WHAT PPGIS REALLY NEEDS IS...
Department of Landscape Architecture and
Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis
As a relatively new field in the GI Sciences (GIS), PPGIS has struggled to make sense of itself. More precisely, the researchers and participants in PPGIS meetings have offered presentations about disparate issues and experiences, wondering if they are really talking about the same topic.
The core literature of the field (what little there is) contributes to this confusion as it uses an inconsistent vocabulary, and often does not build well on past PPGIS research. The result is a field that struggles to establish itself and seems to make more lateral progress than forward. It is worth noting that this paper takes liberties in proposing some materials for future use. These materials are not meant as much as final products, but provocative materials for response and discussion at the 2nd Annual Public Participation GIS Conference.
IDENTITY – A DEFINITION OF PPGIS
Perhaps the single greatest impediment to research is the lack of a clear definition of the field. What is PPGIS? A singular definition seems impossible, but the literature (as it exists today) suggests some basic situations that researchers frequently treat as being included in PPGIS.
As a start point for a PPGIS survey, Sawicki and Peterman (2002, 24) developed a working definition of PPGIS organizations as those that:
(a) collect demographic, administrative, environmental or other local-area databases,
(b) do something to the data to make it more useful locally (e.g., address matching of individual records; creating customized tables), and
(c) provide this information to local nonprofit community-based groups at low or no cost. This can include local non-profit community groups that are collecting and processing data in-house, or data ‘intermediaries’ that process and analyze data for others (data intermediaries might be government offices, nonprofit groups, university-based centers, etc.).
While their chapter explained a number of issues that might lead us to make minor modifications to their definition, the most important is that they were defining PPGIS as a type of system, not as a sub-disciplinary field under the larger umbrella of GIS.
As a field within GI science, PPGIS needs to also be treated as a science and not simply a technology. Public participatory geographic information science (PPGIS) should be accepted as a meaningful field within GIS that studies the many ways that elements of PPGIS are used. Ultimately this will need to include both GI and/or GI systems technologies. PPGIS needs to include the entire public including both individuals (like IMS users) and groups (like Sawicki and Peterman’s organizations). Finally, PPGIS needs to be defined in regards to the process or activity in which the public is participating. Some research has emphasized the participation in mapping and data collection while other work has focused more on participation in public agency decisions.
The author has no intent establishing a permanent definition of PPGIS, but offers the following working definition as a way of developing the previously mentioned criteria.
Public participatory geographic information science is
(1) a study of the uses and applications of geographic information and/or geographic information systems technology
(2) used by members of the public, both as individuals and grass-root groups,
(3) for participation in the public processes (data collection, mapping, analysis and/or decision-making) affecting their lives.
Upon review, the definition seem inclusive enough to capture most of the various examples that have been included in both PPGIS Conferences (2003 and 2002) and Community Participation and Geographic Information Systems (Craig, Harris and Weiner 2002) and the GI and Society Conference in 1999. Moreover, it seems to exclude a variety of work that is being shown elsewhere. It can be hoped that this definition will be explored and altered through this conference.
While this proposal of a definition may seem relatively safe, it lacks resolution of many issues that could be debated further. For example, Aitken (2002) reminds us of important questions about the very nature of “public”. Fundamental issues like this need to continue to be discussed as PGIS researchers work towards a general agreement on what the field is about.
VOCABULARY – A LEXICON OF PPGIS
The 1st Annual PPGIS Conference included moments
that seemed like a visit to the fallen
As PPGIS matures it becomes increasingly important for researchers to share their information in a common language. The formal development of a lexicon of PPGIS could aid these discussions and facilitate the incorporation of new researchers and practitioners into PPGIS meetings and discussions. There are many terms (e.g., equity, engagement, empowerment, participation, access) that continue to be used so loosely as to risk losing any significant meaning with in the field.
One interesting approach would be to revisit the methodology
used by Dueker and Kjerne
(1989) in defining a variety of GIS related terms. Using a form of the
STRUCTURE – A TAXONOMY OF PPGIS
A successful and central element of PPGIS research has been the development of case studies. These examples need to be organized into a more structured order that recognizes the commonalities and differences in the various examples. For example, one major distinction (perhaps the greatest) is the venue for participation. Some PPGIS case studies have shown examples of citizens participating in mapping. Others have emphasized the participation in owning and/or operating the GIS. Still others have illustrated participation in public decisions.
