Friday, November 4, 2011

Developing for a better world: when Geographic Information meets e-participation

With the coming of social web, the participatory process went mainstream. No matter if we are not all actively engaged, whether we just look a word up in wikipedia or we read a twitter stream we value information collectively produced. But why should we value collective intelligence?

James Surowiecki talked of wisdom of crowds, meaning that decisions based on collective information are on average better than those based on individual knowledge. The 2004 tsunami is often pointed at as an example. Shortly after the natural disaster participatory journalism played a critical role in helping find missing persons and track humanitarian efforts.

But what if we could empower collective intelligence to prevent natural disasters rather than recover from them? What if we could use our collective wisdom to protect the environment and make better decisions for the land we live in? Reporting accessibility barriers, dangers, fixing needs or environmental issues within a geographic information system are just a few examples of participatory GIS.

A participatory geographic information system can aid decision-making in local areas, thus improving the quality of life and safety of its residents. Roberto Demontis came up with this idea while working on Tourrenia, a network of territories that promotes sustainable and accessible tourism: "We needed an easy tool to manage geographic information in an accessible CMS. But we wanted to go beyond the simple geo-referencing of content or map views. Bearing this in mind we developed the GisContent plug-in."

Indeed GisContent enables the open source web platform jAPS 2.0 Entando to geographic information management: it makes it possible to couple any type of content in the CMS database with a geographic reference and display it on maps. But it can do a lot more.Unlike many web applications GisContent allows the controlled generation of data through citizens participation.

"I was thrilled to involve citizens in a decision process that uses GIS data from different datasources through an accessible Content Management System" says Demontis. "Installing the plug-in on jAPS 2.0 Entando allows to implement different solutions in a participatory scenario: users with no GIS skills can be given full ability to edit the geographical part of content or the possibility to evaluate map data by adding a content type 'comment'."

"I believe - he adds - the plug-in is a good starting point for anyone willing to improve Participatory GIS through the use of mobile devices, spatial queries and modules for import/export of content to GIS systems. More important, GisContent is an open source community plug-in: any developer is welcome to join the community and contribute to build up a better GIS. My main wish is now to see participatory GIS going mainstream and improve the quality of our lives."

Roberto Demontis is a researcher at CRS4, Center for Advanced Studies, Research and Development in Sardinia. He is an expert of GIS technologies and the developer of GisContent plug-in.

Follow him on twitter @bobdemos

To find out more and contribute to the project:

Open source community jAPS 2.0 Entando

Share your ideas on ideascale

Download jAPS 2.0 Entando web platform

Download GisContent