The city of Helsinki wanted to create a new kind of process that would bring different stakeholders and park users closer together. We were included in the process as online engagement consultants, which provided us a chance to learn how the strong inclusion of residents can shape the planning of a national urban park.
The enthusiasm students from all over the world express when they discover Maptionnaire and apply it to their projects brings a lot of joy to us working with Maptionnaire. Although we’ve continuously connected with students interested in PPGIS and learned a lot from their projects, the interaction has been rather informal. Now we are turning a new page. We’ve launched the Maptionnaire Student Ambassador program with the objective of providing a more sustainable channel for interacting with the PPGIS student community and connecting them with the experts in the field.
What is the Maptionnaire Student Ambassador program?
The Maptionnaire Ambassador program is an exclusive opportunity for university students to have access to professional development in the field of Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) and network with experts. Each attendee will have the chance to learn about experiences and best practices in PPGIS, and, ultimately, apply their knowledge and skills to benefit their own communities. The Ambassador Program is our initiative to bring together like-minded students to collaborate in solving societal challenges with the help of participatory mapping.
How does it work?
The program is a platform for sharing knowledge and developing professionally in the fields of public participation, GIS Science, and urban planning. The program will consist of three main elements: working online, sharing knowledge locally, and working together in Helsinki. The Ambassadors will be engaged with periodical online webinars supported by an external network of experts, organizing small-scale events at their university, and be invited to a workshop and global PPGIS conference in Helsinki. In addition and if applicable, all Ambassadors will have the opportunity to use Maptionnaire in their own research or similar participatory mapping project.
The program will begin in January 2019 with 12 master’s and PhD students from 12 European universities.
The benefits of joining the program:
Exclusive lectures and support by PPGIS experts
Access to a network of professionals and students
Invitation to a workshop held in Helsinki (more information on this later) and to attend the largest PPGIS conference in the world in June 2019 in Helsinki
The opportunity to use Maptionnaire for own projects, e.g. thesis research
The possibility to start an internship with Maptionnaire at the end of the program
What is expected from the Ambassadors?
Participation in regular online meetups / training sessions
Willingness to reach out to fellow students and members of the faculty for sharing knowledge about PPGIS and Maptionnaire
Organizing workshops or other events to facilitate the knowledge-sharing
Writing a blog post or creating a video to reflect on the activities
Periodical communication with the Ambassador program coordinator
If you have any questions regarding the program or are interested in joining, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Maptionnaire team
The world of online public participation and outreach is full of complex terms and abbreviations. Public participation GIS (PPGIS), participatory GIS (PGIS), volunteer geographic information (VGI), crowdsourcing, e-participation, participatory e-planning, and planning support system (PSS) are all examples of broadly used language for describing digitally supported communication and collaboration.
We label Maptionnaire as a Public Participation GIS service. PPGIS is a term born and widely known within the circles of academia. Urban planners and other practitioners are, however, less familiar with it. This blog hopes to help change the situation.
Public participation is essentially the interaction between two sides: The experts that advance urban planning and the individuals or organizations possibly affected by local planning decisions.
The development of information and communication technologies (ICT) has offered new tools and ideas for making public participation more effective and meaningful. The benefits of applying ICT in participation include the adoption of easier and quicker communication methods, increased access to participation, better data quality, and the emergence of more attractive and playful tools for targeting different user groups.
What new technology hasn’t effectively solved is a pitfall widely acknowledged with participatory processes: The question of managing to work truly collaboratively around a specific issue or site.
Ideally, a participation process allows all participants to not only receive information from planners but also to share information. Such two-way collaboration should lead to decisions and outcomes that have been formulated together. In reality, this goal is rarely achieved. Participation is often limited to one-way informing. And rather than supporting working together, many digital tools and platforms have only opened new ways and channels for one-way communication and data collection.
Moreover, participation has conventionally been stifled by spatial ambiguity. Even though public participation is always attached to a certain place, the communication between planners and people has mainly been on-site discussions without proper tools for attaching verbal thoughts to certain locations in an efficient way. Especially when working with a big area, it’s a difficult task to talk about different places and locations with precision.
Public participation GIS (PPGIS) aims to bridge these gaps. The concept combines advanced information and communication technology with a geographic information system (GIS).
As GIS seeks to position everything on Earth, it presents an interesting frame for the public to communicate their preferences, ideas, and experiences. Such information hasn’t conventionally been perceived as a domain of spatial data.
