With new advances in public participation Geographic Information Systems and the increasing use such these tools for participatory mapping of various spatial data, urban designers need to understand the usefulness of these tools in investigating micro-scale physical characteristics of urban settings.

For the attention of: Town planners and urban designers, GIS program developers and user experience designers.

The problem: Even though we know that public participation Geographic Information System tools are useful in understanding macro-scale environmental characteristics of urban spaces (i.e. location of places, routes and areas), the tools may not be sufficiently effective in identifying the micro-scale physical characteristics (e.g. sidewalk quality, furniture, building conditions).

We need to understand how the tools can be developed further to broaden their effectiveness for studies on micro-scale characteristics of streetscapes.

What we did and why: 
Our pilot study on Children’s Liveable Streetscapes employed multiple functions of an advanced public participation Geographic Information System tool to design a survey that was completed by parents of children aged 9-13. This study tried three different methods of participants’ engagement with the public participation GIS survey: purely online engagement,  one-on-one conversations with the participants on-site, and organised group meetings in local schools.

The observation of respondents’ behaviour during their participation and the quality and quantity of responses were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the tool.

What our study adds: Four challenges emerged in this study that undermined the efficacy of the tool:

  1. Inaccuracy of the mapped spatial data: 30% of the location of the places marked on the maps did not match their names as described by the participants.
  2. Affordances remained unidentified: The maps did not provide users with enough detailed information to identify the affordances.
  3. Participants’ lack of digital literacy: Despite the instruction given on the tool and extra written explanation incorporated in the question line, some participants had difficulty in answering map-based questions.
  4. Low quantity of responses to the map-based questions: Amongst the 24 valid answers, only 30% answered a map-based follow-up question with only 13% included at least three drawing responses.

Implications for urban design and planning, public participation GIS program developments and user experience design: 

  • Enhancing the contextual information of the maps: Public participation GIS can greatly benefit from the additions of contextual data to facilitate reflecting on the micro-scale physical characteristics of urban spaces.
  • Increasing the accessibility of public participation GIS to the general public: The addition of more visual instruction to the tool and face-to-to face instruction sessions can improve the digital accessibility of the tool.
  • Using complementary research methods: The use of complementary methods alongside online public participation GIS tools can increase the reliability of the data generated.

Full research article: The methodological challenges of using public participation Geographic Information System for understanding micro-scale physical characteristics of streetscapes by Fatemeh Aminpour, Kate Bishop & Linda Corkery