Participatory GIS (PGIS) involves making GIS technology available to disadvantaged groups in society. It is a step on from community mapping which has traditionally used 3D models or 2D paper maps.
In conservation, PGIS can be harnessed for a variety of purposes however the most common use is for investigations into resource use. Often these resources are threatened due to overuse and in many cases consist of threatened habitats or biodiversity.
Participatory approaches in general (if undertaken correctly) can be applauded for their ability to bring a community together to work towards more sustainable practises. When you introduce interesting new technology into the picture this can encourage an even greater level of participation.
In some cases the locations of the resources are unknown to the investigator and so PGIS can be used to map the resources, to then begin investigating the dynamics surrounding their use.
The ability to store attribute information (writing, photos etc that can be assigned to a location) is a superb advantage as is the ability to classify data whilst in the field. This means having set attributes, for example plant species or livestock type which means the data is practically ready for analysis as soon as the investigator returns to their desk. They may just be able to download their data from online storage as well if they backed up via WiFi whilst in-country.
In many studies the technology is handed over to communities so they can continue mapping and providing data. This can be worked in to community-based sustainable resource-use approaches such as those in the Amazon where communities rotate bush-meat harvesting pressure in different forest areas.
With spatial mapping technology advancing at an alarming rate and prices for this technology dropping, we are likely to see PGIS and similar approaches becoming heavily used in conservation research and practise. It’s also important to note that mobile phones have accurate GPS built in, and accompanied by a user-friendly App. – the sky’s the limit!
Take a look at some of these PGIS websites and resources: