Public Participation and GIS
Annotated Bibliography

Sue Lurie, GEO 565, Fall 2006 –

Photo courtesy of Izzy Patoka, City of Baltimore   

   Photo courtesy of Giacomo Rambaldi and IAPAD


About PGIS and PPGIS

GIS and GIScience include topical areas referred to as PGIS (participatory GIS) and PPGIS (public participation GIS). Although they have different origins and applications, the two forms have many characteristics in common; therefore, they are both included here.

Since the utilization of GIS for policy, planning and other forms of decision making involving citizen involvement, there have been questions and criticisms regarding its potential to involve and empower citizens. Does it authentically serve to democratize decision making? Does the technology privilege certain ways of knowing and representing the world over others? How well can lay people access and understand the technology in order to use it in ways that genuinely serve community or group needs? These are examples of some of the questions surrounding public participation in GIS and GIScience in an ongoing debate as the field develops. The following cites and sites serve as entry points regarding the uses of, and arguments regarding, PGIS and PPGIS.


Barndt, Michael. 1998. Public Participation GIS - Barriers to Implementation. Cartography and Geographic Information Systems 25 (2):105-112.

The article provides a broad-ranging discussion about assumptions and criticisms regarding the use of GIS for public participation for policy decisions. Arguments regarding its use focus on the reality that software and hardware are only part of the equation. Barndt observes that “Although GIS is often mistaken for map making, the “I” for “Information” is the most important part of the acronym (106). Creating an atmosphere that encourages public participation and does not privilege some groups over others, finding the appropriate combination of lay and expert use of GIS technology, and incorporating different ways of knowing the world to reduce the positivistic, data driven tendency of GIS are among the topics covered.

Carver, Steve. 2003. The Future of Participatory Approaches to Using Geographic Information: Developing a Research Agency for the 21st Centry. URISA Journal 15 (1):61-71.

Carver examines dynamics that work for and against democratic/participatory decision making and the role played by geographic information. He does so by utilizing a strategic planning standby: SWOT (an inventory of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Elements such as locality, scale and the spatial nature of issues all influence public interest in participatory decision making and the role of GIS.   Capitalizing on findings from his SWOT as a frame of reference, the author provides guidelines for a recommended participatory GIS research agenda.

Chambers, Kimberlee, Jonathan Corbett, C. Peter Keller, and Colin J. B. Wood. 2004. Indigenous Knowledge, Mapping, and GIS: A Diffusion of Innovation Perspective. Cartographica 39 (2001/2004):19-31.

The authors examine the literature and arguments regarding the western/Cartesian nature of GIS and indigenous ways of knowing the world, noting, “What appears to be missing from the published debate is why and how GIS are introduced to Indigenous peoples, as well as a critical review of how Indigenous peoples are implementing and learning to work with GIS” (p. 20). Relying on a prevailing theory regarding diffusion of innovation, the authors explore the ongoing debate regarding the suitability of GIS as a mapping instrument for Indigenous populations and make recommendations for a research agenda and for practice.

Corbett, Jon M., and C. Peter Keller. 2005. An Analytical Framework to Examine Empowerment Associated with Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS). Cartographica 40 (4):91-102.

One ongoing debate in the realm of PGIS concerns its potential capacity to empower otherwise disadvantaged or marginalized groups in decision making processes. The authors put forth the argument that definitions of empowerment are vague and that the means for analyzing evidence of empowerment is lacking. After reviewing the relevant literature and developing two empowerment definitions, empowerment and empowerment capacity, Corbett and Keller present a prototype two-dimensional framework. The framework analyzes both individual and community empowerment utilizing four empowerment catalysts: Information, process, skills and tools.

Craig, William J., Trevor M. Harris, and Daniel Weiner, eds. 2002. Community Participation and Geographic Systems. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis.

This edited book presents research and perspectives in three major parts:  a history and overview of PPGIS, case studies in the United State and abroad, and multiple outlooks regarding the future of PPGIS. The sections provide a spectrum of examples and viewpoints regarding PPGIS that speak to its breadth of use and potential as well as its ongoing challenges. The editors identify six core themes in research and practice to date that can also inform future efforts to apply and understand PPGIS. They include differential access to geographic information and technology; integration and representation of different realities regarding landscapes; identifying potential GIS project beneficiaries; developing methodologies that facilitate inclusive, local participation in spatial  decision making; positioning PPGIS in its local political context; and identifying community GIS contributions to geography and GIScience.

