Academic journal article URISA Journal

A Qualitative Framework for Evaluating Participation on the Geoweb

Academic journal article URISA Journal

A Qualitative Framework for Evaluating Participation on the Geoweb

Article excerpt


The Geospatial Web (Geoweb) includes a variety of interactive online mapping applications to which users can contribute contents (Scharl and Tochtermann 2007). While researchers have yet to settle on a single definition of the Geoweb, Crampton (2009) provides several common denominators of this "explosion of new spatial media on the web": cartography, citizen-orientation, and strong ties to the notion of public production of knowledge in participatory contexts ("crowdsourcing," p. 91). The term participatory Geoweb was coined by Sieber (2008) to describe "the involvement of advocacy nonprofits and marginalized communities ... in the geospatial technologies of Web 2.0" (p. 59). Geoweb tools can function as powerful conduits for gathering volunteered geographic information (VGI) for collaborative planning, deliberation, and argumentation (Flaxman 2010, Goodchild 2010).

Each Geoweb application has its own objectives, target users, types of contributions, spatial contexts, and other attributes, resulting in substantial difficulties when trying to establish metrics for success and effectiveness. To address this challenge, this article builds on established findings in the geographic information science literature to propose a novel framework, which is designed to evaluate participatory initiatives that utilize Geoweb technologies, and may be extensible to public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS) and other participatory media. It also provides a structured approach for contextualizing the processes inherent in user participation through these media.

The following section provides the research context, background on participation, and spatial decision making, and introduces concepts used in the proposed framework. This lays the groundwork for the subsequently presented description of the "3E Framework" with its provider and public realms, interaction space, and engagement, empowerment, and enactment processes. To conclude, we describe how this framework may be deployed, outline some of its limitations, and make a call for continued efforts to unite participatory Geoweb theories with practice.


Origins of the Geoweb

Recent years have seen the emergence of Web 2.0 as the next generation of online networking, where users contribute content by uploading files, writing reviews, rating contents, and otherwise contributing to a "collective intelligence" (Levy 1997, Gordon-Murname 2006). While O'Reilly (2005) is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, it first appears six years earlier in an article by DiNucci (1999). Controversy aside, the fact remains that the Web is shifting from a static information source to an interactive platform integrating user contributions, and efforts to leverage these capabilities to empower citizens in spatial decision-making processes abound (e.g., Ward, Gibson et al. 2003; Miller 2006; Tulloch 2007; Mericskay and Roche 2010).

As the Web continues to evolve from a one-way information conduit to a multidirectional interactive space, so, too, does it adopt new spatial contexts. The concepts underpinning the Geoweb can be traced back to Herring (1994), whose U.S. Department of Defense paper postulated the implementation of "spatial indexing geometry" for battlefield mapping and simulation. He called this the beginning of the "spatialization of the internet" (p. 1). During the following decade, interactive mapping applications exploded across the Web, backed by information technology giants Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo (Goodchild 2005 Craglia, Goodchild et al. 2008). It did not take long for users worldwide to recognize the value of interactive "cybercartography"; Peterson's (2005) study concluded that maps were, at the time, the second most frequent request over the Internet (next to weather forecasts) (Taylor and Claquard 2006).

The synthesis of Web 2.0 concepts with online mapping technologies produces the participatory Geoweb, a "phenomenon that has taken the world of geographic information by storm" (Goodchild 2007, Maguire 2007, Tulloch 2007). …

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