items related to citizen, community based organization involvement, user generated content, volunteered geographic information

Empowering communities to manage their water supply

As part of the project “Geoweb and Community Development in Quebec“, two teams of McGill School of the Environment students spent the fall term 2010 working with a community-based watershed monitoring agency CDRN (Corporation de développement de la rivière Noire) to explore the potential for the Geoweb to serve as a conduit for citizen participation in watershed management. These student groups developed two tools, conducted a series of workshops with community members, and produced reports and instructional materials. McGill Public Affairs produced a short film about the group activities that gives an excellent overview of the project and the potential for the Geoweb in a community development context.


Change at hand: Web 2.0 tools for development

Soon to come
… printed and online …
… in English and French …
Participatory Learning and Action 59:
Change at hand: Web 2.0 tools for development
Guest editors: Holly Ashley, Jon Corbett, Ben Garside and Giacomo Rambaldi
Web 2.0 tools and approaches are radically changing the ways we create, share, collaborate and publish digital information through the Internet. Participatory Web 2.0 for development – or Web2forDev for short – is a way of employing web services to intentionally improve information-sharing and online collaboration for development. Web 2.0 presents us with new opportunities for change – as well as challenges – that we need to better understand and grasp. This special issue shares learning and reflections from practice and considers the ways forward for using Web 2.0 for development.
Participatory Learning and Action is the world’s leading informal journal on participatory approaches and methods. It draws on the expertise of guest editors to provide up-to-the minute accounts of the development and use of participatory methods in specific fields. It provides a forum for those engaged in participatory work – community workers, activists and researchers – to share their experiences, conceptual reflections and methodological innovations with others, providing a genuine ‘voice from the field’. It is a vital resource for those working to enhance the participation of ordinary people in local, regional, national, and international decision-making, in both South and North.
ISBN: 978-1-84369-716-9
ISSN: 1357-938X
Order no: 14563IIED
Published by IIED and CTA, June 2009
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Recipients are encouraged to use it freely for not-for-profit purposes only. Please credit the authors and the Participatory Learning and Action series. To view a copy of this license, visit

Governance, Participaton and the Geoweb: a computer-side chat

Jon Corbett and Chris Gore met virtually to discuss the impact of the geoweb on governance and how we might incorporate research related to this into the project objectives. We recorded the interview and post it here for your viewing pleasure...

Britta's Research Video

Rahemtulla presentation at GEOIDE 2009 #3

Rahemtulla presentation at GEOIDE 2009 #3

Beyond The Internet ‐ Distributing Voluntary Geographic Information Using Mobile Technology, Hanif Rahemtulla The importance of community participation in local decision making and access to local information has been recognized as fundamental to a thriving local democracy. One of the most common mechanisms to achieve this is the Internet. Web‐based Geographical Information Systems (Web‐GIS) have also gained prominence. However, there is a link between social exclusion and digital exclusion which should not be ignored in this context. This paper gives a technical overview of the EcoTEXT system, designed to address this wikipedia, June 29, 2010: "the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology, and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalance both in physical access to technology and the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen." For us, the digital divide includes access to a range of platforms, from Internet to mobile technologies. It includes the availability of data to make effective use of those technologies (e.g., a coarse resolution digital background on Google Maps may make it difficult to effectively use that technology).">digital divide by means of targeted text messages containing details of local events. Subscribers express a range of preferences as to the type of information and events of interest, and also provide information as to the distance from home they are willing to travel. Text messages are sent to their mobile phones free of charge. Using this mechanism greatly increases the potential audience for digital information held in Web‐GIS.

