Thoughts on ‘Doing Public Participation on the Geoweb) Sieber et al. 2016

In the case studies outlined in the paper, there were a broad variety of participants. From rural farmers to local governments to academic researchers, they encompassed people from different strata of society. This illustrates what was discussed earlier in the paper about how the geoweb has allowed for non-experts to engage with mapping and geospatial technologies.

There seem to be two different ways to do participatory GIS: to expand the geographical data available to us to manipulate (basic GIS) and the use of GIS to solve a specific problem or attain a pre-determined goal, such as to increase awareness, express identity or establish connections and document history (applied GIS). This observation harks back to the previous GIScience/Tool debate and lends support to the idea that GIS is a science because it is not only used for the latter purpose, and there are questions and problems related to the technology and methods of geographic information obtainment and manipulation themselves.

I found it interesting how the authors pointed out that a digital divide can exist within a community once some members have acquired skills and others have not. This presents a more nuanced picture than that of haves and have-nots, and combined with the observation of how the Geoweb creates “more rungs on the ladder”, shows how there is a gradient of participation and inclusion upon which people can fall. Rather than a binary perspective, it is necessary to see dynamics within participants as continuously changing and shifting with the balance of power and knowledge among government, citizen, academic, and under-represented individual.

Much is said today about disruptive technologies and how certain apps like Uber completely change the prevailing model of the industry which they infiltrate. One can consider PGIS to be disruptive in the sense that it picked apart the hegemony of crown copyright laws in the UK with the advent of open street maps. What unites these two is that in both cases, the disruptive capability comes from the adoption of the app or the PGIS portal/website/tool by the masses.

The example of Argoomap as a geo-referenced discussion engine made me think about how assigning explicit spatial characteristics to all aspects of our lives (thoughts, memories, songs, emotions) might influence the kinds of maps we create, especially with the advances in virtual and augmented reality. It was interesting to note that when volunteering geographic information, people tended to want the representation to be a map, although this may not always be the best way to visualize the information. I wonder if this is because of a cultural familiarity with maps and not due to their inherent superiority for the task at hand: if we were exposed to different methods earlier on, would we represent geographic information differently?

The tension between wanting more responses and wanting meaningful contributions is a difficult one to resolve with respect to PGIS and I think there is a fine balance to strike between making the lowest possible barriers to participation and still ensuring that people are contributing meaningfully.

– futureSpock

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