Ease-of-use and Effectiveness of Participatory GIS in Empowering Rural Communities by Nagesh Kolagani
3rd International Open Source GIS Conference, Velp, The Netherlands, June 25-28, 2012 Participatory GIS in Empowering Rural Communities: Development and Field Trials Nagesh Kolagani, Dr. Palaniappan Ramu and Dr. Koshy Varghese Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai 600036 INDIAAbstractMany rural communities are facing the problem of overexploitation of natural resources. A solutionto this problem is possible only when all stakeholders understand the need for it sufficiently andparticipate voluntarily. Participatory GIS (PGIS) helps in this process by facilitating bettervisualization. However, the technical difficulties associated with these systems may marginalize theless-educated sections of the community. This and other problems of PGIS can be solved bysimplifying GIS so that it can be used by villagers without much technical assistance from outsideexperts. While there have recently been some efforts in this direction, GIS that would provide thiskind of simplified functionality are still rudimentary. Development and field trials of one such PGISsolution is described.KeywordsRural Communities, GPS, Participatory GIS, Ease-of-use1. Introduction:Natural resources of many rural communities are facing the problem of overexploitation over lastfew decades and their sustainable management has become an important issue for ensuringlivelihoods of villagers. A solution to this problem is possible only when all stakeholdersunderstand the need for it sufficiently and participate voluntarily. Participatory GIS (PGIS) helps inthis process by facilitating better visualization and easier understanding of the complex issuesinvolved (Geertman, 2002; Vajjhala, 2005; Jankowski, 2009; Kolagani et al, 2012).There are however several problems that need to be overcome before PGIS can deliver all theintended benefits. The technical difficulties associated with using PGIS may marginalize the less-educated sections of community who can not cope with such difficulties (Chambers, 2005;Chambers, 2008; Sieber, 2006). They may need technical assistance from experts outside thecommunity to use PGIS, which in turn may undermine their creativity and sense of ownership overthe decision making process (Nyerges et al., 2006). These systems then may end up as data-collection instruments for decision-makers from outside the community and get rarely used fromwithin the community (Rambaldi et al., 2002).Many of these problems can be solved by simplifying GIS so that it can be used by villagerswithout much technical assistance from outside experts. While there have recently been someefforts in this direction, GIS that would provide this kind of simplified functionality are stillrudimentary (Voinov and Costanza, 1999; Voinov and Bousquet, 2010; Eckman et al., 2010).Development and field trials of one such PGIS solution is described in the following sections.2. An open source Quantum GIS based PGIS solution:Open Source Quantum GIS (http://www.qgis.org) based PGIS solution, villageQGIS, wasdeveloped for use by villagers to carry out accurate mapping and management of their villageresources.
2.1. Gathering location and attribute data using GPS and questionnaires:Villagers gather spatial location data and attribute data of the wells, farms and other naturalresources (features) of their village using Global Positioning System (GPS) and questionnaires.Village youth and others with basic literacy can gather such data quickly and accurately (fig. 1).GPS is used for acquiring spatial location data about these features. GPS is a low-cost, accurate andeasy-to-use technology that can be used by villagers themselves. It costs about $100 per piece andhas an accuracy of about 3 meters. Spatial data of point features, such as wells, can be collected aspoint data by the GPS. Spatial data of line and polygon features, such as streams and farms, can becollected as tracks by the GPS. However, it requires the user not to deviate physically from the lineor polygon boundary while mapping it in the field. This can be quite difficult due to presence ofthorny bushes and other obstacles in the field. Hence, it is better if line and polygon features aremapped as points by the GPS and joined later semi-automatically by the GIS software. While GPSunits do provide a route option to join these points within the GPS itself, its user interface is quitedifficult for usage by a villager, compared to that of just clicking one button to store a point. Fig. 1: Village Youth gathering data Fig. 2: School Children producing GIS mapsQuestionnaires are used for acquiring attribute data of these features, such as their past and presentstatus, and for continuously monitoring their status into the future.2.2. Creating GIS maps from GPS and questionnaire data:GIS software is needed to convert location