Rahemtulla presentation at GEOIDE 2009 #2

Rahemtulla presentation at GEOIDE 2009 #2

Mapping Change For Sustainable Communities, Hanif Rahemtulla In the United Kingdom the areas of East London and the Thames Gateway are facing huge and accelerating changes. If local people and communities are to engage effectively with the processes of change they need to know what is going on, to understand how proposed changes may affect them and to feel confident to play a positive role in those changes. Currently these communities face change in their areas with limited means (institutions and knowledge) to assess and influence decision‐making processes and feel excluded and alienated from the changes taking place and report that their concerns go unaddressed. As a result, some stakeholders are missing from project discussions. Mapping is a powerful way to engage local communities; to visually represent information; to provide evidence of environmental inequalities and also in helping to draw new links and ideas. Through participatory processes we developed an on‐line interactive GIS‐based map of East London which provides a central hub linking information in an accessible and policy relevant format. The map can be used to link planning proposals and development sites with flood and climate data, air and noise pollution mapping, local environmental and social issues, and projects. Most importantly, the map is continually evolving as local people are able to enter information and use the map as a mode of communication. In the long term, this map will help to develop a clearer identity of the environmental issues and inequalities which exist in East London and the Thames Gateway.


June 11, 2009

[Renee] NewfoundlandGroup points to the issue of "Observer engagement with the issue beyond generating observations. YES. For us, participation is a means to an end. That end is action of some kind. How do we encourage that action? Maybe online participation, by its nature, discourages action. We need to cover this more at a later time.

[Renee] Another difference concerns NewfoundlandGroup's comments "Degree of investment in the issue (geographic proximity, interest group, economic ties, political ties)". We believe that we can distinguish between Web 2.0 and Web 1.0 on, for want of a better phrase, how nebulous the project is. Traditional venues for employing participation with geospatial technologies are structured (e.g., planning processes, an expert coming into a village, a grassroots-led initiative to preserve/prevent something). You can't say the same for Web 2.0. People contributing content? That could be done for any number of reasons, none of which may have to do with a structured venue. Still, Hanif and I are hard-pressed to conceptualize PGeoweb without some kind of structure (perhaps Mc Conchie would call it "instigation"). So this ultimately ends up being an area of commonality.

[Renee] Yolanda's project didn't start out as monitoring project. Yolanda, could you elaborate? There was an initial desire for monitoring and participation, but not raison d'etre.

[Renee] Outcome or goals of P Geoweb differ by group (see RinnerChung), goal (Chmura). "Other Ryerson" makes me wonder if effectiveness/outcome is determined exogenously.

[Pamela] Renee, I am intrigued by your comments about how Web 2.0 researchers will push back against efforts to contextualize. Intuitively I 'get' that but can you direct me/us to a reading/post/something where these ideas are articulated? thanks![Renee] I'll have to look for one. I get this from conversations with the Web 2.0 guys, who by the way, care nothing about how geographers, planners frame things (part of Keen's argument in Cult of the Amateur). If I were to link it to any other concept, I'd say that it's part of the crowdsourcing quality. It seems a bit counter-intuitive. They'll say that the ideas occur in the cloud. At some point the content gets aggregated (knowledge through accumulation, eyeballs, and co-mingling) and purposed (or repurposed). In other words, it's not purposed from the beginning; purpose is a happy accident. That's the organic and inductive dream of Web 2.0.

[Renee] Different whether you start with the tool and define the project versus the project exists and then you develop the tool (the tool evolves from the tool). Pamela, can you elaborate?

[Pamela] Projects that are tool-, process-, data-driven (also people/ grassroots-driven?). Trying to identify starting point. [Yolanda] this would determine engagement, network of participants. [Renee] to what extent is it hammer in search of nail? In Web 2.0 cloud world, how easy is it to even determine the starting point? [Pamela] Perhaps we need Web 2.0 archaeologists?

[Pamela] Renee asked if planners consider consultation data gathering ... this is a good question ... we'll talk about this here in the 'other Ryerson' planners' node and report back.  

[Pamela] I think there's a different between using geoweb tools to ask people what they've seen (monitoring) vs. what they want (preferences).