Drew, Christina. 2003. Transparency - Considerations for PPGIS Research and Development. URISA Journal 15 (1):73-78.

Transparency is a significant issue in public participation; stakeholders want to understand how decisions are arrived at. The author’s involvement in the environmentally complex process of cleaning up the Hanford site, a former plutonium production facility in Washington state, led to an exploration of what is meant by transparency. Despite frequent use of the term in existing environmental and decision making literature, there has been no existing framework or set of performance measures for evaluating transparency in public participation processes. Synthesis of the literature on transparency yielded seven components that the author and others used to create The Decision Mapping System (DMS) for the Hanford cleanup. Drew suggests that further research on the issue of transparency is important to PPGIS—what it means, how it should be measured in different contexts, and its importance relative to other process needs.

Duncan, Sally L., and Denise H. Lach. 2006. Privileged Knowledge and Social Change: Effects on Different Participants of Using Geographic Information Systems Technology in Natural Resource Management. Environmental Management 38 (2):267-285.

GIS has become a preferred technology for analyzing and presenting landscape-scale natural resource issues to diverse audiences.  The authors present an exploratory case study utilizing purposive sampling among four different groups involved in the Coastal Landscape Analysis Modeling Study in western Oregon . They investigate how the groups—scientist and mapmaker, nonscientist as map user, agency manager as both maker and user, and social scientist—perceived the importance of using GIS technology and how they interacted with the maps. The article discusses the tensions between two key features revealed in the study: the paradigm of technological and scientific legitimacy that casts GIS as an instrument favoring privileged knowledge, and technology as socially constructed, thereby allowing GIS to be influenced and changed away from current power dynamics inherent in the presumption of scientific and technological primacy.

Elwood, Sarah. 2006. Negotiating Knowledge Production: The Everyday Inclusions, Exclusions, and Contradictions of Participatory GIS Research. The Professional Geographer 58 (2):197-208.

The author argues that positioning PPGIS inquiry more solidly within research on participatory processes can fill an existing research gap: how representation and participation in knowledge production for shared decision-making efforts is negotiated. Describing her experiences with Chicago’s Humboldt Park GIS Project, the author explores the dynamics of who participates, how their differing priorities influence what types of information are incorporated into decision making and how that information is accessed and interpreted.

Erick deMan, W.H. 2003. Cultural and Institutional Conditions for Using Geographic Information; Access and Participation. URISA Journal 15:29-33.

The author examines the influence of culture and institutions on access to, and use of, geographic information and GIS. He provides a diagram showing the relationships among culture and institutions, participation, spatial problem solving, and GIS and geographic information. He also provides a framework illuminating four common dimensions of national culture which can affect access to, and participatory use of, geographic information: Power distance (hierarchical structures), individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, and uncertainty avoidance. While access is necessary and can facilitate participation in the use of geographic information, access alone is insufficient to ensure that it occurs. Incorporating examination of cultural and institutional arrangements can enrich understanding regarding the nexus of access and participation in PPGIS.

Jankowski, Piotr, and Timothy Nyerges. 2001. Geographic Information Systems for Group Decision Making. New York: Taylor & Francis Inc.

The book is synthesis of the authors’ research on aspects of what they refer to as participatory geographic information science. Jankowski and Nyerges seek to fill the theoretical gap between GIS development and GIS use by balancing writing on theory, methodology and empirical research on PGIS. The goal of the book is to expand the conceptual foundation of PGIS and to provide practical strategies and techniques for collaborative problem solving entailing spatial decision making. The authors develop Enhanced Adaptive Structuration Theory 2 (EAST2) as a theoretical framework to formulate hypotheses regarding use of participatory GIS and to help users make assessments regarding GIS based decision support needs.

Kyem, Peter A. Kwaku. 2001/2004. Power, Participation, and Inflexible Instititons: An Examination of the Challenges to Community Empowerment in Participatory GIS Applications. Cartographica 38 (3&4):5-17.

