During the 2002 Conference, attendees were given the opportunity to identify "hot buttons"--critical issues, questions and challenges facing the PPGIS community. They were asked to write down their overall reflections as well as responses to presentations. These were synthesized into high priority issues and used to stimulate discussion at a “town meeting” on the last day of the conference.
At this town meeting, attendees first formed small discussion groups to address the highest priority issues identified during the conference. Volunteer facilitators then guided the discussions and attendees ranked issues by importance, and then recommend ways to answer/address them. The "Town Meeting" wrapped-up with reports from the groups and reflections from our key-note speaker.
Below is a categorization and synthesis.
(Thanks to the following people for transcribing and refining the questions: Wolf Naegeli, Peter Bilton, Jon Dorwart, Sarah Williams, Meg Merrick, Paul S. Hughes, Cindy Copp, Marc Schlossberg, and Doug Aberley—Renee Sieber, conference chair.)
What is PPGIS: Is it a practice, a tool, a process, a science? Is it explicitly normative, ethical?
How far does PPGIS extend? To manual approaches? To other technologies (spreadsheets? CADD)? Should PPGIS be renamed? For example, Public involvement GIS, Community-integrated GIS, Community Mapping.
Who is "public"? The poor, the general public, the neighborhood association, the realtor? How do you engage the public if they're tired, don't have time? Who's empowered by these tools?
What is "participation"? How much is enough? The word "participation" has considerable institutional baggage (e.g., counting hits on a web site, counting “bums in seats”). Maybe it should be defined as early, meaningful and continuous involvement. There's lots of faith and assumptions that public participation will just work because you believe in it.
Many projects narrowly focus on one aspect of either public or participation but not the spectrum. There's not much "public" in PPGIS (i.e., papers focus on community groups but not the general public). Want more about benefits to the public and not just to companies or consultants. Perhaps there should be less focus on GIS and more on community--collection of data, planning process, community involvement.
How do we empower the grassroots during the planning process not just at the selection of alternatives? GIS should be used to create alternatives, and evaluate and analyze them. How do we reclaim empowerment from whomever is defining the values, (most likely) the technical elites?
Preliminary Definition (offered by some attendees): to provide opportunities of input from citizens, organizations and institutions into public decision making. PPGIS is an umbrella term that includes citizens, nonprofits and voluntary associations, existing public agencies and their current mandates for public participation, democratic processes, and organizational collaboration.
The placement of PPGIS
Where does PPGIS “live” (as a concept or a domain of knowledge, but also the physical location of the GIS)? Where will PPGIS eventually live (i.e., after you finish your project and go away)?
Is PPGIS just a tool that should be subsumed into community-based or citizen-based planning or bioregional planning?
Should the discussion of PPGIS be broadened to include community based research design, participatory action research? There are many tools besides GIS that would be of use to community-based organizations. How do we integrate other research methods with PPGIS? In these research models, communities help pose the questions, collect data, interpret data, disseminate data and document data. Should these be the values of PPGIS?
We need to engage more theories of citizen participation. We could bring in other literatures, disciplines for a broader perspective and to determine if PPGIS is similar or unique.
How about coupling GIS support with existing nonprofit support institutions?
Current PPGIS is focused on quality of life and social justice issues. How can PPGIS be incorporated into routine public agency-initiated public participation such as transportation planning?
Data is crucial. We should focus on data acquisition and ownership. Just because you have data today doesn't mean you'll have it tomorrow.
Should there be a mechanism for storing, centralizing, and distributing data so that communities have improved access? This includes data created by public agencies and by communities.
There are ethical issues in data. We all want data (maybe even personal data) but there are privacy issues. How do we represent the stories of the vulnerable while also protecting their privacy and interests?
How do we build capacity to handle data?
How to handle issues of top-down v. bottom-up; proprietary v. open access data? Lots of data has no public participation in it. Instead, it's already massaged. Should we be advocating for greater data access, public information disclosure laws? Is there a universal model for access, for example, data clearinghouses?
Measures and Outcomes
What are the outcomes/goals and how do you measure them? How do you handle undisclosed, changing goals and goals that differ by interest group?