[Renee] Is citizen sensing different from participation? [Yolanda] maybe sensing is participation but it's at the low end of participation. [Renee] interesting that sensing is not part of ladder. Why is that? Maybe it's a matter of expert control over information.

[Pamela] Sensing is part of institutional process and participation is part of public processes. These processes get pushed through different criteria. Latter public process is considered differently because it's voted on by elected officials. [Renee] but so does information collected by sensing, albeit indirectly.

[Yolanda] Citizen sensing is done through sites like Frog Watch. It's data collection. But to me, it's also participation and it suggests that they're engaged elsewhere (e.g., in other volunteer activities, at public meetings). Talked about process of creating a forest management plan - [Renee - can you elaborate?] I deal with quantitative and not qualitative information (e.g., the latter being from surveys of public). As scientists we have this inherent mistrust of public data (because it's inaccurate, because we haven't seen it ourselves). [Renee] what happens if sensors are seen as part of the democratic process? Would that increase or decrease trust? [Yolanda] trust is based on (acquired by) reliability of data (accuracy, precision of observation of species identification and location and time). I evaluate the reliability of the data based on expertise of individual and their familiarity with issue (e.g., long-time hunter in region). Could be self-evaluation or I could evaluate it, so I could learn to trust it. Not sure what would happen if sensing was viewed as part of democratic process. (Renee - then the sensors have an agenda?) [Pamela] maybe it's a matter of data being at arms-length if it's citizen sensed? [Yolanda] We need to recognize our biases as scientists, planners. Hard time recognizing the biases.

[Renee] what about all the data on the web? Are we harvesting it (particularly the scientists)? [Pamela] if we extract data from the web into a process-driven context then we lose the biases inherent in the data. [Yolanda] we need to know the source of the data so we recognize the biases. Don't think that scientists would be sucking data off the web. There are counter examples to this--scientists are utilizing citizen sensed data--and these examples are published in major journals but the origins of the citizen data are clearly documented. [Renee] We need to know the provenance, the metadata. I brought up example of New Orleans community organizer who presented at Where 2.0. She mentioned neogeography carpet baggers, who seemingly created all these flashy applications with great ease. Municipalities said to community organizer: Why do you need all this money? Why participation needed? These mashups are easy. All the information can be crowdsourced. Will this eventually happen in the realm of science? [Yolanda] Don't know about ecology but we see it in medicine and veterinary science with people googling their conditions. "It's all out there. Why do we need, e.g., nutritionists?"

[Pamela] whenever raw data is assembled, we mediate in various ways - is it reproducible, defensible? Whole set of filters. What are our criteria for mediation?

[Renee] In this grant we'll look at the differences between experts and non-experts. But we also can look at the concept of participation across domains.

Chris and Yolanda can work together on caribou project. Chris can spin off a political piece.

Rahemtulla presentation at GEOIDE 2009 #1

Rahemtulla presentation at GEOIDE 2009 #1

Governance And The Geoweb, Sieber, R., Hanif Rahemtulla, Turner, A. Public participation is increasingly recognized as essential not only to minimize the damage caused by climate change, but also to maximize the opportunities presented by a transition to a low carbon economy. Government agencies, at all scales, will need to engage the public in actual decision‐making on climate change adaptation strategies, yielding local observations on climate change effects and novel ideas for adaptation. However, the increasing complexities of emergent environmental issues (e.g., climate change) are more vexing to more traditional means of engaging the public (e.g., public meetings), while government staff confront the difficultly of summarizing, collating and integrating citizen input. eGovernment solutions such as authoritative Web mapping predominantly offer one‐way communication from government to the public and do not include effective means to collect citizen feedback nor engage citizens in two‐way dialogues. New mechanisms, like the Geospatial Web (or Geoweb), have the potential to address these challenges and present a unique opportunity for government.