The purported empowerment of underprivileged groups has a distinct place in discussions of PGIS. The author writes that there is significant uncertainty regarding whether or not fundamental cultural and institutional changes are occurring in ways that facilitate empowerment. He suggests that PGIS is still new enough that empowerment is difficult to gauge, in part because empowerment is incremental over a long time horizon. Kyem provides insights on empowerment associated with a PGIS project for forest management in southern Ghana that began in the early 1990s. The project had ceased to function by the time the author revisited the site in 2001 due to a number of cultural and institutional reasons. The PGIS effort placed new demands on the people involved and threatened existing power structures. The ability of inflexible institutions to keep underprivileged communities from participating in decision making that might help them makes PGIS all the more compelling; however, finding ways to implement such programs will likely continue to be a challenge.

Schlossberg, Marc and Elliot Shuford. 2005. Delineating "Public" and "Participation" in PPGIS. URISA Journal 16 (2): 15-16. _vol16no2

PPGIS, as with other joint decision processes, can encourage citizen engagement as part of the wider trend replacing expert-driven, top-down decision making. The authors note that there are inconsistencies in how practitioners and scholars utilize the term PPGIS across uses and applications. They contend that, to optimize the use of GIS for civic engagement, there needs to be a clearer understanding of what is meant by “public” and “participation” are they relate to GIS utilization. They provide background on the two terms and present a two-plane matrix to help users and researchers provide a more methodical and deliberate context for PPGIS.

Sieber, Renee. 2006. Public Participation Geographic Information Systems: A Literature Review and Framework. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96 (3):491-507.

The article provides a comprehensive view of PPGIS—its origins, potential, criticisms and evolution to date. It also provides a discussion of the difference between PPGIS and PGIS and the current campaign to merge the two perspectives and practices under a single acronym. The author develops a framework for PPGIS—one that is “mutually constituted through numerous perspectives” (p. 494). Sieber develops the framework, which can serve as a guide for PPGIS research and practice as well as a means for evaluating current efforts, through a literature review comprising four major themes: place and people, technology and data, process, and outcome and evaluation.

Talen, Emily. 2000. Bottom-Up GIS. Journal of The American Planning Association 66 (3):279-294.

The trend in community planning has been toward more democratic decision making based on participatory, communicative processes. Talen points to the tendency of GIS to proscribe certain types of communication. Its technical data capture and analysis features tend to favor top down informing and concurrence. It can, however, be a tool for bottom-up planning, helping citizens to reframe typical GIS questions that take advantage of local knowledge, perceptions and preferences. Referring to this approach as BUGIS, or Bottom-Up GIS, the author uses two visioning events in Dallas , Texas to illustrate how to conduct a BUGIS process for community and neighborhood planning.

Vajjhala, Shalini P. 2006. "Ground Truthing" Policy: Using Participatory Map-Making to Connect Citizens and Decision Makers. Resources for the Future Summer 2006 (162):14-18.

Using findings from a project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to evaluate how mapping facilitates public participation for planning and environmental decision making, this article provides insights on citizen preferences for community map makers’ representations over standard GIS. It illustrates the possibilities and rewards of adapting GIS to citizens’ preferences and perceptions of meaningful neighborhood characteristics as opposed to the other way around—adapting citizens’ preferences to standard GIS datasets and display parameters.

Useful Links /ppgis/

See “What PPGIS Really Needs is…” on this website for a discussion regarding PPGIS framework and research recommendations.

IAPAD, Integrated Approaches to Participatory Development, maintains perhaps the most thorough and current site dedicated to PGIS and PPGIS. Articles, advice for practice, and many other helpful tools., associated with IAPAD, is an open forum on participatory geographic information systems and technologies. See for an explanation of the differences between PGIS and PPGIS as well as for other useful information. al

Produced by URISA, the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, the URISA Journal archives can be accessed without membership or academic affiliation. The journal has several articles on participatory forms of GIS. .cfm?fuseaction=main.viewBlogEn try&intMTEntryID=2804

A blog site for PGIS and PPGIS.