Take a moment to close your eyes and think about where you live. Then begin to draw a mental map of the most important places to you, the spaces that make you feel uncomfortable, the addresses you frequently visit with friends, and so forth.
All these spots in your mental map also have coordinates in the real world. The idea of integrating this kind of ‘soft’ information and knowledge to GIS is the foundation of PPGIS.
The power of PPGIS, thus, is in its ability to turn regular people into experts of their living environment by allowing them to position places that are meaningful and important for them on a map. PPGIS is about opening GIS, a field previously exclusively used by experts, to people who have never worked with geographical data. People participating in the production of GIS data, or location information if you will, support urban planning and development in many new ways.
The technological capabilities for meaningful collaboration don’t, however, necessarily ensure it happens.
Although we need high-quality tools, successfully implemented public participation is not only about them. Many PPGIS stories have proven that no data set alone, no matter how comprehensive they may be, can improve the quality of public participation. Instead, the quality is improved when experts, individuals, and organizations involved in the process understand and value collaboration and co-creation.
With PPGIS, success will follow when all stakeholders appreciate working together for the creation of more sustainable and livable cities, and simultaneously, the ‘soft’ data can be applied and turned into valuable insight to support the effort.
Want to know how Maptionnaire works? Book a short demo and we’ll show you more!
Dr. Johannes Müller and his group at the ETH-Singapore Future Cities Laboratory has recently used Maptionnaire in the “Big Data Informed Urban Design” research project. Citizens as creative contributors to a crowd-informed city is one aspect of their project. In a case study, they empowered Singaporeans to plan a new waterfront neighborhood. This blog continues our series of interviews with researchers working with participatory mapping.
Johannes, could you first tell us a bit about your research group?
The Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) is the first program of the Singapore-ETH Centre, an institution established jointly by ETH Zurich and Singapore’s National Research Foundation. In our work, we analyze and develop new strategies to involve citizens in the urban planning process.
What was your research project about?
Singapore’s waterfront is undergoing change as the current and centrally located container terminal in Tanjong Pagar will be moved elsewhere after 2027. The master planning of the site is now in progress, but the work is still at an early stage. We used this opportunity to showcase new forms of participatory design. As a research group, we wanted to not only learn how citizens would like to see the area develop, but also observe how they react to different digital participation tools.
Maptionnaire was one of the tools you experimented with. Can you elaborate what you did with it?
We decided to include Maptionnaire, because it is one of the very few products on the market that already contains a design component for regular people and is accessible via the internet.
And the questionnaire we made was a kind of a “Citizen as a Planner” game. Participants could zone the site as they wished by drawing residential, commercial and green areas on a map of Tanjong Pagar. We also asked participants to draw future pedestrian and cycling paths. Finally, people got to browse through pictures of existing examples from Singapore and choose which types of designs for parks, residential blocks, and malls they would prefer to see in the area.
What did you learn?
We’re still in the middle of reviewing the answers we received. I can, however, already say that a publicly accessible waterfront, good access to public transportation, and low-rise buildings with neighborhood parks were preferred by the participants.
There were process-related lessons as well. We had planned to organize some face-to-face events linked to the online questionnaire. Unfortunately, we did not manage to have quite as many participants join as we wanted to. What we learned is that reaching out to citizens successfully requires multiple areas of expertise, such as marketing, web design and social science.
What was your and the Singaporeans’ experience with Maptionnaire?
We think that the tool was a good choice for getting a sense of the opinion among citizens. Even though our questions were quite openly formulated, participants could clearly share their ideas in a more creative way than conventional survey tools would allow them to.
In general, people liked Maptionnaire because the tool contains elements every participant is familiar with: A map and a survey. Other tools we used in the project work with 3D city models. They turned out to be a bit challenging for some people because 3D models provide an uncommon representation of the existing space, and, hence, are more difficult to comprehend if a low level of detail is given. Our participants preferred tools that are not too abstract and show them a familiar user interference. The simplicity of the elements in Maptionnaire, therefore, was advantageous and motivated people to participate.
From the project management side, I also found Maptionnaire was very easy to use. It’s good that you don’t need specific knowledge about geography or GIS to work with it. You can get your response data automatically in an easily understandable format and further analysis can be done with common software.
The bottom line is that both the citizens and planners liked Maptionnaire because it facilitates the transforming of people’s ideas and opinions into generalized design instructions.