Towards a Usability Scale for Participatory GIS

Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography book series (LNGC)


Since its emergence in the 1990s, the area of Participatory GIS (PGIS) has generated numerous interactive mapping tools to support complex planning processes. The need to involve non-expert users makes the usability of these tools a crucial aspect that contributes to their success or failure. While many approaches and procedures have been proposed to assess usability in general, to date there is no standardized way to measure the overall usability of a PGIS. For this purpose, we introduce the Participatory GIS Usability Scale (PGUS), a questionnaire to evaluate the usability of a PGIS along five dimensions (user interface, spatial interface, learnability, effectiveness, and communication). The questionnaire was developed in collaboration with the user community of SeaSketch, a web-based platform for marine spatial planning. PGUS quantifies the subjective perception of usability on a scale between 0 and 100, facilitating the rapid evaluation and comparison between PGIS. As a case study, the PGUS was used to collect feedback from 175 SeaSketch users, highlighting the usability strengths and weaknesses of the platform.


Participatory GIS PGIS Participatory GIS Usability Scale (PGUS) Usability evaluation User experience Web mapping 



We thank Noah Gluschankoff (University of California, Santa Barbara) for his work on the questionnaire, and the SeaSketch users for their detailed feedback on the early drafts. Initial funding and support for SeaSketch have been provided by Esri, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and The Tindall Foundation.


