatial technologies); 3) the relationship of expert technicians to holders of local knowledge.
Indigenous Issues: Engagement and Empowerment Track
First Nations in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada have been using GIS to manage land and resources and other traditional values. Two First Nations, the Squamish Nation and the Lil’wat Nation, based north of Vancouver discussed the role of GIS for their tribal needs and applications. Chrystal Nahanee of the Squamish Nation described the process to adopt GIS for their tribal needs. Important projects include: develop of comprehensive parcel maps, emergency planning outputs, and resource maps with up-to-date land cover data. Tracy Howlett of the Lil’wat Nation described participatory mapping exercises for developing traditional lands inventory and parcel maps. Both speakers emphasized the importance of the “growing” of the technology from within the tribes without external consultants. Howlett cited the importance of three-dimensional maps for better understanding by community members of digital data. Eliana Macdonald described the Aboriginal Mapping Network (http://www.nativemaps.org/) that provides the means to network indigenous communities that are professionally and geographically isolated. The site allows participants to share best practices and is developing an interactive on-line GIS toolkit.
PPGIS Crossroads – Discussion sessions
This PPGIS conference was viewed as a crossroads event for PPGIS. While the theme was Engagement and Empowerment, the discussion sessions focused on taking stock and future directions. The key lessons learned from this series of presentation include:
Key findings of the conference include:
1. PPGIS is making increasing use of the Internet and open source resources.
2. Multiple publics are using multiple techniques to be engaged.
3. There are numerous and contrasting ways to practice PPGIS.
1. While having a daily common time for the PPGIS sessions was important, it was problematic due to scheduling with other conference activities.
2. Scheduling of sessions with Keynote addresses cause conflicts for those wanting to attend both activities.
3. Serial scheduling of PPGIS with URISA would be preferable.
An important topic of discussion was the need to define PPGIS identity. There have been a splintering of PPGIS into several different manifestations: Mapping for Change (explicit focus on the “South” and reflected in coining the term PGIS), Society and GIS (need some descriptive statement), Critical GIS (need some descriptive statement) and PPGIS that has come to refer to practices in North America. Parsing of participatory gis into different communities reveals an evolution in agendas and priorities as well as momentum shifts. This needs further exploration and discussion by researchers and practitioners.
Next steps: – Workshop and Conference
Future plans include:
The 2005 PPGIS Conference: Raising Questions on the Interaction of GIS and the Public
Mark Salling, Ph.D., GISP
Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University
URISA Board Member and PPGIS 2005 Conference Chair
If you are a GIS professional, you know that the technology with which you practice your profession is important and serves many organizations and people. Indeed, since it is intended to lead to greater efficiencies and effectiveness in the use of public and/or private resources, GIS by design serves the general public directly or indirectly. Who could question that?
Well, some say that is not enough, since efficiency and effectiveness ignore equity.
What the PPGIS conference is largely about, and what those who attend are generally concerned with, is the social, economic, and political equity that GIS “should” deliver in its ability to improve access to, and use of, information. The democratization of information, delivered and organized through the mechanism of maps, is an underlying value and goal held and promoted by most, if not all, “PPGISers”.
PPGIS is a small movement within the larger GIS community when measured by the number of GIS professionals who recognize themselves as associated with it, those who participate in the PPGIS community through publication and other interactions and communications, and in attendance at the annual conference sponsored by URISA.
But clearly the vast majority of us GIS professionals support a goal of improved access to good information for informed public participation in government and society - and at all scales, including the neighborhood, local community, region, nation, and world. So though you may not have attended the recent PPGIS conference in Cleveland, you may be interested in what occurred there.
While each attendee carried away his or her own impressions, here are mine – along with some of my take on where PPGIS is.
First, who attended the conference? Mostly university types, along with those practitioners who have innovative applications to discuss or demonstrate. Among the almost 100 attendees  , university and research organizations constituted about half; another 25 percent were from non-profits of one kind or another, generally local community or neighborhood organizations; approximately 15 percent were from county or local government; and 10 percent represented private sector for-profit organizations.
Held at the Levin Urban College at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio, a third of the attendees were from Ohio and a quarter were from Cleveland and northeast Ohio. PPGIS is international in scope - the conference drew participation from England, Taiwan, Egypt, Korea, and Canada, as well as across the U.S.
While that describes the conference attendees, I think there are four types of participants in the larger PPGIS community.
Though I am new to the PPGIS community, I would say that there is (or could be) a continuum of "participation" as well as a range of "publics". Systems that provide participation range from those that: provide a look-up function for information (e.g., find the social service agency near you); enable more and better analytical use of the information (synthesizing the data); enable feedback "up" from the public to decision makers through the technology (e.g., “here is what I want my neighborhood to look like”, “here is a suggested redistricting plan”); provide direct decision making and empowerment through the technology (e.g., consensus processing on land use or environmental planning decisions, or social or government service delivery). Currently few if any systems exist on the last end of this spectrum.
