In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Participation GIS, Participatory GIS, and Participatory Mapping

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Resources
  • Examples and Case Studies

Geography Public Participation GIS, Participatory GIS, and Participatory Mapping
Timothy B. Norris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0160


Participatory mapping (PM) and public/participation GIS (P/PGIS) are umbrella terms under which a variety of mapping research and practice takes place. Local people who reside “in the map” are included in the collection, analysis, sharing, and visualization of geospatial data with the goal to make GIS and cartographic practice more inclusive and democratic. To make a map, the map-maker must elicit knowledge from local people to capture the human geography of the area. Until relatively recently this cartographic process was practiced either by, or for, those in positions of power. The subsequent use of the maps most often reinforced power relations between rulers and the populations “in the map.” In post–Second World War development circles, and as a part of inclusive social science initiatives such as participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and participatory action research (PAR), PM emerged as a response to criticisms of such cartographic practices. During the same period, native peoples in Canada used land use and occupancy mapping to defend their ancestral territorial rights. Two fundamental assumptions emerged from these parallel processes that remain relevant to all participatory map-making. First, information gathered by local populations in a participatory/inclusive research design is more useful than information compiled by outside cartographers. Second, PM can empower local communities. With the advent of relatively inexpensive and readily available GIS technology in the 1990s, P/PGIS emerged as a close cousin to PM. While the power of these tools for planning and development is undeniable, researchers and practitioners recognized that P/PGIS might cause negative social effects such as marginalization of underprivileged populations and that P/PGIS lacks methods to represent qualitative aspects of culture. Indeed, debates around empowerment, inclusion, access, application, and representation of culture comprise the core of PM and P/PGIS research. Notwithstanding, there is no one definition of PM or P/PGIS and several other synonymous terms exist including participatory 3D modeling (P3DM), public participation GIS (PPGIS), community-integrated GIS (CiGIS), community GIS (CGIS), bottom-up GIS (BuGIS), and volunteered graphic information (VGI). While there are subtle differences between these terms, with VGI as a recognized outlier, definitions overlap substantially. This bibliography traces the emergence of PM and P/PGIS from the original participatory development and occupancy mapping work, follows it through the critical cartography debates in the 1980s and 1990s, covers their crystallization as fields at the turn of the 20th century, and closes with their continuing development as active research programs.

General Overviews

Bryan 2015 provides one of the most recent and comprehensive reviews of PM. Corbett, et al. 2006 introduces the results from the Mapping for Change conference from 2005 in Kenya and briefly review the state of participatory GIS (PGIS) and PM. Craig, et al. 2002 is an edited volume in which over forty authors critically examine public participation GIS. The volume resulted from the meeting at the University of California Santa Barbara of the Varenius Project, sponsored by National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (The Varenius Project: NCGIA’s Project to Advance Geographic Information Science, cited under Resources). Recurring themes in the volume include unequal access to data and technology (the digital divide) and problems with the representation of complex social and cultural realities on computer screens. Sieber 2006 provides the first general overview of PPGIS, and Dunn 2007 follows with an overview of PGIS; there is considerable overlap in the definitions of PPGIS and PGIS in these works. Tulloch 2008 provides the first encyclopedia entry on PPGIS and summarizes well-known questions such as what “public” participates? How is PPGIS delivered? Is PPGIS democratic or subversive? The several definitions of PPGIS are also covered. In an edited volume on GIS and society, Elwood 2011 outlines the genealogy of participatory approaches in GIS and society research going as far back as the late 1980s to draw on PAR and the early debates on epistemological issues and questions of access, ethics, and equity in GIS. More recently, Brown and Kyttä 2014 teases apart some of the varied meanings of PPGIS, PGIS, and VGI, their slight differences in purpose, representation of geospatial information, and modes of participation. The authors also make the important note that while there are many advances in the field, how the term “participation” is used and understood remains elusive and that there remains a lack of evidence that PPGIS actually effective in policy formation and hence is a more democratic form of the use of GIS in society.

  • Brown, Greg, and Marketta Kyttä. “Key Issues and Research Priorities for Public Participation GIS (PPGIS): A Synthesis Based on Empirical Research.” Applied Geography 46 (2014): 122–136.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2013.11.004

    This paper draws from extensive on the ground PPGIS experience (largely from urban planning and environmental concerns) and proposes several issues and four topics for research: understanding and increasing participation, controlling data quality, improving public participation, and evaluating the effectiveness of PPGIS.

  • Bryan, Joe. “Participatory Mapping.” In The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology. Edited by Thomas Albert Perreault, Gavin Bridge, and James McCarthy, 249–262. New York: Routledge, 2015.

    Traces PM from its origins in cultural ecology (post–Second World War anthropology up to the 1970s), to moments of counter-mapping (1980s and 90s), through the technical-legal “impasse” of PM at the turn of the century and suggests that much potential remains with “cartographies of power” and “social mapping.”

  • Corbett, J., G. Rambaldi, P. Kyem, et al. “Overview: Mapping for Change the emergence of a new practice.” Participatory Learning and Action 54 (2006): 13–19.

    Introduces the outcomes from the Mapping for Change International Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2005 as part of a special issue. The authors introduce PGIS and then summarizes the contributions from the presenting authors (Minang and McCall, Chapin, Poole, Fox, Rambaldi, Kyem, Olsen, Corbett and Keller).

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

    Contains the work of over forty authors who attended the 1998 specialist meeting held at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The meeting was sponsored by Project Varenius of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) and builds upon the 1996 Friday Harbor meeting (see GIS and Society).

  • Dunn, Christine. “Participatory GIS—A People’s GIS.” Progress in Human Geography 31.5 (2007): 616–637.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132507081493

    Review that covers critical GIS, PGIS, PPGIS, VGI, and the implications of the “democratization of GIS” on decision-making. Emergent themes include control and ownership of processes, products and data, indigenous knowledge representations, tensions inerrant in participatory processes, democracy, and sustainability (empower/disempower, empower/surveillance, legitimacy/local/expert).

  • Elwood, Sarah. “Participatory Approaches in GIS and Society Research: Foundations, Practices, and Future Directions.” In The SAGE Handbook of GIS and Society. Edited by Timothy L. Nyerges, Helen Couclelis, and R. McMaster, 381–399. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2011.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446201046.n20

    Places PPGIS/PGIS in a broader context of research that explores “participation” from the GIS and society perspective. Outlines the similarities, differences and potential synergies between grassroots GIS research, PAR that incorporates GIS, and group decision and collaborative GIS research.

  • Sieber, Renee E. “Public Participation Geographic Information Systems: A Literature Review and Framework.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96.3 (2006): 491–507.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.2006.00702.x

    Review that presents PPGIS as a co-produced and varied research program with an overarching goal of public empowerment and an “informationally enabled democracy.” Outlines four themes in PPGIS literature: people and place, technology and data, process, and outcome and evaluation. The evaluation of empowerment is the “ostensible goal of PPGIS.”

  • Tulloch, David. “Public Participation GIS (PPGIS).” In Encyclopedia of Geographic Information Science. Edited by Karen K. Kemp, 351–353. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2008.

    “Public participation GIS (PPGIS) is a field within geographic information science that focuses on ways the public uses various forms of geospatial technologies to participate in public processes” (p. 351). Identifies three major issues: GIS hard to understand, problematic access to data, and limited political agency of PPGIS.

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