Participatory GIS: Community Management of Open Space

Participatory GIS: stimulating resourceful community management of open space through dialogue and visioning. Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO).

Participatory GIS



Open space is under pressure due to the increasing population density and processes of urbanisation and counter-urbanisation. Moreover, the remaining open space is scarce and the subject of debate. Various functions such as nature development, residential development, recreation, food production, flood protection,… compete and claim the same valuable pieces of land. Both rural, urban and periurban communities are faced with the question of how to deal with these competing claims and how to preserve/manage open space in a context of urbanisation. Specifically in the context of climate change, these issues will continue to gain importance, as open space is a crucial asset for climate adaptation, e.g. open space can be a buffer for flood protection, can alleviate the urban heat island effect etc.. In order to stimulate resilient and resourceful community management of open space, dialogue and visioning are important steps. Within this research we want to explore the potential of using participatory GIS as a tool to stimulate this dialogue and envisioning processes within resourceful community management of open space. Participatory GIS is a methodology that can be applied to reveal stakeholder’s values for specific places (often referred to as “public participation GIS”) or to gather (spatially explicit) tacit knowledge from stakeholders (referred to as “participatory mapping”). Moreover, it can be applied to support multi-actor discussions and problem solving processes in spatial planning. In each of these applications, community participation is combined with the use of digital geospatial techniques.

The research will deal with questions such as:

  • What type of open space issues are at stake? How do these issues differ across the cases?
  • What type of participatory GIS tool should be developed in order to facilitate the dialogue and visioning processes in local communities? Which data can be used? How can local knowledge be integrated in such a tool?
  • What type of solutions can be elaborated to preserve open space and to integrate diverse functions of open space?
  • Do ‘more resourceful and resilient communities’ have better ways to elaborate and realize solutions?
  • To what extent can GIS-tools support the community dialogue and visioning? In what ways can they contribute to resourceful community management of open space? What are possible pitfalls?

‘Communities’ can be conceived in multiple ways. It might be spatially located units (people belonging to a particular village, city or region), or it might be virtual, networked units with a shared interest (people belonging to the same network, professional, advocacy, stakeholders, …), or it might be a mixture of both.

The ambition of the project is to develop a GIS tool with data and maps that can start a dialogue on “open space” within communities and that can assist the search for solutions to specific open space issues. “Maps” can include aerial pictures, official geographical data, but also resident-generateddata such as valuation of specific places or contemporary and historical photographs of a locality. Each has a different role to play in structuring and inspiring dialogue and facilitating the search for solutions. A (limited) number of European case study areas (one in Flanders) will be selected, allowing a comparative perspective. The case study areas will be rural areas and/or peri-urban areas under pressure of urbanisation. An additional focus will be on areas that are susceptible to climate change. The research approach will combine GIS expertise (spatial analysis and development of a GIS-tool) and qualitative research methods (interviews and focus groups) to start a dialogue with the community. The VLM (Flemish Land Agency) will act as non-academic Specialist Practitioner Advisor.

Expected Results

Digital GIS tool that allows to gather stakeholders information and structure discussions with stakeholders on the preservation of open space

Guidelines on the use of participatory GIS for stimulating community resourcefulness and resilience;

Transdisciplinary knowledge on how to preserve open space and how to integrate diverse functions of open space (policy recommendations)