Manifold GIS installation and different aspects of usability

As part of the work on community mapping in Hackney Wick, we used the area for a project with the Development Planning Unit MSc students. As part of this work, and since we’re using Manifold GIS in this project, we offered the students the use of Manifold GIS for this exercise.

From an experienced system administrator perspective, installing the package and linking it to the licence server is a very quick and easy task. However, for the students it proved to be a difficult task – especially with Windows Vista where special procedures must be followed to enable the administrator account and install Manifold GIS. The process is rather scary for the average user, and the information architecture and links on the Manifold website are not clear enough to guide a novice, non-technical user through the installation process. As a result, many didn’t manage to make the package work. After a brief explanation and being pointed in the right direction, the installation issue was resolved.

This is a very interesting aspect of usability which, many times, is overlooked. When looking at a GIS or a component of geotechnology, it is worth evaluating its usability for different audiences. With software, I would differentiate between ‘end-user’, ‘programmer’ and ‘system manager’ usability. For each of these archetypes it is possible to evaluate whether the package is easy to use for this role. For example, programmer usability can be evaluated by examining how long it takes for a programmer to learn how to manipulate the system and perform a task with it. The new generation of APIs such as those that are used by OpenStreetMap or Google Maps are very programmer usable – it takes very little time to learn them and achieve something useful with the system.

The installation of Manifold GIS, therefore, scores high on system manager usability, but low on end-user usability – and, importantly, there are far more of the latter than the former. Some small changes to the website with a clear installation guide can improve the situation significantly, but a real change to the installation process that removes the need to switch to the administrator account is the real solution…

Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities – videos

The UrbanBuzz team that recorded some of the community showcase presentations during the Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities event in June, have now released the videos on YouTube. The videos are showing the posters and explanations for our work in Marks Gate, Pepys Estate and Hackney Wick. The presentations are by members of the communities, with some help from the project team.

This is the video for Marks Gate, where the focus was on community perceptions about their environment and how it can improved:

The next one shows the noise mapping work in the Pepys Estate (and I had the pleasure of assisting Caroline to explain the mapping):

And the final one shows the historical mapping in Hackney Wick:

The three videos give a good overview of the community mapping projects that were carried out within Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities, and the Environmental Justice projects with London 21 and London Sustainability Exchange .

Mapping for Sustainable Communities – presentations

The Mapping for Sustainable Communities seminar that was organised by myself together with London 21, on the 17th June, was a fantastic event that I thoroughly enjoyed. With over 100 participants, coming from academia, practice and from communities across London and further afield, it was a unique opportunity for discussion between these 3 groups which, unfortunately, is rare.

The day was fairly intensive with a series of presentations from a wide range of speakers, providing a range of views and opinions. At lunch, and especially during the afternoon workshops, there was more time for discussion and exchange of experiences. It was very satisfying to see people stand and discuss the various aspects of participatory and community mapping during the reception at the end of the day, after a heavy day of listening and talking about these issues.

The seminar covered the whole range of technical options – from paper to 3D computer mapping. It also covered various views – from the more theoretical to the practical.

As a conclusion from the day, it is clear that there is a good potential for community and participatory mapping in many aspects of life in the UK. Particpatory mapping can we be used to celebrate the wonder of places, find about their history, or identify issues that are of concern to the community. We need to take into account the local organisational and governance structures, and be sensitive to the needs of the communities within which we operate. There is an ethical dimension that should not be overlooked, but it is important to find the cases where we can make an impact with these tools and use them to make places more sustainable.

In case that you have missed the seminar, or would like to see the presentations from it, here is the outline of the day, with a link to the presentations on SlideShare:

  • Mike Batty (UCL) – Participation through Online Technologies: Experiences with 3D-GIS, Second Life and Multimedia in London (Mike’s presentation was too interactive – so for more information about the issues that he presented, see the CASA website)
  • Community Showcase, where five of the communities that we are working with talked about their experiences.

The Experienced Noise

While the new Defra noise maps provide the results of a computerised model, the experience of noisy places can be mapped through community mapping, as was demonstrated recently in the Royal Docks area and the Pepys Estate.

Within the Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities project, and through the collaboration with London Sustainability Exchange and London 21 projects on Environmental Justice and with the help of Christian Nold, we have recently carried out studies of noise in two areas in east London. While the method is based on a systematic data collection framework, it does not intend to replace detailed acoustics studies that the authorities should carry out regarding sources of noise which influence residential areas. What it does is enable communities to get evidence about their experience, the maximum levels of noise that they are exposed to and to identify the sources of noise that influence the specific place.

The following text is taken from the press release that we have just issued:

People living in the Pepys Estate in Lewisham and in the Royal Docks area in Newham have led the way with a new way to tackle noise. The Pepys Estate currently suffers noise pollution from a scrapyard near the centre of the estate and very close to both a primary and nursery school, while Royal Docks suffers noise problems resulting from flights in and out of London City Airport (LCA), where a major expansion is threatened.

