Towards a participatory GIS: Evaluating case studies of participatory rural appraisal and GIS in the developing world

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The recognition that local participitation is a critical goal of development has contributed to the popularity in a set of techniques designed to increase local participation and knowledge in planning processes. Identified as participatory rural appraisal (PRA), this trend is marked by the use of a variety of high-end technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS). An interesting and related trend has come from members of the GIS community who argue that a "participatory GIS" is required to ensure local knowledge and participation in a variety of planning initiatives. This synergy of interests has resulted in a growth of research in the developing world that attempts to merge PRA methods with GIS tools. This paper examines the separate, but increasingly complementary, traditions of PRA and GIS. Ten case studies that combine participatory methods with GIS in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are evaluated to consider how these traditions are being applied by communities to protect ownership of territory, present local knowledge of natural resources, and to engage in long-term planning. This paper suggests that although GIS has the potential to increase participation in planning processes, a commonality of the majority of case studies is limited attention to the participatory process itself. It would address how access to information and GIS tools varies within communities, as well as the effectiveness of a participatory GIS in shaping policy outcomes. Although participation can be advanced through the use of GIS, this paper concludes by suggesting that research on the availability of these tools should not serve as a substitute for critical analyses of their use and effectiveness by local communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-52
Number of pages10
JournalCartography and Geographic Information Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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