Public Decisions and Citizen Satisfaction: The Potential Role of Public Participation Geographic Information Systems

Article excerpt


The concept of "public participation" is currently of great interest to researchers and policymakers. The major challenge that this concept presents is the development of methods to verify the results of the effects of inclusive participation practices on decision-making processes1. There is also a lack of evaluation methods regarding the participation of the public through Public Participation Geographic Information Systems (PPGISs). To fill this gap, the ongoing research has two objectives: first, to develop an analytical framework through which PPGIS initiatives can be evaluated; second, to apply the above-mentioned framework to a multi-case study to analyze and evaluate the results obtained from different PPGIS projects. In detail, we investigate the level of citizens' satisfaction regarding their active participation within PPGIS projects. To achieve the above-mentioned objectives, we apply cross-case analysis and content analysis methodologies.

Keywords: Public Participation, ICT, PPGIS, Evaluation Framework


The notion of citizen participation in public decisions has been discussed extensively in the scientific literature since the end of 1960, when Arnstein2 offered her seminal contribution to the explication of the concept. Successively, Wiedemann and Femers3 introduced the concept of the level of public participation and the concept of the environmental scenario, considered to be alternatives to Arnstein's explanation. Public participation, in this study, is defined as the distribution of information to citizens who are concerned about environmental issues. In conclusion, Tulloch and Shapiro4 set a framework for the classification and measurement of different levels of citizen participation in the decision-making processes regarding environmental issues. Technology brings a new element into this conceptual field. Developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and, particularly, the increasing proliferation of the Internet, suggest that ICTs could be used to widen the spectrum of participants in the decision-making process5, 6. Among the information-technology tools utilized to actively involve citizens in environmental issues, public participation geographic information systems (PPGISs) have played a key role. PPGISs are increasingly recognized as valuable methods for gathering public knowledge and opinions. PPGIS has evolved mainly since the early 1990s when researchers broadened their focus from the technical to the social concerns of GIS7. Scholars criticized that public participation is not a function of software and hardware enhancements only but also is contingent on political context8. PPGISs involve the use of geographic information systems (GISs) to broaden public involvement in environmental decision-making processes8, 9, 10, 11. In addition, the popularity of the Internet and the World Wide Web has brought some important changes to the use of PPGISs 12, 13.

Yet, in contrast to the richness of these theoretical perspectives, the range of research designed for the purpose of studying the performance of PPGISs to enhance public participation has been narrow. The purpose of this study and our theoretical contribution is to develop an analytical framework through which to evaluate PPGIS projects. The following principal questions motivate such research: First, what are the effects of the use of PPGISs? Second, what is the real capacity of PPGISs to enhance public participation? Finally, is it possible to evaluate citizens' satisfaction and their active participation in public decision-making processes?

The findings in this study also highlight a number of significant implications for managers. First, by developing the key components through which PPGIS initiatives can be evaluated, this study offers project managers the opportunity to be more effective in their activities. Second, this study can help project managers be more conscious about the increasing importance of PPGIS and better understand how they should approach the implementation of PPGIS in their respective organizations. …