Democratizing Geospatial Technology

This “Democratizing Geospatial Technology Project,” funded by the EthicalGEO Fellowship program, has as its central vision, that environmental justice stakeholders themselves are best equipped to produce spatial data visualizations of their communities.  The primary goal is the development of a community-based participatory mapping tutorial model, that can be replicated for use by grassroots organizations employing geospatial data visualizations to support their efforts to attain and sustain environmental justice.  The final deliverable will be a portable and user-friendly GIS tool intended to empower community-based organizations in their work. A draft model is being pilot tested in five Gulf Coast communities via the HBCU Community Based Organization (CBO) Gulf Coast Equity Consortium.  After participating in asset mapping workshops, the training received has been effective enough for some CBOs to have already changed undesirable decisions for real estate development and other land uses in their communities in developing countries. Given the inherent “no-to-low tech” approach, it is assumed that the model will have utility in like-situated communities.  Interested collaborators and potential partners are encouraged to provide suggestions on how the model might be customized for environmental justice communities outside of the United States. The broader vision is to unite and empower community mappers in spirit, vision and practice, through GIS technology. A collective inter-regional effort can enable stakeholders to acquire, and own, pertinent geospatial data sets, and not be forced to rely upon information from outside sources stored on remote servers.  Such imbalance in GIS data ownership can potentially result in inequitable and exploitative relationships. The EthicalGEO project is designed to eliminate barriers to spatial data collection and control for grassroots activists and scholars.

David A. Padgett
Associate Professor of Geography
Director of the Geographic Information Sciences Laboratory
Tennessee State University