Thoughts on a literature review of PPGIS (Sieber 2006)

Sieber’s literature review and framework for public participatory GIS (PPGIS) effectively situates PPGIS within existing bodies of thought in GISciences, and highlights relevant critiques and considerations. This article discusses ways that local knowledge can be integrated into GIS frameworks to democratize the technology and use it as a tool for empowerment and social change.
This article challenged my existing notions of what it really means to undertake “participatory” research methods. Sieber’s critique of the “PPGIS as GIS” approach was particularly interesting to me as she notes that public participation may often need to go deeper than simply extracting input from communities. Despite solicitations for public input, participatory research may still be top-down and impose the agenda of the researcher.
In reading this article, I was often reminded of what I have learned about “qualitative GIS”, which attempts to capture subjective forms of spatial knowledge in a GIS framework. Both qualitative and public participatory GIS respond to the technocratic social critiques of GIS and attempt to employ the technology in a more bottom-up process. I would be curious to investigate how these two domains intersect and are distinct from each other.
The key theme that I took away from this article was the highly context-based nature of PPGIS. Sieber asks whether or not the presence of such contextual factors leave us unable to generalize PPGIS. This question is a very important one and stayed in my thoughts as I read through the rest of the article. To effectively engage and empower a given community through PPGIS, a researcher must consider factors such as how this community communicates knowledge, the community’s level of technological literacy, and how the local knowledge can best be integrated into a GIS to meet the goals of the project. How can a set of best practices for PPGIS be established if what it means to “do” PPGIS changes with each project or initiative?
– janejacobs

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