A Shared Perspective for PGIS and VGI – new paper

Part of the special issue on Public Participation GIS that was published in The Cartographic Journal, was a paper that was led by Jeroen Verplanke (ITC). This paper goes back to the workshop on participatory GIS in 2013, that was the leaving event for Dr Mike McCall in ITC, after which he continue to work in UNAM, Mexico.

Since the symposium in June 2013, we developed the paper, trying to find the path and linkage between the area of Participatory GIS (the variety of Public Participation GIS in development context) and the crowdsourced world of Volunteered Geographic Information.

The paper abstract explains its aims:

“This paper reviews persistent principles of participation processes. On the basis of a review of recent interrogations of the (Public) Participatory Geographic Information Systems (P)PGIS and Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) approaches, a summary of five prevailing principles in participatory spatial information handling is presented. We investigate these five principles that are common to (P)PGIS and VGI on the basis of a framework of two dimensions that govern the participatory use of spatial information from the perspective of people and society. This framework is presented as a shared perspective of (P)PGIS and VGI and illustrates that, although both share many of these same principles, the ways in which these principles are approached are highly diverse. The paper ends with a future outlook in which we discuss the inter-connected memes of potential technological futures, the signification of localness in ‘local spatial knowledge’, and the ramifications of ethical tenets by which PGIS and VGI can strengthen each other as two sides of the same coin.”

We finish the paper with the following observations: “With the unprecedented growth of data from sensors, including human sensors working through VGI, the main obstacles shaping the access and use of Local Spatial Knowledge (LSK) are the ethics of participatory practices. Greater access to, and supply of, VGI will not improve the depth of knowledge or insight into local contexts, and not necessarily, even the breadth of inputs. It might instead bias LSK identification and flows towards the most active and connected members in the community. This is already a recognized issue with PGIS and other participatory processes which are open to ‘elite capture’ and manipulation. Another challenge to the PGIS ‘slow, small, and intense’ approach comes from the ubiquity of cheap sensors; there is a concern that only evidence backed up with instrumental information (e.g. bodycams providing images with GPS and time stamp) will be considered suitable by higher authority decision-makers. Ethical facilitation is needed to guide the ownership and confidentiality of LSK in a connected world where this knowledge and the metadata of its distribution are increasingly valued (only) for their direct marketing potential. PGIS offers rich, culturally sensitive and situated LSK, and it is essential to maintain the value of this knowledge against the challenge of big data (VGI) being treated as more ‘scientific’.

The paper itself can be accessed here (it should become open access soon) and if you don’t have access, email me and I’ll send you a copy.


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Professor of GIScience, University College London

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