Academic journal article URISA Journal

Web-PPGIS Usability and Public Engagement: A Case Study in Canmore, Alberta, Canada

Academic journal article URISA Journal

Web-PPGIS Usability and Public Engagement: A Case Study in Canmore, Alberta, Canada

Article excerpt


Over the past decade or so, public engagement has increasingly been an important theme in the urban planning process (Talen 1999, Kingston et al. 2000, Kessler 2004, Kingston 2007). This assertion is based on the premise that public engagement in the process can lead to a more sustainable, legitimate, democratic, and effective plan. Public meeting is one of the most popular methods of public participation. The method requires that the meetings are held in a certain place during a fixed period of time. This limits the number of people who can be involved in a decision-making/planning process. Therefore, there is a need for developing tools that can enable and support new ways to involve the citizens in the decision-making process (Krek 2005). In the past, various tools (a three-dimensional cardboard scale model, poster, kiosk, etc.) have been used to facilitate public participation (Rambaldi and Callosa 2000, Berner 2001). Since the later 1990s, the high-powered computer, the low-cost desktop GIS, and decision support software have been used for supporting community collaboration and public participation in urban and community planning processes (Craig and Elwood 1998, Klosterman 1999, Talen 1999). This has been developed into a broad area of research, generally referred to as public participatory GIS (PPGIS). However, traditional GIS has been criticized as an elite technology (Pickles 1995), which is operated mainly by a small group of scholars, GIS technocrats, and planners because of high operation costs, complex design, and great learning barriers. A little progress has been made to encourage the general public to join in community-based GIS projects (Chua and Wong 2002).

In recent years, the appearance of the Internet and improved WWW technologies provide opportunities for PPGIS researchers. This has speeded up the incorporation of PPGIS into the WWW technologies (Kingston et al. 2000, Kessler 2004, Simao et al. 2009). This type of system often is referred to as Web-based PPGIS (Web-PPGIS). Web-PPGIS overcomes many problems

caused by the traditional GIS and conventional public participation methods (Kingston et al. 2000, Chua and Wong 2002, Kessler 2004). For example, people can join the public participation process at any time and at any place that has a computer and Internet service. The complexity of GIS and spatial analysis is hidden from the user. A Web-PPGIS enables people to express their views by posting comments in a relatively anonymous and nonconfrontational manner. It also supports two-way to multiway flows of information.

Most Web-PPGIS research and projects have focused on making Web-PPGIS available and accessible to the general public to stimulate more informed participation and decision making (Sieber 2006, Kingston 2007). At the same time, the rapid technical progress in the area of developing Web-PPGIS has raised some questions regarding the evaluation of Web-PPGIS technology. One concern is related to the usability of Web-PPGIS. When an increasing number of laypeople obtain access to a Web-PPGIS, it is important to raise the issue of how usable the system is for a wide range of potential users. Web-PPGIS practitioners need not only upload a Web-PPGIS to a Web site, but also must design it in an effective, efficient, and satisfying way for users to perform specific tasks (ISO 1998). If the system usability is unsatisfactory, this could cause issues such as wasting users' time, making them worry and frustrated, and eventually discouraging their engagement in the public participatory process. This leads to the concept of degree of public engagement that, in this study, is referred to as the degree of public participants' interactions with the Web site holding a Web-PPGIS and other participants in the online public participatory decision-making process against a set of clearly defined goals.

An important objective of Web-PPGIS projects is to use the technology to engage grassroots public members in the decision-making process. …

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