data of village features into a map and to tag these withtheir attribute data. The GPS data of points representing various point, line and polygon featuresneed to be imported into the GIS software and then joined manually, in the same order as they occurin the questionnaire, into various features. The attribute data in the questionnaires then needs to betagged to these features.Commercial GIS software is too costly for use by villagers. In contrast, open source GIS softwaresuch as Quantum GIS can be used freely. However, both commercial and open source GIS softwareare difficult and time consuming to use by even educated villages and need substantial amount ofuser training. As the steps required are quite difficult to follow, it necessitates involvement of aremotely located city-based GIS professional, taking control away of the mapping process from thevillagers and making it less participatory and less useful.Open source GIS software makes it possible to modify it substantially to simplify its user interfacefor use by villagers. Open source Quantum GIS software was simplified into a PGIS solution,villageQGIS, to make it possible for villagers, such as school children (fig. 2), to create GIS maps
from GPS and questionnaire data. The GPS points can be directly imported into the villageQGISsoftware which connects them semi-automatically into GIS features and tags them with attributedata as specified by the user through GUI forms (figs. 3 and 4). . Fig. 3: Auto-connecting GPS points Fig. 4: Tagging questionnaire Data2.3. Using GIS maps for spatial analysis:An easy-to-use interface was provided for use by a majority of the villagers to view in varioussimple formats the complex data gathered to produce these GIS maps of their village resources (fig.5). Such an easy tool makes it possible for them to spatially analyze and visualize impact of variousalternatives and participate effectively in the decision making process. The pre-defined list of viewscan be expanded by creating and adding custom views as per field requirements (fig. 6). Fig. 5: Various views for spatial analysis Fig. 6: Interface for building custom views3. Field trials:The number of mouse clicks a user has to perform for creating maps was substantially reduced invillageQGIS software. For example, a certain task that takes 17 clicks when using Quantum GISsoftware takes only 3 clicks when using villageQGIS (fig. 7).For an objective assessment of relative ease-of-use of villageQGIS and Quantum GIS softwares,field trials were carried out. Six groups, with three members each, were randomly selected from thetarget audience of school children in two rural government schools, Kallur and Mangalampeta, ofChittoor district, Andhra Pradesh state, INDIA. Three of these groups were asked to use(unmodified) Quantum GIS software where as the other three groups were asked to use
villageQGIS software. All groups were given the same task of producing GIS maps from the sameGPS and questionnaire data sets. Following parameters were monitored: • time taken to train these groups in creating GIS maps • time taken to create maps • number of maps produced • accuracy of maps produced, based on deviation from an ideal map Fig. 7: Clicks involved Fig. 8: Map creation time: villageQGIS and QGISOverall, it was found that villageQGIS software was substantially easier than Quantum GISsoftware. For example, ratio of time taken to produce maps was at least halved when usingvillageQGIS software (fig. 8), when other parameters were held fixed at: • training time: 1 hour • number of maps: 1 • accuracy of maps: 60%As the desired accuracy of maps produced increased, the relative advantage of villageQGIS overQuantum GIS further increased.4. Conclusions:Open Source Quantum GIS based PGIS solution, villageQGIS, was developed for use by villagersto carry out accurate mapping and management of their village resources. Field trials were carriedout to measure ease-of-use of the villageQGIS solution in creating GIS maps from GPS andquestionnaire data. Overall, it was found that villageQGIS software was substantially easier thanQuantum GIS software.Acknowledgments:Above work was supported by project no. 5-5/2006-TE, TDET scheme, Department of LandResources, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.We thank Sri M. Pawan and Sri Bakka Reddy of WASSAN, Hyderabad for their participation andsupport in anchoring the field work.References 1. Chambers, R. (2005). “Participatory Mapping for Change.” Mapping for Change International Conference, Nairobi, Kenya, 7-10 September. 2. Chambers, R. (2008). “Revolutions in Development Inquiry.” London , Earthscan. 3. Geertman, S., 2002. Participatory planning and GIS: a PSS to bridge the gap. Environment and Planning B 29, 21-36. 4. Jankowski, P., 2009. Towards participatory geographic information systems for community-
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