Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Geospatial technologies include a “number of different high-tech systems used to acquire, analyze, manage, store and/or visualize various types of location-based data” (Shellito, 2016, p. 2). These technologies are used to engage communities; they can provide important evidence-based data for decision making. Examples include Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Remote Sensing (RS). 

GIS is a geospatial technology used to collect, organize, analyze and visualize data tied to a specific location. It can be used to visualize both spatial (e.g., the geographic location of a trees) and non-spatial or attribute data (e.g., tree species type). It allows many users to participate, share, and collaborate, and works best when users are participating, sharing, and collaborating. It can be a powerful tool to empower communities and influence decision-making.

A range of information products can be produced from a GIS environment, including maps and graphs showing land-use/land-cover types; population density and income distribution; the location and spread of vector-borne diseases, homeless populations, the extent of the urban tree canopy, etc.

GIS mapping can also highlight community sensitive information that my be confidential, such as the location of endangered species. GIS data may need to be protected for some projects. 

GIS Case Study from Avis et al. (2020)

This project took place in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009.

In the settlement of Kibera, a group residents mapped their community using an online mapping platform called OpenStreetMap (OSM). The aim of the project was to generate a local, up-to-date map of the community (including local amenities and resources), empowering citizens through this process.

This aim was accomplished using a variety of engagement practices, including using multiple types of information and technologies, forming local networks, building relationships across community members and settlements, etc. As a result, local amenities and resources were mapped and continue to be updated when required.

Information was subsequently shared across communities (offline and online) using the OSM platform/website, targeted outreach, and news platforms.

As the project has grown, community members have now expanded communication efforts using media resources, including online video, blogging, and reporting on the Ushahidi “Voice” platforms.

Read more about this initiative, and other similar projects related to GIS mapping in Community Engagement in Digital Innovation: Evidence from past experience in the Global South.


GIS Community Engagement Initiative

tree0code Niagara is a Geospatial community engagement initiative designed to crowdsource data about the Urban Forests of Niagara’s 12 municipalities. tree0code Niagara focuses on environmental, educational, economic, and social benefits of citizen engagement and active participation. The associated application provides an easy-to-use public inventorying platform that encourages the public to contribute to an interactive and dynamic map of the region’s tree population. All data collected is shared openly to private citizens, institutions, researchers, the Region, and Municipalities. The information collected can be used to make key decisions about our urban forests.

Read more about this initiative, it’s benefits, and view Niagara’s tree map at this link!



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Building Sustainable Communities: Creating Connections for the Future Copyright © 2022 by Ryan Plummer; Amanda Smits; Samantha Witkowski; Bridget McGlynn; Derek Armitage; Ella-Kari Muhl; and Jodi Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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