Examining the values that are embedded in the processes and technologies of participatory GIS
University College London
A persistent question about participatory methodologies that rely on technologies, such as public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS), is how to integrate values, such as inclusiveness of all the people that are impacted by a decision, or identifying options that are popular by the majority but acceptable to the minority, within technologically focused projects. Moreover, technologies do not operate by themselves – they are embedded in organizational, political, and social processes that set how they are used, who can use them, and in what context. Therefore, we should explore where the values reside?
Two factors obscure our view: The misleading conceptualisation that technologies are value free, and can be used for good or for bad – which put all the weight on the process, and ignores the way in which any technology allow only certain actions to be taken. Another popular view of technology conceptualisation is to emphasise their advantages (upside) and ignore their limitations. If we move beyond these, and other “common sense” views of technologies, we can notice how process and technology intertwine.
We can therefore look at the way the process/technology reinforce and limit each other, and the way that the values are integrated and influence them. With this analysis, we can also consider how technological development can explicitly include considerations of values, and be philosophically, politically, and social-theory informed. We need to consider the roles, skills, and knowledge of the people that are involved in each part of the process – from community facilitation to software development.
The paper will draw on the experience of developing participatory geographic information technologies over the past 20 years, and will suggest future directions for values-based participatory technology development.