The project supplied local residents with noise meters and trained them in how to use these devices. They went on to make over 1500 measurements at all times of day and night and developed their own ‘noise maps’.

The results of this ‘citizen science’ have been remarkable. On the Pepys Estate members of the Community Forum found disturbingly high levels of noise, often continuing outside normal working hours. This noise affected quality of life up to 350 metres from the scrapyard. They have been trying to deal with this problem for over six years, initially raising concerns with the Mayor of Lewisham and others in September 2002. Since this time the disturbance has actually escalated. Now armed with this information they called a public meeting to present their findings to the council and the Environment Agency.

Lewisham Council and the Environment Agency accept that there is a problem. After seeing the results of the survey the Agency has appointed an acoustic consultant to carry out a detailed analysis of noise in and from the scrapyard. The residents who carried out the survey will meet with the consultant to share their information, and will work with the council to agree an action plan for moving forward.

The communities surrounding London City Airport (LCA), including Virginia Quays and Thamesmead, also found troubling results. Many readings exceed levels deemed to cause serious annoyance under the World Health Organisation community noise guidelines. The measurements gathered by the community revealed a clear correlation between unacceptable levels of noise and the LCA operational hours. More interestingly, the results obtained by both communities indicate that people are quite accurate in their perceptions of noise levels and the survey enabled them to express how these affected them. One of the residents said ‘the noise is irritable, I can’t relax or have the window open – but I can’t shut out the noise so have to turn the TV up – but everything is then so loud.’

The full press release is available here.

Mapping for Sustainable Communities Seminar

As part of the Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities, we are organising a one day seminar titled ‘Mapping for Sustainable Communities – An interactive day of reports and discussion for community practitioners, academics and community groups‘.

This event is scheduled for 17th June 2008, starting at 10.30 and finishing with a reception around 7.00 in the evening. It is free and open to anyone with interest in community mapping.

This is how we describe the event:

The seminar will consider recent work and ways forward. It is being organised by University College London and the London 21 network as part of their ‘Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities’ project funded under the UrbanBuzz programme and their Environmental Justice programme. These projects use internet-based and paper mapping along with other tools to work with communities on collecting and collating local information.

The seminar will bring together academics, practitioners and community groups to discuss the use of mapping as a means of engagement and tool for collaborative action, and to consider the benefits and limitations. The seminar includes sessions for academics and practitioners and a celebration of community work.

Outline Agenda
10.30 am “Academic” Session – Theory & Research

  • The use of different methodologies in participatory mapping
  • Mapping, impacts and inequalities
  • Panel discussion: the balance between participation and the use of technology

2pm “Practitioners” Session – The Practice of participatory mapping

  • The use of mapping with local communities
  • Mapping, empowerment and Community Development
  • Local Government, Regeneration and the use of community mapping
  • Practical workshop: starting a participatory mapping project

4.30pm “Community” Showcase – work in progress

  • A brief introduction to the development of the two projects, followed by presentations about the five case studies.

6pm Reception

Now, just because a session is tagged as academic, practitioners or community, it doesn’t mean that we want just one group – the whole point is to have people from different groups joining the discussion throughout the day. The titles are about the ‘hats’ that you put on during a session!

The conference is free but numbers are limited. Register on-line at http://www.communitymaps.london21.org/includes/mcsc_conference.php

Indices of Deprivation 2007

Early in December, the new version of the Indices of Deprivation (also known as the Index of Multiple Deprivation or IMD) was released. The first IMD was published in 2000, with a new version in 2004 which has now been updated. Created by Oxford University’s Social Disadvantage Research Centre, the indices classify each Lower-Layer Super Output Area (LSOA) in England according to the level of deprivation in multiple domains. An LSOA is an areal unit that contains on average 1500 people – a neighbourhood unit more or less.

As this is a data set widely used in many of my research projects, it was useful to analyse it and see how it changes in comparison to the previous version. There are some surprises, and, if the indices are really reflecting the changes in neighbourhood, the implication is that it is difficult to escape deprivation at the bottom of the ladder.

The IMD is very useful and has significant political implications. There are hundreds of academic articles that are based on applications of the IMD, and far more significant is the role that they play in allocating resources to local authorities through various governmental programmes such as Sure Start, which assists children in their early years, or Decent Homes, which improves the quality of the social housing stock. Of special importance are the points of 20% and 10% deprivation, as they are used widely in policy decisions. We use the IMD in the research with UnLtd to evaluate the location of projects and awardees, and in the Environmental Inequalities project with London 21 to show communities where they are positioned in the national scale.

After 7 years of use and acceptance at all levels of government in the UK (there are separate indices for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), the creation of the new indices must have been a challenging task – a lot is at stake if a specific area moves up or down. The IMD is a league table of sorts, placing each of the LSOAs (and there are around 32,500 of them) in a position relative to others. For each LSOA that is declared as deprived, another one will move up the scale and out of the bottom 20%, which usually means fewer resources for the community. Therefore, it is interesting to analyse the changes in the 2007 edition in comparison to the 2004 one.

