PPGIS: A Lit Review and Framework (Sieber, 2006)

In this paper, Sieber (2016) review the history of Public Participation Geographic Information System (PPGIS), explore four themes of it including place and people, technology and data, process, and outcome and evaluation. In my perspective, it is no doubt that PPGIS has been socially-constructed. However, there are some critical questions I think worth discussing.

Since PPGIS is contextualized, Sieber (2006) proposes a question about whether PPGIS can be generalized in certain degree. In my perspective, it depends what you regard PPGIS as. If it refers to approaches engage the public in application of GIS with certain goals, I would say it can be and should be generalized for sake of being learnt and adapted in different locations. Every approach or method needs adaptation when applied. The generalization helps understand an approach well, especially approaches that need to be applied in multi-disciplinary projects. While if you see PPGIS differently, such as a practical tool, I believe how to generalize it will be different. The significant problem is what is the nature of PPGIS. This also involves the question about how to define the public. For PPGIS, one of the goals is ensure the decision-making process more participatory. Consequently, I may question that whom we should include to claim the decision-making process is participatory enough. Surely, we can have multiple levels of public, while in a specific project, there must be a boundary exclude some people who may be relevant to the decision. Discussing such questions is the essential part when talking about PPGIS. Therefore, PPGIS, even as “GIS/2”, has been far more “socially-constructed” than its origins. Besides, it is a sad story that the public usually not engage with GIS directly, instead, they just provide inputs and evaluate outputs. The problem is whether this is enough to be called as “participation” since the public miss details when generating the decision. It increases the possibilities that vulnerable groups are manipulated by the whom with more power. I don’t think this can improve social justice. When the public provide inputs, there are problems about representing the knowledge; when they evaluate outputs, there are difficulties to match the empowerment goals and measure the intangible subjects.

As it can be seen, there are numerous problems in both theorizing and practicing the PPGIS. They stem from our society and may or may not be solved by more advanced technologies.

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