Be it a damaged road, be it a broken pothole or be it a contested land area area in the Amazonian forest, maps have sprung up as a powerful tool to for putting forward the interest of groups, who feel the previous problems onto their skin, but lack the resources to shout to the world, “hey, there’s something wrong here! Let’s fix this”. Participatory Mapping (or Participatory Geographic Information Sytems, shortened as PGIS) is a term used for technologies and techniques than can be used for the previous purpose – providing communities with tools to raise awareness of their problems.
Today, PGIS is a refined technique and there are numerous online platforms that enable individuals to start mapping without going through any complicated procedures. Unfortunately, oftentimes the source code of this platforms is closed. This means (for the non-geeks out there) that the company that has developed the platform is the sole owner. The advantage for the social worker, development practicioner or map lover is simple: the platform is ready to be used, requiring no technical skills to set it up. With a point of click the user can map the location of whatever he or she is trying to fix in real life.
In the online mapping scene the only true democracy is to be found in open-source mapping solutions. Open source, for the non-tech savvy, means that the code of the platform is readable and modifiable by anyone The first advantage: enabling volunteers to contribute with their digital skills to the improvements of the platforms. The second advantage: the flexibility of a platform that can be customized to every scenario. The third advantage: the data is not centralized in the hands of one company.
Setting up an open PGIS platform can be really rewarding, but it requires some computer skills and little bit of financial resources. You should take this into consideration when embarking the journey of setting up your first project. If you’re ready, in this tutorial, I will go through the steps to install Ushahidi, a very flexible and open source mapping platform, on your servers. The prerequisite to following this tutorial: a) you already own an internet domain name, b) you have some space on a webserver with the following specifications: PHP v5.2.3+ • MySQL v5.1+ • Apache v1.3+, Apache 2.0+, lighttpd, Microsoft IIS.