Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pattern Mapping and GIS

All weekend I have been obsessed with this topic of mapping and visual language. Perhaps this is because I have been reading a lot about GIS technologies and the role they play in development and planning practice these days.

It does seem necessary that in order to effectively address a problem within a community one must recognize the dynamics at work, such as the distribution of resources, environmentally degraded zones, sources of pollution, centers of industry and so-forth, but to me this represents only a part of the issue; its predominate intent is to illuminate problems or potential problems. Which leads me to think that these shortcomings represent a space for improvement or for accentuating these technologies.

For instance, these tools are used to conceptualize the problem, not the solution to planning and development. So once the problem has been successfully mapped out how do people conceptualize complex solutions to the problems (or opportunities) identified?

This is where I think the art of pattern mapping comes into play, both as a face-to-face process, but potentially as a computer mediated processes, or preferably both. This brings to mind my uncompleted pattern of Participatory Pattern Mapping. I haven’t completed it yet because I don’t really know the best approach yet. But the approach that Joanne Tippett, uses seems the most promising as it appears that she is the only one that I can find that has successfully presented a valid methodology that has worked. However, I'm not totally convinced that the mind-mapping approach is necessarily the most appropriate mapping method either.

Anyway, I created a shell for the pattern because it became an obvious area that needed to be addressed when working on my thesis. Though I focused on advocacy networks and tribal land rights, not explicitly linked with sustainability, I did have to develop a way of first understanding the problems the network was attempting to address, as well as the various solutions that were identified. Then I had to figure out how these patterns were linked within the case study. As a result it seems I was able to identify a hypothetical approach to this problem, albeit by myself and not within a community or collaborative context.

Yet the process began with identifying a “problem-space” as a series of interconnected issues. Then, the identified problems were linked up with patterns that spoke in some degree or another to the actual issue being described through the case. Out of these patterns I was able to generate a pattern-map.

Now, I don’t think my map is so pretty, but taking all these pieces together I can see the useful role of GIS software as one tool for defining a problem space.

In fact, it is conceivable that if an appropriate methodology were constructed, some sort of pattern mapping application could be built into existing GIS software. But of course this wouldn’t address the issue of access to these tools, nor the expertise needed to draw and understand these complicated images. Perhaps this could be minimized by using something like Green Maps which attempts to present something of this nature.

Anyway, if I follow this thinking further I find a number of patterns that could be useful in this context, especially when discussing the issue of planning that uses information systems and community knowledge in an interconnected process.

First, there is Andy Dearden and Scot Fletcher’s pattern Meaningful Maps. Second, I was struck by Document Centered Discussion (or some variation) presented by Todd Davies et. al. Then, Alan Borning’s Citizen Access to Simulation.

All of these represent what I think is a start to thinking about issues of pattern mapping in a planning context, especially if pursuing a computer-mediated system for mapping patterns.

I’ll add some more as I do my survey, but here is a start.

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