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Overview: Mapping for Change - the emergence of a new practice (PLA 54)

Maps are inherently about power. If you control the maps, you control what they represent – and those in control have also been the most powerful. But an emerging practice is working to transform this balance of power. Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS) practice is geared towards community empowerment - an evolved form of community mapping, the result of a spontaneous merger of Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) methods with Geographic Information Technologies and Systems (GIT&S).

PGIS practice uses geo-spatial information management tools ranging from sketch maps, participatory 3D models (P3DM), aerial photographs, satellite imagery, readings obtained through Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software as interactive vehicles for discussion, information exchange, analysis and support in decision making.

If appropriately utilised, PGIS practice may have profound implications and stimulate innovation and social change. More importantly and unlike traditional GIS applications, PGIS aims at placing control on access and use of culturally sensitive spatial data in the hands of those who generated the data – thereby protecting traditional knowledge and wisdom from external exploitation. It can provide platforms for networking, advocacy, discussion, information exchange, analysis and decision-making.

PLA 54 highlights and documents a significant coming-of-age in PGIS practice. This issue was developed at the Mapping for Change: International Conference of Spatial Information Management and Communication, Nairobi, Kenya, 7th-10th September 2005. It includes case studies and articles on theory and reflections from practice.

Participatory Learning and Action (PLA, formerly PLA Notes) is the world's leading series on participatory learning and action approaches and methods. PLA publishes articles on participation and participatory approaches and methods aimed at practitioners, researchers, academics and activists. All articles are peer-reviewed by an international editorial board.

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