What seems to be needed is a relatively simple structure (or model) that helps researchers and observers view the more complex PPGIS landscape and compare and contrast such different projects as the South African field work of Harris and Weiner (2002) and the participatory planning processes used in Verona, WI (Ventura et al. 2002).
A basic and systematic categorization of PPGIS cases would facilitate these efforts. Over time, this categorization could be developed into a formal taxonomy of PPGIS. The notion of using taxonomy in GIS research is not new (Obermeyer 1989; Calkins and Weatherbee 1995) and is simply meant to provide a simple way to group and describe different situations.
The literature provides many implied distinctions, but also includes some specific places to start. For instance, Leitner et al. (2002, 41) list six different means of PPGIS delivery:
1. community-based (in house) GIS
2. university-community partnerships,
3. publicly accessible GIS facilities at universities and libraries,
4. ‘map rooms’,
5. Internet Map Servers, and
6. neighbourhood GIS centres.
The problem with this as a system is that these categories do not stand as mutually exclusive categories. In fact, many public systems could be hoped to employ all of these means of delivery.
Carver (2003) described how the Ladder of Participation could be applied to areas like PPGIS as a Ladder of e-Participation. Tulloch and Shaprio (2003) offered a similar 6-category version of a Ladder of Access. Ultimately, this resulted in a simplified comparison of participation and access that allowed a quick categorization of successful and unsuccessful projects into 8 categories (Figure 1). While the distinction between participation and access is critical, it doesn’t necessarily serve well to inform a taxonomy of PPGIS.
Figure 1 – Matrix of the 8 classes of access and participation from Tulloch and Shapiro (2003).
Still, these examples were offered in other contexts and do not seem to fully satisfy the need of a taxonomy. An initial review of the literature suggests some distinct classes that could be used as a potential basis for a taxonomy of PPGIS cases. Like the previously provided definition, this is offered as a place to begin, not a final product. As an example, these distinctions are mapped out in a graphic identification key (Figure 2).
Most of the cases fit into one of three classes based on the activity in which the public is participating: mapping, analysis, and decision. Mapping would include a variety of ways in which the public is allowed to help in the process of mapping and/or data collection that will be incorporated into larger public processes. The proliferation of GIS (especially web-based GIS) is allowing more participation in the process of analysis. Participation in analysis includes examples in which individuals with are given data and allowed to analyze it before public meetings, and cases in which citizens are assisted in developing their personal multi-criteria model describing their preference. Finally, some PPGIS examples emphasize the public’s ability to participate in, or influence, a public decision.
As a second level of classification, the cases can be sorted based on the participants. The first distinction involves situations in which individuals are participants. This might include most of the web-based participation examples. The second possible class involves those situations in which groups are the primary participants. These include situations in which participation is welcome, but where barriers (like cost and training) force groups (like NGOS) to participate on behalf of segments of the public.
Figure 2 – Preliminary example of a possible PPGIS Identification Key
CONTEXT – THE DOMAIN(S) OF PPGIS
Like the GISciences, PPGIS needs to better determine the nature of its domain. What fields contribute to its science? For the field to advance it will need to build on the advances and traditions of many different disciplines. Clearly GIScience contributes to PPGIS, but there are a number of other fields on which PPGIS has already built. An obvious contributor is geography which represents a significant expertise on spatial problems as well as social science. But, as attendance at the first annual PPGIS conference demonstrated, it is broader than that field.
An important element of PPGIS that makes it distinct from other GIS work is participation which is a difficult problem for research. Social science provides a sophisticated basis on which to build, but the fields of planning and landscape architecture have established different approaches that can contribute as well. This multi-disciplinary approach can create conflicts as some social scientists will feel uncomfortable with the hands-on approaches of some planning researchers.
As mentioned previously, much of the participation is occurring within some public process with an intent to influence the process or, perhaps, to change the final public decision that will be made. Understanding these institutional and political processes and the power structures on which they are based will benefit greatly from the incorporation of expertise from human ecologists and political scientists. The implications of these technologies for these public processes will include a need for an economic perspective as well.
