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Towards Participatory Geographic Information Systems for Community Planning and Environmental Decision Making. Piotr Jankowski Department of Geography San Diego State University. Outline. Community-based decision making and global sustainability: Global Local

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Towards Participatory Geographic Information Systems for Community Planning and Environmental Decision Making

Piotr Jankowski

Department of Geography

San Diego State University


  • Community-based decision making and global sustainability: Global Local

  • Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS)

  • PGIS for water resource planning and decision making

Local Decisions - Global Effects (?)

  • Place-based decision making promotes sustainable use of resources

  • Scaling up the impacts of sustainable communities

  • Processes and tools for community-based decision making

Participatory Processes

  • Federal and state laws (in the U.S.) mandate public participation in:

    • land use and natural resource development,

    • transportation planning

  • As reported in research about local governance and public-oriented decisions, public participation still commonly involves little “meaningful participation”.

  • Meaningful participation - access to voice and competence of knowledge that foster shared understanding about concerns.

Traditional Models of Public Participation

  • Public hearings/town hall meetings (the U.S.)

  • Citizen panels (Germany during 70s and 80s)

Analytic-Deliberative Model

  • Analytic component provides technical information that ensures broad-based, competent perspectives are treated.

  • Deliberative component provides an opportunity to interactively give voice to choices about values, alternatives, and recommendations.

Tools for Community-based Decision Making

  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) combine hardware, software, data, people, procedures, and institutional arrangements to collect, store, manipulate, analyze, and display information about spatially distributed phenomena for the purpose of inventory, decision making and/or problem solving

Tools for Community-based Decision Making: PGIS

  • PGIS:

    • Community-integrated GIS

    • Integrates local and expert knowledge with participatory approaches including face-to-face (traditional meeting format) and distributed (on-line) processes

Research Questions

  • Is PGIS effective in giving the public a stronger voice in shaping the use of natural resources in their communities?

  • What PGIS designs and capabilities, particularly including GIS technology, can improve public participation in “analytic-deliberative” decision making?

Community-based Protection Planning of Drinking Water Supplies

  • States are required to assess all public drinking water sources (Safe Drinking Water Act 1996)

  • Voluntary assessment performed by communities is the preferred way

  • Communities have been reluctant to respond

  • Would GIS-generated maps help engage the communities?

Study Area in North-Central Idaho

  • 12 candidate rural

  • communities (pop. < 5000)

  • 9 communities agreed to

  • participate

  • None of the communities

  • had GIS mapping capabilities

Use of PGIS

  • Large-size maps generated with standard GIS techniques and hydro-geologic models from land use, soil characteristics, topography, and subsurface geology

PGIS Maps and Water Protection Zones

Study Results

  • Each of nine communities ended up creating and approving their drinking water source protection zones using GIS-generated maps.

  • Although the water protection issues did vary among the communities they requested and used similar maps as information structures helping them step through a participatory process.

Conjunctive Water Management in the Boise River Basin

Conjunctive Management

An integrated approach governing the use of water from hydraulically interconnected surface-water and ground-water sources



Irrigated in 1937



New Irrigation between 1937 and 1994


Feet below surface









No longer irrigated in 1994

Idaho State Historical Society Photo


Irrigation / Land Use (1937-1994)

Lower Boise River Basin

Boise River Basin

The Problem Domain

The Goal

Decision Task

Designate specific management areas (where) for ground water users, who are junior to surface water users, and determine time and hydrologic conditions under which ground water pumping may be curtailed.

Stakeholder Groups

  • Control Group: 10 stakeholders, 25 years of avg. experience

    • one shared display for the group

    • Facilitator

  • Stakeholder representatives of:

    • Surface water users

    • Ground water users

    • Potable water provider

    • Municipality

Control Group

Stakeholder Groups

  • Test Group: 10 stakeholders, 19 years of avg. experience

    • individual computers + shared display

    • facilitator

    • chauffeurs

Test Group

Process and Tools

  • Two stakeholder face-to-face decision making sessions: May 2001 and Sept. 2002

  • Off-the-shelf spatial decision support system (GeoChoicePerspectives) used in 2001

  • Custom-built PGIS (WaterGroup) used in 2002

3D Visualization Window

Single Option Impact Window

Stakeholder Satisfaction with the Process

Group 1

(Control), Phase


1, May 17, 2001





Group 2 (Test),

Phase 1, May


18, 2001





Group 1


(Control), Phase

2, September

Perceived Quality

Group Behavior

19, 2002

Solution Satisfaction

Software Helpfulness

Decision Scheme Satisfaction

Personal Task Participation

Group 2 (Test),

Negative Socio-Emotional Behavior

Phase 2,

September 20,


Stakeholder Satisfaction with Tools

Usability of Decision Support Software Rated by the





Rating Scale





GCP, Test Group, May 2001

GCP, Control Group, May 2001

WaterGroup, Test Group, Sep. 2002


WaterGroup, Control Group, Sep. 2002


  • Higher standard deviation of the mean ratings for the test groups reflects high heterogeneity of groups in respect to computer skills.

  • Heterogeneous groups of stakeholders prefer facilitated decision processes, in which a facilitator relieves them of the burden of operating the software.


  • Two studies representing different participatory processes and different tools

  • Differences in study communities:

    • rural vs. urban

  • Similarities:

    • participant input driving process outcomes

    • participant ownership of processes crucial for “buy” into the process outcomes

Thank You !Questions?

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