Flying Fish

Participatory Mapping 101
by Nicole Carlozo -- February 19th, 2013

This year I’ve put my GIS skills to good use – and believe it or not, I wasn’t sitting behind a desk!

One of the things I love about GIS is that it allows you to view and share data in a unique (and dare I say fun) way. Okay, I admit that data processing isn’t always a walk in the park. While spatial analyses have many benefits to coastal managers, there is one glaring disadvantage. Those of you still spending your Saturdays holed up in the GIS lab know what I’m talking about. Interaction. Communication. Fresh air! Do any of these things sound familiar? Unfortunately, they may not.

My GIS perspective recently changed when I involved myself in two participatory GIS (pGIS) workshops. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) initiated these workshops last summer with the goal of gathering recreational use data for the mid-Atlantic ocean region. Virginia kicked off the mid-Atlantic effort by asking stakeholders to identify recreational use areas within the state’s ocean and coastal bays.

An understanding of how residents use the ocean and coastal bays will help coastal managers reduce conflicts as the demand for ocean resources expands with populations.

Maryland and Delaware’s Coastal Management programs added to Virginia’s data by holding their own workshops earlier this year. I found myself in a GIS role for these meetings, but I didn’t realize how integrated my role would become.

You may still be asking – What is participatory GIS? Well, it’s actually fairly simple.

1) Gather together local residents with knowledge of recreational activities in state ocean waters. This group may include the coast guard, commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, surf shop owners, lifeguards, birders, state fisheries or wildlife officials, etc.

2) Project your study area on the wall through ArcMap, which allows for zooming, panning, and display of available coastal data.

3) Facilitate a discussion to identify where various recreational activities take place, both generally and dominantly.

4) Have participants draw those areas on the projected map with a special pen called an “E-beam.” This pen utilizes Wii technology (for the video gamers out there). Once an object is drawn, the data is sent to ArcMap to be saved as a shapefile.

As a GIS user, my role was to “drive” the map, so to speak – zooming, panning, clipping, saving, editing, and displaying data. I may have been sitting behind the computer, but I was still engaging with the participants.

Example: “How far from the shore does kayaking usually take place?”

Translation: “What is the shoreline buffer distance for kayaking polygons?”

When I was a first year MEM, I was involved in some participatory mapping through my assistantship and the Saltwater Connections Asset Mapping project. Our tools consisted of data collection sheets, paper maps, pens, and the online Green Map application. I mostly sat behind a computer, entering data into the online mapper. I never imagined translating the data directly into ArcMap through a consensus-building exercise.

New Jersey is next in line for a pGIS workshop. Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay may follow. If you’ve ever participated in a similar process, please share your experiences!

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