Thus far, an important element in the PPGIS literature has been the technological aspect of various case studies. The case studies have often offered new technological solutions to disseminate information, facilitate participation or overcome barriers. Much of this work can be advanced through the work of computer scientists who bring research expertise on a variety of relevant areas.
It is important for PPGIS to move towards describing its domain. The many fields that contribute to PPGIS need to be identified and credited for their roles in defining this emerging field.
MAKING IT WORK
What PPGIS really needs is to encourage exploration and professional development of ideas while embracing scientific traditions of research. It should be noted that this paper has explored goals for a PPGIScience. However, those goals are somewhat different (especially in the short term) than one might expect if this paper were intended to promote the actual existence of PPGISystems. However, in the long term, PPGIS cannot advance significantly without greatly improved scientific advances supporting the professional developments in the field.
A major element of the described goals is consensus. Some consensus is necessary, but unanimity is not. Science is full of dissension but it generally occurs against the majority. This allows largely accepted definitions to be used and allows a minority to still hack at these definitions and cause a slow and deliberate change. PPGIS has reached a point where it could really benefit from a generally agreed upon definition of itself. Additionally, PPGIS needs a working vocabulary and a structure to advance discussions and research and prevent unnecessary amounts of reinvention. This still leaves room for change and new directions, but facilitates those in the professional and academic communities who simply seek a meaningful context into which their work can be placed.
Thus far, the paper has attempted to identify needs for the scientific advancement. This list could be supplemented with some items that belong more on a wishlist. It seems clear that a research agenda in PPGIS will be advance more quickly by greater communication of work in the field. This annual conference is a great step towards that, but a more formal network and multiple meeting opportunities would help keep the ideas alive. Funding for exploring these topics and for genuine scientific research in the field would make an enormous difference. Additionally, a research center could serve to identify and promote some of the best work in the field. However, the recognition that these require seems unlikely until the field addresses some of the formal needs described above.
Aitken, S., 2002, “Public participation, technological discourses
and the scale of GIS,” Chapter 27 in W. Craig, T. Harris and D. Weiner (Eds.),
2002, Community Participation and
Geographic Information Systems,
Calkins, Hugh W., and Richard Weatherbe, 1995,
“Taxonomy of spatial Data Sharing,” Chapter 4 in Sharing Geographic
Information (Onsrud, H. J. and G. Rushton, Eds.).
Carver, S., 2003, “The Future of Participatory Approaches Using Geographic Information:
Developing a Research Agenda for the 21st Century,” URISA Journal (Forthcoming).
Dueker, K., and D. Kjerne, 1989, Multipurpose
Cadastre: Terms and Definitions.
Harris, T., and D. Weiner, 2002, “Implementing a community-integrated
GIS: perspectives from South African fieldwork,” Chapter 18 in W. Craig, T. Harris
and D. Weiner (Eds.), 2002, Community
Participation and Geographic Information Systems,
Leitner, H., R. McMaster, S. Elwood, S. McMaster, and E. Sheppard, 2002, “Models in making GIS available to community organizations: dimensions of difference and appropriateness,” Chapter 3 in W. Craig, T. Harris and D. Weiner (Eds.), 2002, Community Participation and Geographic Information Systems, London: Taylor and Francis, p. 37-52.
Obermeyer, N. J. 1989. “A Systematic Approach to the Taxonomy of Geographic Information Use,” GIS/LIS ‘89: Conference Proceedings, Vol. II. 421-9.
Sawicki, D., and D. Peterman, 2002, “Surveying the extent of PPGIS
practice in the
Tulloch, D., and T. Shaprio, 2003, “The Intersection of Data Access and Public Participation: Impacting GIS Users' Success?” URISA Journal (Forthcoming).
Ventura, S., B. Niemann, T. Sutphin, and R. Chenoweth, 2002, “GIS-enhanced land-use planning,” Chapter 9 in W. Craig, T. Harris and D. Weiner (Eds.), 2002, Community Participation and Geographic Information Systems, London: Taylor and Francis, p. 113-124.
W. Craig, T. Harris and D. Weiner (Eds.), 2002, Community Participation and Geographic Information Systems,
 Readers may note that the acronym for PPGIS was not previously spelled out in this paper. Even the Original proceedings were titled “1st Annual Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) Conference, never committing to a specific meaning of “GIS”.