Integrated Web and Mobile Applications for Fostering Citizen Engagement

Maps can be great tools for helping us with any number of tasks: getting places, marking boundaries, planning for homes and towns, and showing how our land and natural resources are used. We rely on them, whether we know it or not, for bringing order to our everyday lives. And yet as useful as they are, most maps are quite limited. They do a poor job of capturing the stories and culture of the natural places in our communities that inspire and trouble us. Moreover, maps are often made by experts, with little or no input from the people who use them and live in the places they depict. When combined with the analytical power of geographic software, these narratives about particular locations, or spatial narratives, can potentially enrich our understanding of, and appreciation for, the places where we live and the collective value they hold for the people who live and visit there.

With this in mind, we designed integrated web-based and mobile applications for collecting and constructing place-based stories that we called spatial narrative geotools. From 2012 to 2016, the geotools allowed citizens to create and map natural and cultural observations of their community or place using their unique perspective. Their story was then added to the observations of others to create a shared story about the places that are collectively important to them. People were able to view or add to these shared observations using our mobile app, and in doing so collect and construct place-based stories. As more users participated, these place-based stories enriched our understanding of, and appreciation for, the places where we live and the collective value they hold for the people who live and visit there.

These journal articles provide more information about the research and outreach associated with the Wisconsin Geotools Project.