Resource distribution, tenure and access are crucial factors in natural resources management. What they have in common is that they are spatially defined within broader social, economic and environmental contexts, so that quantitative and qualitative descriptions alone are not sufficient to support their objective interpretation and use in social learning, negotiation and communication processes. Data on resource use, access and tenure lose their full meaning if not considered within their complete social and geographic context.
Interest in the spatial dimension of data has increased since the 1990s due to the diffusion of modern geographic information technologies and systems (GIT&S). These technologies include geographic information systems (GIS), low-cost global positioning system (GPS) equipment and satellite imagery. As the software for gathering, storing and analyzing spatial information becomes ever more userfriendly, practitioners, activists and researchers are adopting GIS both to broaden public participation in regional and local planning processes, and to facilitate consultations between officials and communities about the tenure, use and control of natural resources. As a result, increasing numbers of community based initiatives are emerging that aim to record, organize, visualize and geo-reference indigenous spatial knowledge using what is generally termed participatory GIS (PGIS).
PGIS is a practice resulting from a spontaneous merger of participatory learning and action (PLA) methods with GIT&S. It builds on the integrated use of tools, methods, technologies and systems ranging from simple sketch mapping, to participatory 3D modelling, collaborative aerial photointerpretation, and the use of GPS and GIS applications. With PGIS applications, indigenous spatial knowledge is composed in the form of virtual or physical, 2- or 3-dimensional maps that are used as interactive vehicles for spatial learning, information exchange, support in decision making, resource use planning and advocacy actions.
Mapping for Change
International Conference on Participatory Spatial Information Management and Communication, Nairobi, Kenya, 7-10 September 2005
This conference will bring together people with extensive practical experience in participatory GIS (PGIS) and community mapping in developing countries and Canadian First Nations. The event will focus on sharing experiences and defining good practices for making GIS technologies and systems available to marginalized groups, in order to enhance their capacities to generate, manage and communicate spatial information in the context of:
- asserting their ancestral land and resource rights and supporting
collaborative planning and management of natural resources;
- managing and resolving conflicts among community groups, and
between communities and higher authorities or economic forces;
- supporting indigenous peoples and rural communities in their
efforts to preserve their cultural heritage and identity, and to
promote equity in terms of ethnicity, culture, gender,
environmental justice and hazard mitigation.
The organizers intend to build on the experience gained in developing countries and First Nations, both to develop guidelines on sound PGIS/community mapping practices, and to set the foundations for the establishment of regional networks and resource centres.
The international conference ‘Mapping for Change’, to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2005 will focus on sharing experiences and defining good practices for making PGIS applications more widely available to rural communities, and to enhance their capacities to generate, manage and use spatial information. This issue of ICT Update features a number of cases illustrating the issues that will be discussed at the conference. Sanat Chakraborty explains how participatory 3D modelling (P3DM) coupled with GIS applications has helped an isolated hill community in India to optimize the use of their land, but notes that introducing technology without adequate support is not enough. Carol Murphy and Sandra Slater-Jones describe a PGIS mapping procedure developed in Namibia in which local people are the mapping experts. Jeroen Verplanke describes the development of a mobile GIS unit with a simple graphical user interface that can be used by communities in remote areas, regardless of literacy and without expert assistance, to monitor forest resources and record local spatial knowledge.
The next two articles focus on the impacts of PGIS on local capacity development. First, M’Lis Flynn looks at how the Ugunja Community Resource Centre in Kenya has overcome the lack of technical and human resources in the process of building a local GIS and mapping hub. Peter Akong Minang then describes the valuable lessons learned by a community in Cameroon in the process of using PGIS to apply for a community forest management contract. Finally, in the Q&A, Dr Peter Kyem explains that although both conventional GIT&S and PGIS approaches can contribute to natural resources planning and management, PGIS offers specific added value.
Giacomo Rambaldi ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is Regional Programme Coordinator, CTA, Wageningen, the Netherlands.