Report on Public Participation GIS Workshop

Prepared by Paul Schroeder
NCGIA and Dept. of Spatial Information Science and Engineering
University of Maine, Orono

Soon after the conclusion of the Initiative 19 specialists' meeting, members at the NCGIA in Maine began to explore the possibility of allocating visiting scholar funds toward support of a workshop on the theme of GIS 2, a thread of discussion throughout the I-19 proceedings. After consultation among NCGIA site directors and with I-19 leaders, this was approved. The workshop was held in Orono, Maine July 10-13, 1996.

The set of concepts that emerged as GIS 2 was set in motion early in the I-19 specialists' meeting by opening comments from Michael Curry, who described spatial data institutions and posed the question: What could GIS be? Implicit in this question is the critique of what GIS has become, a motivating element in bringing I-19 participants together. The two strands, critique and possibility, marked much of the content of the meeting's discussions. The presentation of five Criteria for the Design of a GIS 2 as a research proposal during the final I-19 session was an attempt to create a synopsis of various responses to Dr. Curry's initial question.

Organizers of the Orono workshop sought a substitute for the GIS 2 term that could be more self-descriptive when introduced to a wider set of discussants. The workshop theme became Public Participation GIS (PPGIS). Instead of PPGIS replacing the term GIS 2 as anticipated by workshop planners, these two terms came to signify an essential distinction in future GIS development, and were discussed throughout the workshop under somewhat contrasting lights. While GIS 2 was situated within a framework of specifications to be applied to the future of the technology and its expanded capacities, PPGIS was attached to the particular problems of bringing a wider public into effective use of the technology at whatever level its development may have attained.

Parallel concepts also had marked discussions at Initiative 17 (Collaborative Spatial Decision Making), though they were less oriented toward the general public and policy making focus of PPGIS. Connections to Initiative 21 (Formal Models of Common Sense Geographic Worlds) were also identified. Participants from each of those Initiatives are involved in PPGIS discussions, and were present at the workshop.

The PPGIS workshop was attended by 18 participants, six from Orono as well as 12 from other sites. Of the total, nine had attended I-19, two had attended I-17, and two were leaders of I-21. Several who attended had not been involved in any of these Initiatives.

The workshop's agenda was devised to support open discussion structured around themes suggested by the GIS 2 / PPGIS concept. Several workshop attendees were asked to present brief, relatively informal statements on topics including urban data sources and uses, dimensions of conflict and dispute resolution, and current technological possibilities. Discussion directed at each topic followed the presentations. All sessions were plenary; breakout sessions of design workgroups were not pursued. As the workshop was conceived as the continuation of a conversation, its outcomes include carrying that conversation forward into other forums.

The theme of collaborative work and public process was reflected in the creation of an online forum for premeeting discussion of topics proposed for the workshop. Five open question situations were elaborated in forum-based texts, and comments were elicited. The possibilities and limitations of this approach were reviewed during the meeting.

The observed need to extend collaborative models toward communities and the general public led to discussion of the creation of community learning centers. These new institutions, expanding on the strengths of existing public institutions such as schools, libraries and town halls, would create a problem-solving context capable of linking spatial technologies with other networked information resources and utilities, all managed within a framework of user-oriented process priorities.

Further elaboration of the GIS 2 and PPGIS concepts will be presented at the 1997 meeting of the Association of American Geographers. A panel of discussants composed of I-19 leaders will comment on reports from workshop participants. Related presentations are planned for other national meetings. In addition, a meeting has been suggested which would bring together academic researchers, GIS system developers, and grassroots project workers. Assembly of a list or catalog of ongoing projects within the PPGIS framework would be needed before such a meeting could be convened. I-19 participants are already at work in several related settings (see the Kanawha Valley and Twin Cities projects in the research projects section).

Documentation for the Public Participation GIS Workshop is maintained at its Web site. The site includes background documents (including Criteria for the Design of a GIS 2), participant list, agenda, links to related projects, the open question situations, and link to the PPGIS Forum.

The Workshop also is documented in ten 2-hour videotapes, including all presentations and discussion sessions. The 8mm masters will be kept at the Orono site. A VHS copy has been made available for loan. An SVHS format set is also held by the Geography Department at the University of Washington. A summary of the tapes has been distributed to participants and is available on the PPGIS Web site. The tape summary also serves as a brief synopsis of all presentations and topics of discussion.

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