The keynote speaker, Denis Wood, author of the best-selling The Power of Maps, Seeing Through Maps, and other publications on maps and cartography, spoke directly to this issue.  Denis resides in Raleigh North, Carolina, and is himself a long-time activist for neighborhood participation in the planning process in his community. Denis’s presentation, titled “Public?, Participation?, Geographic?, Information?, Systems?”, set the tone for much of the rest of the meeting.
Questioning the achievements and direction of the PPGIS community, though not its intentions and mission, his talk challenged the PPGIS community to think about more bottom-up approaches, to move contributions beyond information dissemination from the “experts” point of view to a citizen and public-directed use of the technology. Denis cited projects that should be instructive to the PPGIS community. The Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute of the 1960’s let neighborhood residents help decide what problems to map. This led to such innovative (and highly controversial) maps as the one showing “Where Commuters Run Over Black Children on the Pointes-Downtown Track”.
In New York, the “City of Memory” project provided linkages between maps and personal stories about places. This project focused on enabling citizens to communicate with one another about their visions, preferences, and experiences. This interaction takes place among the public, not between the public and the planners or government as other public participation efforts do. The individual benefits from sharing with others. And the process could also benefit the whole – building community, reducing barriers and tensions perhaps, enabling consensus and common purpose and vision. And if measured and monitored, rather than guided, it could be used by the planners to accommodate it (or to defeat it a cynic could say).
These approaches to getting public participation through maps - or just community understanding of itself - are very interesting and may inspire some more thinking about being innovative in the application of technology. Denis asserts that
“bottom-up” might mean that the outcome has not been foreseen, which is exactly the outcome intended, but is so rarely achieved in public participation planning efforts. The range of access to City of Memory – personal computer, kiosk, museum installation – multiplies the likelihood that the public will participate, and this magnifies the emergent quality of the outcome. It all results in a map which has not been exactly made by the public but which without it has no content at all and deflates into a frame around nothing.”
Certainly a challenging statement, but one I think most in the audience took to heart.
Apparently these are issues that PPGISers have understood. And yet progress is also apparent, as Denis would probably agree after hearing some of the presentations that followed his talk.
Starting on Sunday morning and ending Tuesday at noon, meetings were divided into three tracks: 1) PPGIS Theory/PPGIScience; 2) PPGIS Practice, Monitoring, and Evaluation; and 3) Data Issues. I find track organization at most conferences to be mostly only vaguely indicative of actual content differences. The “theory” track, for example, included some innovative applications with promising long range possibilities that could have just as easily fit in the “practice” track.
In addition there was a plenary session on engaging the public - focusing on the work of AmericaSpeaks in using technology in large pubic meetings to gain public input on major planning and community visioning issues. Town Hall, focus group sessions, and a closing session were used to gather ideas on where the PPGIS community should focus attention.
Able to attend only selected presentations in each of the three tracks, I enjoyed discussions outside the track sessions about some applications that promise to empower people in very direct ways. The most interesting idea I heard is one that enables citizens to see distributions of reported problems in their neighborhood. Online maps of reported abandoned cars, vandalism, observed rats, street noise, uncollected trash, loud dogs, and other citizen complaints would help citizens see and understand any patterns. Not only does this provide information about what is happening in the neighborhood, it also could enable citizens to identify neighbors with similar concerns. Neighbors can see who else called in - or "mapped in" through an Internet mapping application - similar complaints about service or neighborhood problems and issues.
This neighbor-to-neighbor interaction can be a community building process. One person’s concern becomes a community’s issue. Knowing that there are spatial patterns or concentrations and knowing who else in your neighborhood is a potential ally brings the proverb "in unity there is strength" to life. Of course, this won't work until the Internet is as common as television.
It may be a pipe-dream but the idea that GIS can be a technology tool that gives every person more voice in society gives me some encouragement.
The conference program was ably chaired by Tim Nyerges (U. of Washington) and the conference committee is looking for new members. Contact the URISA office if you are interested in working with this community that is working to empower the public through the GIS tools that we professionals enjoy.
 Attendance was down considerably, by more than half, from previous years. It is likely that the ESRI Users conference the week before had some effect, and conference attendance for such secondary conferences such as PPGIS are likely hardest hit when travel budgets are severely limited as they generally are now. But the conference committee is also focusing on the issues of who constitutes the PPGIS community.
July 31 - August 2, 2005
Cleveland State University
To purchase Conference Proceedings CD
July 18-20, 2004
University of Wisconsin-Madison
To purchase Conference Proceedings CD
July 20-22, 2003
Portland State University
To purchase Conference Proceedings CD
New Brunswick, New Jersey
To purchase Conference Proceedings (hard copy only)