New technologies, citizenship and social appropriation of geographic information
Traditionally, the complexity behind the elaboration of maps in the field of spatial development has confined mapping to a limited number of technicians mandated by local authorities. However, for the last two decades the rise of geospatial technologies accessible to a large public has opened up unprecedented possibilities in the field of cartography. For instance, the geographer Michael Goodchild advances the concept of “citizens as sensors”, that is, non-specialised citizens that acquire an increasingly active role in the production of spatial data through the appropriation of these new technologies. To address these new cartographic processes, scholars have also coined terms such as “Volunteered Geographic Information” (VGI), or “Participatory Geographic Information Systems” (PGIS).
In this regard, new information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer today an enormous potential, as they reach many sectors of society. For instance, the World Bank’s 2016 World development report Digital Dividends states that in developing countries there are more households with access to mobile phones than to potable water, or even electricity. Given its ubiquity, we must consider the capacity of ICTs to have a positive impact on the living conditions of the most vulnerable populations; for example, the development of platforms allowing citizen participation to support urban governance by providing updated, geo-referenced data to facilitate more efficient, targeted interventions.
CEAT’s MAP4DEV is based on the premise that, as cartography progressively becomes a more open field, the social appropriation of geographic information technologies allows common users to leave their passive position as “consumers” for a new, more “active” position as potential agents of socio-spatial transformations. To test these ideas, we’ve worked with different case-studies in Brazil and Cameroon to develop participatory mapping methods that can potentially be replicated anywhere by anyone with access to the internet.
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