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Use of Information Technology for Community Empowerment: Transforming Geographic Information Systems into Community Information Systems

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GIS has emerged as an elitist, anti‐democratic technology by virtue of its technological complexity and cost. The question of democratizing this technology has been addressed in the GIS and Society literature. This paper addresses the thorny issue of uneven access to GIS and the associated social power it confers. Following the principle that effective access to information leads to better government as well as to community empowerment, this paper explores the issues of providing equitable access to GIS at the grass‐roots level. The paper discusses a university/community partnership with the distressed, inner city neighborhood of Metcalfe Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In this project, the members of an inner‐city neighborhood organization were given training in GIS for accessing public information, creating new databases from their own surveys, and analyzing these databases, with the purpose of making them able and active adjuncts to the conduct of city management and the formation of public policy. The paper evaluates the successes and failures of the project. It also explores the nature of GIS usage in this resource poor community organization between 1993–2000.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Illinois State University

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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