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Online Democracy Group

Centre for Computational Geography, University of Leeds


Home Our most substantial research effort to date has been as part of the Economic and Social Research Council's Virtual Society? Programme. This was a three year Government funded project to investigate the social implications and impacts of new and emerging electronic technologies, such as the web, on UK society. The Digital Democracy group were one of 22 projects involving researchers at 25 universities throughout the UK.

The two year project undertaken by the group, called "Public Participation in Local Decision Making: evaluating the potential of Virtual Decision Making Environments", critically examined the role of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and the Web in enhancing current decision making processes and infrastructures. In particular, the research focused on what role GIS and the Web could play in improving public participation in local, regional and national environmental decision making.

Three case studies were used to aid the development of prototype Web-based PPGIS. The three case studies are outlined below with links to the appropriate web sites.


A Village Based Planning for Real Initiative

On a local scale a small community in the Colne Valley in the West Yorkshire District of Kirklees was used to test an on-line public participation 'Planning For Real'(PfR) exercise. A 2km2 area of land centred on the village of Slaithwaite was the focus of a community led consultation process. The idea behind the PfR Initiative is to involve the local community in the future development of their physical environment. This is achieved by building a 3D physical model of the area allowing local people to identify issues and problems. The actual PfR event took place in June 1998.

The PfR Initiative provided the research project with an ideal opportunity to test out new methods of public participation by running a parallel initiative over the Web. Using the same 2km2 area of land around Slaithwaite a virtual model of the village allowing the local community to interact with a web-based GIS giving them relatively instant access to queries which they pose and the ensuing results was developed.

The web-based PPGIS is still on-line at http://www.ccg.leeds.ac.uk/slaithwaite/


Yorkshire Dales National Park New Woodland Planting Scheme

The second case study covered a much larger area in Yorkshire and Cumbria. The Yorkshire Dales National Park represented a more regional and strategic type of scenario which involved more than just the local communities of people living within the park itself. A wider set of actors and stakeholders including tourists and visitors to the area also need to be consulted on National Park policies - something which web-based consultations could easily deal with.

At the time of undertaking the research there were proposals being put forward in the Park relating to new woodland planting in line with Government policy for all National Parks. Users of the Dales web site were able to obtain an overview of the proposals through the examination of land use and terrain maps. These showed the location of existing woodland, location of former woodlands, relationships to existing land use patterns, visualisation of alternative new woodland plans and the evaluation of known or hypothesised impacts. When the prototype site was up and running users were in a position to generate new woodland plans or identify exclusion zones where other land uses had priority. Once individual decisions have been made users of the system had the ability to place their decision maps in a virtual depository where they could be viewed in the contexts of other user's maps and those generated by the National Park Authority. This helped to define areas of conflict and identify consensus through the employment of compromise mapping techniques such as multi-criteria evaluation.

This case study is also still on-line at http://www.ccg.leeds.ac.uk/dales/


Nuclear Waste Disposal

The final case study at the national level investigated the siting of nuclear waste in the UK. There is an old system dating from 1996 at http://www.ccg.leeds.ac.uk/mce/.

A more advanced web site is currently under development and is being partly influenced by the recent announcement by the House of Lords Select Committee Report on Science and Technology into the Management Of Nuclear Waste. The report recommended that a permanent deep disposal site must be found for the long term, secure storage of the UK's nuclear waste.

The experimental system currently on-line allows you to investigate the possibility of locating a site on the UK mainland. The web site uses Java technology and therefore needs an up-to-date browser and fast connection. It is on-line at http://www.ccg.leeds.ac.uk/atomic/



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