Participatory Geographic Information System (PGIS): A Discourse Toward a Solution to Traditional GIS Challenges

Reference work entry


The geographic information system (GIS) has influenced, as well as changed the outlook, and shaped the future of many disciplines within and outside the field of earth sciences. However, it has been criticized for its expert-centeredness as well as its inability to accommodate marginalized groups. A more accommodative form of GIS that addresses the needs of the community in relation to access of data and technology while promoting capacity building and bringing together different stakeholders through participatory approaches to achieve a common goal has been established in recent years and has successfully been applied across the globe. Many terms have been used to refer to this form of GIS and have been adopted into the literature, and they all draw back to the term “participatory GIS.” There is no consensus on the proper terminology to be used. For consistency, the term participatory GIS or PGIS will be used in this article; it emerged to address the challenges of the traditional GIS as a system, as a technique, and as a tool and emphasizes the participatory methods used in the production of GIS and the importance of participation as a process that can take many forms. This article does not attempt to discuss the critiques but intends to highlight the various concepts used in literature. It begins with laying a background of participatory geographic information systems, including the history, trends, and discourses. Secondly, it discusses the marginalization-empowerment nexus initially presented by conventional GIS that necessitated the emergence of PGIS. It also examines the approaches, practical applications, and implementation of PGIS. Lastly, it focuses at the future of PGIS based on the challenges and opportunities thereof.


Geographic information system (GIS) Marginalization-empowerment nexus Participatory GIS Public participation GIS 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Water ResearchRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

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