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Dr. Robert Chambers elaborates on Participatory GIS (PGIS) practice

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My name is Robert Chambers. I'm a Research Associate at the Institute of Development Studies ... ... at the University of Sussex in the UK. "Research Associate" means that you have retired ... ... and they have not yet discovered how to get rid of you. Participatory Development and GIS? Well, these have been two very important streams ... ... in development and they've come together ... The participatory stream has been going on for many years. If you think of Kenya, ... a Harambee ..., around the time of Independence. That movement was a tremendous participatory movement ... But now, the two have come together. I think the merging of the two ... ... is very positive in terms of its potentials. In 1998, there was a meeting in the UK, in Durham, ... ... where a number of development practitioners got together to discuss ... ... the relationship between Participatory Development and GIS. You, amongst others in the group questioned ... ... whether "GIS" and "Participation" ... ... were compatible. With respect to that event, ... ... how do you think things have changed? At that time... ... a number of us were very concerned, indeed, ... ... that GIS would be used to disempower people ... ... through the making of maps, because we know maps are so powerful. At that workshop, which was just one day ... ... we put forward a number of questions, which we thought ought to be asked. Which particularly were questions of "Who is empowered?", "Who is disempowered?", "Who gains?", and "Who loses"? How do you think things have changed since then? Is it the questions that you raised then? The questions still need to be asked. There have been some very important developments since then. We've seen, in this conference, from how many countries there have been initiatives ... ... and people have been developing approaches. One of the most significant ones is the development of 3D modelling, ... which Giacomo Rambaldi and others have been so much involved in. Because that introduces ... ... the extra dimension ... ... and makes the mapping, ... ... or the model, in this case, so much more visible, ... ... so much more easy to handle, ... so much more likely to stay in the community so that they own it,... ...and so much easier for the facilitation of people ... ...expressing their own spatial knowledge on the model. This is much more powerful, I think, than ... ... flat Participatory GIS, ... ... although, that is very strong as well. While there have been a lot of positive aspects ... ... in as far as local development is concerned, ... ... do you see any dangers ... ... in the practice of PGIS? I think there are a lot of dangers as there are in all participatory approaches. We need to learn from the many things which have gone wrong with the spread of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) ... ... as well as good practice. One is the danger of taking people's time without any recompense. Another is raising their expectations ... Another is endangering them ... ... or disempowering them through the information which is shared ... ... which can then be used against them. Another one is generating conflicts within a group or community ... ... or between communities through Participatory GIS. These are all aspects which need to be looked at very carefully ... ... so the ethical commitments, of those who facilitate Participatory GIS are very important. In relation to that, what are the initiatives which could be ... ... used to support good practice? Those who fund Participatory GIS need to understand it and not to require too much, ... ... too fast, on too big a scale. That applies particularly to the lenders and the donor agencies. They must understand that and not demand it on a huge scale. Another is understanding the importance of training and not trying to rush training; ... ... and this is training of people in the communities ... ... and also training of the facilitators who facilitate these processes. And then, I think the embedding of a whole set of questions ... which are the "who gains and who loses" questions: ... "Who's model?" or "Who's map is it?" "Who keeps it?" "Who's legend is it on the map?" "Who is empowered and who is disempowered?" These are the questions which need to be asked again and again and again. And if they are, and if those who facilitate and those who fund these activities ... ... keep on asking them and are aware of them, then I think we can look forward ... ... to a great deal of good practice in the future. But if not, then the dangers are very real. Do you see any hopes in the future ... ... as far as the empowerment of communities is concerned in the context participatory approaches? I think that there are great potentials for the future ... ... but it depends on the quality of the practice. Thank you. Do you have anything you'd want to elaborate on or add? The only thing I would like to add is, that it is extremely important ... ... to bring together practitioners from different countries. We've got something like 45 or 46 different countries represented here... ...and the exchange of experiences between them is a very precious thing. What I fear is that there may be a great deal of "non" Participatory GIS going on, ... ... which is disempowering local communities ... ... and that what we have represented here is a sort of scattered archipelago ... ... of good PGIS practice in a huge sea of disempowering GIS. I don't know whether that is the case or not, but I'm fearful. So the spread of good PGIS would seem to me to be a very high priority. So what advice would you give to practitioners ... ... especially the organizers of this conference? I think that they should concentrate on educating those who are in positions of power ... and who can support the spread of PGIS. They should educate them in the need to not to rush, in the need not to press for early results ... in the need to concentrate on training of communities and of good facilitators ... ... and to reflect all the time on the ethical issues which are involved.

Video Details

Duration: 7 minutes and 33 seconds
Country: Netherlands
Language: English
Producer: CTA
Director: Giacomo Rambaldi
Views: 1,162
Posted by: giacomo on Nov 4, 2009

Dr. Robert Chambers from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK, reflects on the intersection of participatory development and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and on the resulting good and bad practices. In the interview Dr. Chambers calls on practitioners and development agencies to ensure that good practice is put in place to avoid the repetition of the misuse of PRA (i.e. Participatory Rural Appraisal) done in the 80's and 90's.

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