Public Forum GIS

Keywords: participatory research; public policies; spatial representation; conflict resolution; local knowledge; process orientation; communicative tools; public environment of GIS; Spatial Understanding Support Systems.

Statement of Priority

We recommend research into an adaptable suite of analytic tools, communications technologies and participatory processes that will:

a) expand the public's role in defining questions in which location or geography have a bearing on the issues addressed;

b) increase public participation in data creation and evaluation; and,

c) enable wider public acceptance of the results of GIS-based decision-making through a participatory GIS forum process.

Priority within GIS Research Context

This research would situate GIS-related technologies more effectively within their social and public context. The research initiative would draw upon existing expertise within the geographic and spatial information fields, while also extending cooperative research opportunities to participants from related disciplines within member institutions. General interest in expanding public participation in GIS has been expressed in many forums, including a recent meeting convened by the NCGIA devoted to the social implications of GIS.

Importance to National Research Situation and Needs

Embedding public involvement in the definition and analysis of questions which accompany issues tied to location and geography is a strategy aimed at overcoming limitations in GIS technologies and in the institutional settings within which GIS is practiced. A public forum approach would situate GIS analytical tools within an expanded framework of communication and discourse, opening opportunities for public participation across the processes of problem definition and problem resolution. This participatory framework would be capable of representing diverse views without forcing premature resolution of contradictions, inconsistencies and disputes as they arise. This approach also would recognize the role of public policy as a significant input and output component of GIS, and would aim at widening public participation in the policy process. Technologies chosen to support this approach would be able to document and record the problem resolution process, allowing evolving priorities and problem definitions to be tracked by all participants. In terms of national needs, this approach would attempt to incorporate local public knowledge into decision frameworks now primarily in the hands of expert managers of data-driven technologies.

Proposed Research Projects

Research into the development of public forum GIS could begin by assembling an inventory of examples of cooperative spatial problem solving, identifying critical elements which have been present in successful participatory models. Metadata requirements would be devised to accommodate the diversity of goals and variety of spatial models introduced into projects involving broad ranges of participants. By example, the research would address questions of how to incorporate feminist, ethnic urban neighborhood, tenant landholder or traditional pastoralist views into a discourse mediated by appropriate technologies. The process orientation of this development would not strive toward general agreement among participants, but rather would afford a forum for effective expression of views which may not have been predicted by system managers.

Research Timeframe

This priority represents a long-term initiative.