GEOIDE PIV‐41 in collaboration with our international partners in Europe and the United States are examining the participatory governance potential of the Geoweb and, in particular, its potential to enable a two‐way dialogue between government and civil society. Initially, this means comparing and contrasting the participatory Geoweb and traditional P/PGIS (including web‐based P/PGIS), which is the main focus of this presentation. The terms Public Participation Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS) and Participatory GIS (PGIS) (collectively shortened to P/PGIS) were coined to situate and evaluate the role of geomatics in government decision‐making processes. Traditional geomatics has been promoted as a means to engage members of the civil society in policy making, although geomatics has been found to both empower and marginalize (usually simultaneously) those publics. One question is whether anything has changed with the advent of the Geoweb. The findings from this comparison will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of how citizens might act as distributed sensors for local knowledge, providing data and information that could aid their governments in addressing and developing policy and legislation that responds to this change.

Allen presentation at GEOIDE 2009

Allen presentation at GEOIDE 2009

Transitioning To The Geoweb: The Changing Face Of Online Community Atlases, Patrick Allen, Jon Corbett This poster will present on a research project that investigates the status of online community atlases in British Columbia hosted by the Community Mapping Network (CMN). Since 1997, community atlases have been developed on the premise that emerging geographical information technologies (GIT) can facilitate participation in integrated and effective community land‐use planning and implementation. The majority of atlases on the CMN are the result of collaborative efforts involving government and non‐governmental partners. They often seek to gather and distribute land‐use related information. Using online and telephone interviews, the researchers surveyed community atlas managers and coordinators for 22 of 62 CMN hosted atlases. The survey sought to determine the current status of these atlases and gain insight into future directions for use, presentation and management of spatial data. As a sub‐component of this research, we reviewed the existing and potential role for incorporating volunteered geographic information (VGI) into existing atlases, and determine issues that might emerge relating to user engagement and the management of VGI data. Of the atlases reviewed, most are now stagnant and unused; in many cases no changes or revisions have been made in over a year. Furthermore, no evaluations have been conducted on the existing data presented. Many respondents indicate that though their initial goal of providing open access to data has been met, the limited public use of the atlases does not justify the continued time, effort and funding required to manage the atlases over the long‐term. New atlases are still being developed with an awareness of these challenges and thus are increasingly attempting to be more user‐friendly, self managed and employ low cost methods of making information available and manageable. There is a growing interest the potential of the Geoweb to integrate free and open source software into atlas design, and to include interactive tools in order to engage users in accessing and contributing their own data to the atlases. However, there does not yet appear to be clarity on the best approach or model to follow in the ever changing world of GIT.

daSilva presentation at GEOIDE 2009

daSilva presentation at GEOIDE 2009

Networking Farmers Markets And Consumers ‐ The Growing Pains Of Desktop To Server Side, Korbin Dasilva This poster shows a geospatial application that networks rural farmers and the products they produce to urban consumers of famer market goods. The project moves away from traditional geomatics software such as ArcGIS to focus on web‐based applications on a Geoweb platform (the latter sometimes referred to as Neogeography). In the application, a web browser accepts information from farmers on what products they offer on what days and where. This information is then stored via the web server in a MySQL database. On the consumer side, consumers of farmer market goods are prompted by a widget asking what products they prefer, where they live, and what days they wish to shop. A query is formed from the data in the widget and sent to the web server and then to the MySQL database. The appropriate data is returned to the web browser and a Google Map API for easy viewing. What the consumers see is a Google Map fixing their location and the location of the farmers’ retail outlets that match the requested query. The project encapsulates a number of different programming scripts, languages and development environments that are often unknown to the average geographer, including MySQL, PHP, HTML, Javascript and Apache. The poster also focuses on the often awkward switch from traditional desktop GIS to server side applications. Many may feel confident doing complex analysis on traditional GIS, but when one moves to the unfamiliar realm of server side applications numerous new challenges emerge. My poster will address this switch and how to make it less painful for the traditional geomatics/geography student in university.

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