Participatory GIS

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As defined by the participants in the "Mapping for Change International Conference (PGIS'05)" which took place in Nairobi, Kenya in September 2005, Participatory GIS (PGIS) is developing out of participatory approaches to planning and spatial information and communication management[1][2].

The practice is the result of a spontaneous merger of Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) methods with Geographic Information Technologies (GIT)[3]. PGIS combines a range of geo-spatial information management tools and methods such as sketch maps, Participatory 3D Models (P3DM), aerial photographs, satellite imagery, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to represent peoples’ spatial knowledge in the forms of virtual or physical, 2 or 3 dimensional maps used as interactive vehicles for spatial learning, discussion, information exchange, analysis, decision making and advocacy[4]. Participatory GIS implies making GIT available to disadvantaged groups in society in order to enhance their capacity in generating, managing, analysing and communicating spatial information.

PGIS practice is geared towards community empowerment through measured, demand-driven, user-friendly and integrated applications of geo-spatial technologies. GIS-based maps and spatial analysis become major conduits in the process. A good PGIS practice is embedded into long-lasting spatial decision-making processes, is flexible, adapts to different socio-cultural and bio-physical environments, depends on multidisciplinary facilitation and skills and builds essentially on visual language. The practice integrates several tools and methods whilst often relying on the combination of ‘expert’ skills with socially differentiated local knowledge. It promotes interactive participation of stakeholders in generating and managing spatial information and it uses information about specific landscapes to facilitate broadly-based decision making processes that support effective communication and community advocacy.

If appropriately used[5], the practice could exert profound effects on community empowerment, innovation and social change[6]. More importantly, by placing control of access and use of culturally sensitive spatial information in the hands of those who generated them, PGIS practice could protect traditional knowledge and wisdom from external exploitation.


  1. Abbot, J. et al. 1998. Participatory GIS: opportunity or oxymoron? Participatory Learning & Action PLA Notes (IIED, Sustainable Agriculture & Rural Livelihoods), PLA 33, 27-34.
  2. Rambaldi G. and Weiner D. 2004. Track on International Perspectives: Summary Proceedings [1] 3rd International Conference on Public Participation GIS, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 18-20 July 2004, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  3. Corbett J, Rambaldi G., Kyem P., Weiner D., Olson R., Muchemi J., McCall M And Chambers R. 2006. Mapping for Change: The emergence of a new practice. PLA 54:13-19 IIED, London, UK
  4. Rambaldi G., Kwaku Kyem A. P.; Mbile P.; McCall M. and Weiner D. 2006. Participatory Spatial Information Management and Communication in Developing Countries. EJISDC 25, 1, 1-9.
  5. Rambaldi G, Chambers R., McCall M, And Fox J. 2006. Practical ethics for PGIS practitioners, facilitators, technology intermediaries and researchers. PLA 54:106-113, IIED, London, UK
  6. Chambers R. 2006. Participatory Mapping and Geographic Information Systems: Whose Map? Who is Empowered and Who Disempowered? Who Gains and Who Loses? EJISDC 25, 2, 1-11
  • Corbett, J. and Keller, P. 2006. An analytical framework to examine empowerment associated with participatory geographic information systems (PGIS). Cartographica 40(4): 91-102.
  • McCall, Michael K., and Peter A. Minang. 2005. Assessing Participatory GIS for Community-Based Natural Resource Management: Claiming Community Forests in Cameroon. Geographical Journal 171.4 : 340-358.
  • Elwood, Sarah. 2006 Critical Issues in Participatory GIS: Deconstructions, Reconstructions, and New Research Directions. Transactions in GIS 10:5, 693–708
  • Chambers, K., Corbett, J., Keller, P., Wood, C. 2004. Indigenous Knowledge, Mapping, and GIS: A Diffusion Of Innovation Perspective. Cartographica 39(3).
  • Kyem, P. 2004. Of Intractable Conflicts and Participatory GIS Applications; The Search for Consensus Amidst Competing Claims and Institutional Demands. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 94(1): 37–57.
  • Kyem, P. 2001/2004. Power, participation and inflexible institutions: An examination of the challenges to community empowerment in participatory GIS applications. Cartographica 38(3/4): 5-17.

See also

External links

Evolution of PGIS

  • Peter Poole Reports on his Experience with Tenure Mapping In this interview, Peter Poole traces the evolution of a map-making methodology which commenced with the introduction of GPS to the Inuits in 1989 and evolved throughout the 1990s via a series of projects in the Amazon, the Arctic and Asia.



  • Integrated Approaches to Participatory Development (IAPAD) - Provides information and case studies on Participatory 3-Dimensional Modelling (P3DM) practice.
  • Village Earth - Provides facilitation, consultation and training in for community-based mapping initiatives including mapping of indigenous territories, community census projects, community/government interactions.
  • International Institute for Sustainable Development - Provides online training in community-based mapping.
  • Native Lands works to protect biological and cultural diversity in Latin America, with a focus on Central America and southern Mexico.
  • The Philippine Association for Inter-Cultural Development (PAFID) uses Participatory 3D Modelling, GPS and GIS applications to support Indigenous Cultural Communities throughout the Philippines in claiming for their rights over ancestral domains.
  • The Borneo Project partners with communities and local organizations that document and map ancestral land claims.
  • ERMIS Africa builds capacities among local communities and development practitioners in using Participatory Geo-spatial Information Management Technologies.
  • The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) supports the dissemination of good PGIS practice in ACP countries.


Participatory redistricting