Toward structured public involvement: Justice, geography and collaborative geospatial/geovisual decision support systems

Keiron Bailey, Ted Grossardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


This article addresses how collaborative geospatial/geovisual decision support systems (C-GDSS) can achieve greater measures of spatial justice within an institutional, democratic framework for public goods allocation. Current public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS) and participatory geographic information science (P-GIS) literature identifies issues of scale and consensus as problematic for such systems. C-GDSS deployments aimed at achieving spatial justice through small-scale, consensual processes fail when scaled to large processes involving heterogeneous groups where consensus is not realistically achievable. For this case study, we identify a significant deficit in the quality of public involvement in transportation infrastructure (TI) planning and design in the United States. We call this the Arnstein Gap. This exists in part because professionals lack confidence that they can integrate community cultural values, despite C-GDSS use, and have come to fear public engagement. To close the Arnstein Gap using C-GDSS we reconsider relationships among landscape, justice, and difference. The nature of power in the U.S. democratic polity and TI's role is examined and a geographical justice framework is derived from Rawls's (1971) theory of justice. We argue that within the normative framework of Jeffersonian democracy in the United States, spatial justice cannot be attained through an epistemology of distributional justice. Instead, it can more feasibly be attained by increasing procedural justice and access to justice. From these principles we develop a more suitable methodology for reflexive, large-scale group deployment of such systems termed structured public involvement (SPI). SPI holds that large-scale, nonconsensual collaborative TI planning is not oxymoronic, nor is it morally or practically inferior to other options. Methodological consideration is given to how geospatial and geovisual technologies can be used in TI design to elicit and respect cultural preferences. SPI consists of a reflexive public involvement framework that situates these technologies as dialogic media in participatory, nonconsensual collaborative planning and design. Two SPI case studies are discussed. AMIS is a participatory multicriteria/GIS corridor evaluation methodology and CAVE is a fuzzy-logic-based visual evaluation methodology. Anonymous real-time public process evaluation data demonstrate SPI's high performance. We discuss impediments, such as project sponsor's preferred Arnstein level, public participation patterns, professional resistance, and other considerations. This work has implications for collaborative public goods decision making using geovisual/geospatial methods in participatory democracies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-86
Number of pages30
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Arnstein Gap
  • Collaborative geovisual/geospatial decision support systems
  • Procedural justice
  • Structured public involvement
  • Transportation infrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Toward structured public involvement: Justice, geography and collaborative geospatial/geovisual decision support systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this