EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr. Richard Kingston : 28th Mar

The EEO/AGI(S) seminar on 28 March was delivered by Dr. Richard Kingston from the School of Environment and development at the University of Manchester. The title of the talk was “Participatory online GIS for adapting our towns and cities to climate change” and was about ongoing work on the GRaBS Project (Green and Blue Space Adaptation for Urban Areas and Eco Towns Project).

The project has been undertaken by the University of Manchester’s PGIS research group, where they develop and test web-based Geographical Information Systems (GIS) aimed at improving public involvement and participation in local environmental planning and decision making; and that GIS will be a key mechanism for citizens to take an active role in local government.

This work is based on the understanding that citizens are able to make better informed decisions about their local environment if they have access to information and relevant data in the form of visualisations and maps in particular.

GRaBS project partners are a network of prominent European organisations who strive to integrate efforts at climate change adaptation into regional planning and development activities. The project aims to help key spatial planning and development bodies to improve their expertise in using green and blue infrastructure for adapting mixed use urban areas to projected climate scenarios; and to assess the delivery mechanisms that exist for development and urban regeneration in each partner country.

The project further supports project partners to develop and deliver strategic climate change adaption action plans based on a spatial approach and current good practice. Partners prepare their climate change adaption action plans using an interactive, web-based risk and vulnerability assessment tool developed by the PGIS Research Group. The GRABS Adaptation Action Planning Toolkit is used to visualise and highlight climate change vulnerabilities and risks in urban areas by mapping a range of spatial data provided by the project partners. The tool uniquely brings together EU level climate change data sets, requiring the handling of vast amounts of data. The project highlighted a number of deficiencies in the data.

Dr Kingston gave an overview of the technical development of the tool, which is built on open source software and uses mapserver to render vector and raster data over Open Street Map, Ordnance Survey Openspace, Google Maps and Bing Maps. The methodology was adapted from Checkland’s (2000) Soft Systems Methodology and has the following stages:

  • understand user needs
  • develop a rich picture (see OU guide)
  • functional specification
  • proto-type testing
  • feedback
  • update
  • deploy

User testing and prototyping was conducted using three storylines: the risk of flooding in Sutton, critical infrastructure protection in Styria and the risk of high temperatures in Catania.

Many challenges have been successfully overcome in the course of the project. These include designing the assessment tool to be able to meet the needs of a diverse set of stakeholders with different access to spatial data, different policy priorities and beliefs on climate change, different levels of understanding of GIS and speak different languages. Despite this, the project has succeeded in improving communication between planners, policy makers, local communities and other stakeholders.

You can explore the tool at the EcoCities Spatial Portal, which assesses the geography of Greater Manchester’s vulnerability to climate change.

Thank you to Dr Kingston for a very interesting talk!

Marguerite le Riche
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)

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