Ian Babelon

PPGIS as cyborg systems: opportunities and challenges for their use in contemporary urban planning

Ian Babelon, Northumbria University

 The use of Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) in urban planning is becoming increasingly common in local councils and neighbourhoods across the globe. However, the majority of the academic literature focuses on research-led tools and projects, while many commercial tools and case-studies are missing in the literature, even when these are also deployed by researchers. Furthermore, usability evaluations of PPGIS tools often concern prototypes rather than fully-matured applications that have been widely deployed in urban planning, with notable exceptions. On the basis of a questionnaire survey delivered to a purposive sample of planning experts in local councils, this paper will explore opportunities and challenges for the uptake and use of four PPGIS applications deployed in Sweden, France, the UK, and Australia, respectively. The questionnaire questions will concern: i) the range of functionalities deemed most useful for engaging urban residents in planning issues; and ii) the performance of PPGIS systems in mediating public participation and its influence on decision-making, in contrasting contexts of fiscal austerity among local authorities. The preliminary analysis of the survey results will partly build on a theorisation of PPGIS applications as “cyborg” or hybrid socio-technical systems.

Additionally, this paper will aim to share the initial results of a pilot study that will compare user interaction with two to three PPGIS applications not well covered in the academic literature. Comparative usability testing will explore the pros and cons of PPGIS functionalities (e.g. commenting, drawing, uploading media) for providing georeferenced suggestions for urban green space in Newcastle, UK. This paper is part of wider PhD research that aims to compare the use of different online mapping surveys for public participation, namely 2D Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) and 3D city models.

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