What is the goal of PPGIS? Spatial literacy? Advocacy? Learning about democracy? Access? Communication? Capacity building? Should we just educate and then let communities/citizens choose to act (or not)?
How do we ensure sustainability: in capacity building, data access, training, funding, maintenance (data, hardware, software)?
We should ensure transparency in PPGIS. But what is transparency? How do we reduce the jargon?
What is the best practice of PPGIS?
Youth involvement is good. Youth are usually frozen out of the decision making process (e.g., don't have a right to vote). At the same time, we don't want age discrimination (don't want to "freeze" out seniors because we don't think that they can learn new technologies). Is virtual GIS/modeling the hook to involve youth? Or maybe the hook is something like controversial issues?
New technologies and Old practices
Why is there intense interest in PPGIS?
Virtual GIS (simulations, modeling, alternate scenarios) takes lots of time. Does it provide greater participation? We need to be more aware of real communities and not the abstract.
Who is the public in online applications of GIS? How does "public" GIS rise above the value and impact of a video game? Does interactive spatial modeling simply devolve into a game to play? How do interactive websites differ from all other websites vying for attention?
Many presentations discussed new technologies and using the Internet as a form of community participation in planning. But are we replacing community forums with technology? Old-fashioned maps with GIS? Are we losing something in the process? For example, there was a gulf between the decentralized, people-oriented, small-scale, and face-to-face nature of the plenary speaker's [Doug Aberley's] examples and the mega-sized, instant electronic voting type of public participation in the NYC example [voting on preferences for the World Trade Center site]. Where in the latter do you find the three-way conversations* that happen by chance and result in unexpected solutions? The larger the group the more time needed to do participation.
Do we lead a community with GIS, or are we creating a new community with the technology.
For instance, in the era of sprawl, are we creating community, rather than preserving an existing community?
*According to Al-Kodmany's presentation, one-way communication provides static information to the public (web GIS); two-way communication can occur between planners and the public in collaborative planning; three-way communication occurs among different publics.
What is the role of non-governmental organizations' (NGO's) vis-à-vis citizens in PPGIS? Should they be facilitating public understanding? Act on behalf of?
What is the role of the private consultant? Can s/he do PPGIS but never involve the public (e.g., do contract work per request of a foundation for nonprofit)?
What is the role of government? Supplier of data, builder of coalitions?
What is the role of the university?
Who's responsible to ensure participation? Who drives the participation, the use of GIS?
Should a professional facilitator be hired? Should a facilitator be objective (and what is objectivity)? Should s/he be prejudiced towards the public?
Should the PPGIS "chauffeurs" (see Haklay's presentation) be as objective as possible? How do we prevent our opinions from predominating?
Overall, what is the role of the expert? For example, what happens when a community-based organization doesn't have the time or energy to be "empowered" but should be?
Should GIS be available to everyone? For example, militia men? Just groups involved in good things like sustainability, social justice? What about competing interests in the same geography?
How do we begin talking about structures, linkages and partnerships?
The presentations focused on big cities or communities. Not rural areas nor global issues.
Is PPGIS only very local, very tangible? For example, how could you map capital flows; how can PPGIS work across borders?
What are the limits of working across different scales? For example, the public may participate precisely because it's local and become disinterested at another scale (say, national). What are the limits of working at one scale?
Values, Ethics and Standards
What are the values of PPGIS? Are there certain values that we should promote?
How can PPGIS be used to alter the power imbalances of society to benefit marginalized populations? Presentations at this conference seemed to be very conservative/traditional in reinforcing existing power structures, for example, between experts and communities.
Should we be promoting an insurgent/subversive/guerrilla GIS instead of an institutional PPGIS?
What about creating an open source GIS/PPGIS? A collectively owned GIS?
How do we get more money/find more money for communities to do PPGIS?
Should we create ethical standards for PPGIS? What should they be?
Are there GIS technologies that we should not endorse?
What about the "human subjects" issue? This is a huge issue for academics conducting research in communities.
Should we create other standards for PPGIS: for example, in visual communication? GIS/maps should be intuitive/easy to comprehend and often they are not.
Should we be involved in professional development of PPGISers? How do we retain institutional knowledge? How do we find each other to build partnerships and our own capacity?