Author(s): JON CORBETT, GIACOMO RAMBALDI, PETER KYEM, DAN WEINER, RACHEL OLSON
What unites these practitioners is their belief that PGIS practice (Box 1) can have profound implications for marginalised groups in society: • it can enhance capacity in generating, managing and communicating spatial information; • it can stimulate innovation; and ultimately, • it can encourage positive social change. The tools generated and used in this practice can become interactive vehicles for networking, discussion, information exchange, analysis and decision-making. When PGIS practice first began to move from the nondigital to the digital realm in the mid 1990s, concerns arose over the feasibility of applying relatively complex PGIS tools in a participatory manner. In their paper titled ‘Participatory GIS: opportunity or oxymoron?’ Abbot et al (1998) identified and debated the ‘benefits and problems of a participatory GIS approach’. They asked whether Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be used by local people, ‘empowering them to influence policy decisions through owning and using the data’ or whether ‘a “participatory GIS” would simply be extractive’? These fundamental questions still exist, particularly for digital tools. But practitioners have now had more than a decade to develop and apply these tools, as well as to continue their exploration of older, non-digital PGIS tools. The Mapping for Change conference has allowed practitioners to share their experiences, both successes and failures, and identify lessons learnt over this period. The contents of this special issue mark how PGIS practice has matured. It has begun to develop a set of ethics and effective methodologies that are based on first-hand experience. These ethical considerations will help to guide both new and experienced practitioners alike to ensure that local communities can develop and communicate their own data – and ultimately influence larger decision-making processes. A broad range of tools and methods are available to practitioners and community representatives. These range from low-tech sketch mapping to hi-tech geo-spatial technologies and multimedia. As these tools increase in complexity, their use often (but not always) involves the incorporation of many of the preceding tools, resulting in approaches where multiple tools are used (Box 2).