Sieber et al. (2016) – Geoweb for PPGIS

Web-based geospatial tools (Geoweb) have opened up a wealth of opportunities for Public Participation GIS (PPGIS). With emphasis on usability and design, the Geoweb consists of platforms where everyday users can view, collect and share geospatial data. For governments, this provides potential new sites for interaction  with citizens. In this paper, Sieber and colleagues explore the wider implications of this “sophisticated and alluringly simple conduit for participation”.
Tying four years of empirical research and twelve individual PPGIS case studies, the authors examine claims about the transformative capacity of the geoweb. Can Geoweb bridge existing inequalities, and does it create new ones? How might Geoweb affect the relationship between a government and its citizens? Does it reorganise expert/ non-expert power structures, and if so, what are the consequences? And how does it change the nature of information that is being exchanged?
The results suggest that the answers to these questions can be highly variable and case-dependent. Furthermore, the use of Geoweb for PPGIS comes with its own set of problems. For instance, the substance of the information exchanged between organisers and volunteers might be reduced down to tallies of likes or page views, masking underlying complexity and heterogeneity.
I would argue that this reductionism exists in any interaction between government and citizens, where public opinion is condensed down to inform decision making (e.g. voting). However, proficiency/ access to Web 2.0 platforms changes who is able/ willing to contribute, and who’s voices will be dampened/ amplified – there are always winners and losers. It is important to identify who those might be, particularly when socio-political agendas are closely (but invisibly) interconnected with the technology.
Ultimately, this paper says we should be critical of Geoweb in PPGIS, which nonetheless offers strong potential for organisers, activists and governments to better serve their public.

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