Although the Department of Communities and Local Government staes that:

“The Index scores from 2004 cannot be compared with those from 2007. Though the two Indices are very similar, it is not valid to compare the scores between the two time points. An area’s score is affected by the scores of every other area; so it is impossible to tell whether a change in score is a real change in the level of deprivation in an area or whether it is due to the scores of other areas going up or down.”(see this document)

While this is true for each area, it is still valid to check what is the overall pattern of movement across the whole data set. To do that, each LSOA was coded with the percentile point in the IMD 2007 to which it belongs (in each percentile point there are about 325 LSOAs) and compared to the percentile position in 2004. The gap represents the relative change in the position of the LSOA – positive change means that it is now less deprived, while a negative change means that the place is now more deprived compared to 2004.

Within the span of 3 years and due to the differences in the calculation method, it is expected that specific LSOAs will shift their place – especially when the investment that was put into them is taken into account. For the sake of the discussion, let’s assume that 5% change is not too big – although it can be significant if your LSOA belonged to the 17 percentile in 2004 and now belongs to the 22 percentile. Thus, it is worth exploring where the LSOAs that moved more than 5 percentage points are. In IMD 2007, over 25% of LSOAs have shifted more than 5 percentage points and some LSOAs have moved over 20 percentage points.

The distribution of the LSOAs that moved is shown in the chart below. Notice that, although this might look like normal distribution, actually the number of changes at the lowest percentages is not equivalent to the changes at the top of the range. It might be caused by the fact that the indices are especially designed to locate deprived areas and therefore located them accurately in 2004 and the situation haven’t shifted in 2007. The problem with this is it means that, in the periods of 2001-2 (on which IMD 2004 is based) and 2004-5 (on which IMD 2007 is based), not too many places were shifted out of deprivation, while the rest of the places happily shifted about. Is it possible that the IMD team was especially careful not to bump communities that were already included in the bottom 20%?

IMD 2007 Significant Change by Percentile

Another way to look at the data is of course through mapping. The following map represents the LSOAs that experienced significant change of over 5%. You can download an A2 size PDF in which it is possible to zoom to a specific area to see the changes.

IMD 2007 Significant Change - Map

While most of the changes are not in the most deprived areas, it is fascinating to see the geographical pattern of change. For example, by zooming in to London, it is easy to see that Barnet, Brent and Harrow are some of the local authorities with the biggest change downward, while Camden and Westminster have seen significant change upward. As many of the changes are in the middle range, will they have policy implications?

A final point about this analysis is that it was fairly easy run: the analysis was done in 4-5 hours, using an ageing laptop (a 4 years old IBM X31), Excel 2007 and Manifold GIS 8.0. While the cartography can be improved, the ability of modern GIS to do this type of work so quickly helps in focusing on the task, and not spending the time waiting for the GIS to process data…

Web 2.0 notion of democratisation and Participatory GIS

An interesting issue that emerges from The Cult of
the Amateur is about Participatory GIS or PPGIS. As Chris Dunn mentioned in her recent paper in Progress in Human Geography, Participatory GIS makes many references to ‘democratisation’ of GIS (together with Renee Sieber’s 2006 review, these two papers are excellent introduction to PPGIS) .

According to the OED, democratisation is ‘the action of rendering, or process of becoming, democratic’, and democracy is defined as ‘Government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them (as in the small republics of antiquity) or by officers elected by them. In modern use often more vaguely denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege.’ [emphasis added].
The final point is the notion that is mostly used when advocates of Web 2.0 use the term, and it seems that in this notion of democratisation, erasure of hereditary or arbitrary differences is extended also to expertise and hierarchies in the media and knowledge production. In some areas, Web 2.0 actively erodes the differentiation between experts and amateurs, using mechanisms such as anonymous contributions that hide from the reader any information about who is contributing, what their authority is and why we should listen to them.
As Keen notes, doing away with social structures and equating amateurs with experts is actually not a good thing in the long run.
This brings us back to Participatory GIS – the PGIS literature discusses the need to ‘level the field’ and deal with power structures and inequalities in involvement in decision making – and this is exactly what we are trying to achieve in the Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities project. We also know very well from the literature that, even in complex issues, individuals and groups are investing time and effort to understand complex issues and as a result can become quite expert. For example, the work of Maarten Wolsink on NIMBYs shows that this very local focus is not so parochial after all.
I completely agree with the way Dunn puts it (p. 627-8):

‘Rather than the ‘democratization of GIS’ through th[e] route [of popularization] , it would seem that technologizing of deliberative democracy through Participatory GIS currently offers a more effective path towards individual and community empowerment – an analytical as opposed to largely visual process; an interventionist approach which actively rather than passively seeks citizen involvement; and a community-based as opposed to individualist ethos.’

Yet, what I’m taking from Keen is that we also need to rethink the role of the expert within Participatory GIS – at the end of the day, we are not suggesting we do away with planning departments or environmental experts.
I don’t recall that I’ve seen much about how to define the role of experts and how to integrate hierarchies of knowledge in Participatory GIS processes – potentially an interesting research topic?