Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Towards a Participatory Global Imaging System: Evaluating Case Studies of Participatory Rural Appraisal and GIS in the Developing World

Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Towards a Participatory Global Imaging System: Evaluating Case Studies of Participatory Rural Appraisal and GIS in the Developing World

Article excerpt


The need to include local participation in development and planning projects has received greater attention in recent years due to the growth in research on sustainable rural livelihoods (Scoones and Thompson 1994; Carney 1998; Scoones 1998; Bebbington 2000), sustainable development (WCED 1987; Adams 1990; Lele 1991; Merchant 1992; Escobar 1996), participatory rural appraisal (Chambers 1994a, 1994b; 1997; Moser 1998), and political ecology (Hecht 1985; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Peet and Watts 1996; Bryant and Bailey 1997; Blaikie 1999). Although these traditions have divergent goals, they share a general interest in addressing local scale processes through the use of participatory techniques. In recent years, advocates of these methods have begun integrating GIS and multimedia tools to represent alternative sets of knowledge in planning processes in order to present local knowledge and control of geographic space in the developing world to national and international agencies (Brown et al. 1995, Harris et al. 1995, Peluso 1995, Rocheleau and Ross 1995, Hodgson and Schroeder 1999).

Tangentially there is growing attention within the GIS community to local participation, social theory, and diverse sets of knowledge. Known alternatively as "participatory GIS," "public participation GIS," or "community-integrated GIS," the inclusion of local concerns and knowledge into GIS planning has become a central concern for a number of GIS practitioners (Pickles 1995; Harris and Weiner 1998; Obermeryer 1998; Shiffer 1998; 1999). The adoption of GIS by PRA advocates has occurred at the same time as GIS practitioners have expressed concern over local participation and has resulted in a number of case studies in the developing world that combine participatory methods with GIS. The central aim of this paper is to evaluate these case studies to assess lessons for future participatory GIS research.

This paper begins with an overview of participatory rural appraisal and its recent adoption of GIS tools. The use of participatory mapping techniques to present "counter-maps" is discussed to suggest how GIS is being utilized to challenge state interpretations of geographic territory. The complementary series of GIS and Society debates that occurred within the GIS community in the 1990s are then addressed, with a focus upon local participation and community empowerment. I then evaluate ten case studies in Latin America, Africa, and Asia that combine participatory methods with GIS and argue that this research tends to fall into two categories: to create representations of local knowledge or to engage in analysis for long-term planning. Although the ten cases have different goals and approaches, a commonality is limited attention to the participatory process itself. This is a critical omission, as the participatory process shapes access to information and tools and affects their adoption by different community members and national agencies. Additionally, even though the case studies provide evidence that local communities can participate in planning processes, the majority fail to address the outcome of combining GIS with participatory methods. I conclude that future research on participatory GIS must address the participatory process to demonstrate how effective these projects are at meeting community goals and in shaping policy outcomes.

Participatory Rural Appraisal, Conservation, and Counter-mapping

Within geography, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and a number of other disciplines there has been growing attention to a diversity of approaches and methods that enable local people to share and analyze local knowledge within planning processes. Commonly identified as participatory rural appraisal, these methods have been particularly important in challenging top-down development projects and methodologies that can ignore local knowledge and participation. …

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