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Inclusiveness and transparency benefits of using GIS in public participation

Over the past decade, a number of natural resource and energy projects have adapted geographic information systems (GIS) for use as an aid to decision making in public participation.


"Map"The aim of using GIS in public participation (PPGIS) is to provide the community and other stakeholders with access to spatial data and analysis tools formerly available only to planners and project proponents.


Recently, both foresters and wind farm developers have used GIS to facilitate collaborative participation over forest planning, boundary and siting issues, and I think it has similar applications for CCS projects where siting and other spatial concerns are raised during landholder access negotiations. Examples include site characterisation and seismic testing, which is an important element of monitoring and verification.


From a stakeholder perspective, GIS provides visual representations including maps, analysis tools, and a forum through which they can explore and evaluate project proposals, manipulate spatial data, develop alternative planning or project design options, and provide informed feedback to other stakeholders and proponents. Additionally, from a proponent perspective, GIS helps better explain the area in which they intend to work, and show how their work affects land use activities. This would facilitate a speedy resolution to land access issues.


One method of PPGIS is where community stakeholders, for example, have access to digital representations of the landscape at issue, including maps and diagrams. Using online select and sketch tools they would outline their area of concern on a map and attach written comments which are saved to a database. The database would also provide them with previous users’ comments, which would form the basis of further dialogue. British and Portuguese researchers suggest that this feature helps avoid duplication of feedback, encourages critical thinking, and provides a forum for dialogue whereby participants can comment, elaborate and exchange ideas about existing contributions.


In Australia, at the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, I would have found PPGIS useful in engaging stakeholders from a range of geographic locations, such as local government planning authorities, and State and Federal Government agencies, industry investors and, where possible, members of the local community, all of whom required assurance about the integrity of the storage reservoir. It is important to note that this method of public participation is generally done online. It is intended for use to complement other forms of participation such as community and face-to-face meetings. Its sole use as a public participation tool obviously would not be possible in communities that lacked access to the internet.


In this case, GIS would have been a useful engagement and information provision tool where landholders and other stakeholders as appropriate, could see for example the extent to which the periodic seismic activities were to occur. The tools and communication methods described would have been used to facilitate dialogue and negotiations between the proponent and other stakeholders on matters concerning land access and management arrangements.


In terms of best practice public participation, which is promoted through the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Communication/Engagement Toolkit for CCS Projects, PPGIS helps a proponent promote inclusiveness and transparency by improving stakeholder access to information, facilitating engagement and dialogue, and providing a public window into the decision-making process.


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