  1. Aditya T (2010) Usability issues in applying participatory mapping for neighborhood infrastructure planning. Trans GIS 14(s1):119–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ballatore A. Bertolotto M (2011) Semantically enriching VGI in support of implicit feedback analysis. In: Tanaka K, Fröhlich P, Kim K-S (eds.) Proceedings of the web and wireless geographical information systems international symposium, LNCS, vol 6574. Springer, Berlin, pp 78–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ballatore A, Bertolotto M (2015) Personalizing maps. Commun ACM 58(12):68–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Balram S, Dragićević S (2005) Attitudes toward urban green spaces: Integrating questionnaire survey and collaborative GIS techniques to improve attitude measurements. Landsc Urban Plan 71(2–4):147–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bangor A, Kortum PT, Miller JT (2008) An empirical evaluation of the system usability scale. Int J Hum Comput Interact 24(6):574–594CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brooke J (1996) SUS: a ‘quick and dirty’ usability scale. In: Jordan PW, Thomas B, McClelland IL, Weerdmeester B (eds) Usability evaluation in industry. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp 189–194Google Scholar
  7. Brooke J (2013) SUS: a retrospective. J Usability Stud 8(2):29–40Google Scholar
  8. Brown G (2012) Public participation GIS (PPGIS) for regional and environmental planning: reflections on a decade of empirical research. J Urban Reg Inf Syst Assoc 25(2):7–18Google Scholar
  9. Brown G, Kyttä M (2018) Key issues and priorities in participatory mapping: toward integration or increased specialization? Appl Geogr 95:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown G, Sanders S, Reed P (2018) Using public participatory mapping to inform general land use planning and zoning. Landsc Urban Plan 177(April):64–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown G, Strickland-Munro J, Kobryn H, Moore SA (2017) Mixed methods participatory GIS: an evaluation of the validity of qualitative and quantitative mapping methods. Appl Geogr 79:153–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dunn CE (2007) Participatory GIS-A people’s GIS? Prog Hum Geogr 31(5):616–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ehler C, Douvere F (2009) Marine spatial planning: a step-by-step approach toward ecosystem-based management. Technical report, UNESCO, ParisGoogle Scholar
  14. Evans AJ, Kingston R, Carver S (2004) Democratic input into the nuclear waste disposal problem: the influence of geographical data on decision making examined through a web-based GIS. J Geogr Syst 6(2):117–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Forrester J, Cinderby S (2013) A guide to using community mapping and participatory-GIS.,
  16. Frøkjær E, Hertzum M, Hornbæk K (2000) Measuring usability: are effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction really correlated?. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, ACM, The Hague, Amsterdam, pp 345–352Google Scholar
  17. Gardner BS (2011) Responsive web design: enriching the user experience. Sigma J: Digit Ecosyst 11(1):13–19Google Scholar
  18. Garrett JJ (2010) The elements of user experience: user-centered design for the web and beyond, 2nd edn. Pearson Education, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Gleason M, McCreary S, Miller-Henson M, Ugoretz J, Fox E, Merrifield M, McClintock W, Serpa P, Hoffman K (2010) Science-based and stakeholder-driven marine protected area network planning: a successful case study from north central California. Ocean Coast Manag 53(2):52–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Goldberg G, DIorio M, McClintock W (2016) Applied marine management with volunteered geographic information. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp 149–174Google Scholar
  21. Goodchild MF (2010) Towards geodesign: repurposing cartography and GIS? Cartogr Perspect 66:7–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haklay M (ed) (2010) Interacting with geospatial technologies. Wiley, Hoboken, NJGoogle Scholar
  23. Haklay M, Singleton A, Parker C (2008) Web mapping 2.0: The neogeography of the GeoWeb. Geogr Compass 2(6):2011–2039CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Haklay M, Tobón C (2003) Usability evaluation and PPGIS: towards a user-centred design approach. Int J Geogr Inf Sci 17(6):577–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hassenzahl M, Tractinsky N (2006) User experience - a research agenda. Behav Inf Technol 25(2):91–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hornbæk K (2006) Current practice in measuring usability: challenges to usability studies and research. Int J Hum Comput Stud 64(2):79–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Krug S (2014) Don’t make me think, revisited: a common sense approach to web usability. New Riders, San Francisco, CAGoogle Scholar
  28. Kwaku Kyem PA (2004) Of intractable conflicts and participatory GIS applications: the search for consensus amidst competing claims and institutional demands. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 94(1):37–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lewis JR (1995) IBM computer usability satisfaction questionnaires: psychometric evaluation and instructions for use. Int J Hum Comput Interact 7(1):57–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Maquil V, Leopold U, De Sousa LM, Schwartz L, Tobias E (2018) Towards a framework for geospatial tangible user interfaces in collaborative urban planning. J Geogr Syst 20:185–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mare Nostrum (2016) Final report: legal-institutional instruments for integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) in the Mediterranean. Technical report, Mare Nostrum Partnership, European unionGoogle Scholar
  32. Merrifield MS, McClintock W, Burt C, Fox E, Serpa P, Steinback C, Gleason M (2013) MarineMap: a web-based platform for collaborative marine protected area planning. Ocean Coast Manag 74:67–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nielsen J (1999) Designing web usability: the practice of simplicity. New Riders, Berkeley, CAGoogle Scholar
  34. Nielsen J (2004) Risks of quantitative studies. Nielsen Norman Group.
  35. Nielsen J (2009) Discount usability: 20 years. Nielsen Norman Group.
  36. Nielsen J (2012a) Usability 101: introduction to usability. Nielsen Norman Group.
  37. Nielsen J (2012b) User satisfaction vs. performance metrics. Nielsen Norman Group.
  38. Nielsen J, Budiu R (2013) Mobile usability. New Riders, Berkeley, CAGoogle Scholar
  39. Nivala A-M, Brewster S, Sarjakoski TL (2008) Usability evaluation of web mapping sites. Cartogr J 45(2):129–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Norman DA (2013) The design of everyday things (revised and expanded edition). Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  41. Poplin A (2012) Playful public participation in urban planning: a case study for online serious games. Comput Environ Urban Syst 36(3):195–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Raubal M (2009) Cognitive engineering for geographic information science. Geogr Compass 3(3):1087–1104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rinner C, Keßler C, Andrulis S (2008) The use of Web 2.0 concepts to support deliberation in spatial decision-making. Comput Environ Urban Syst 32(5):386–395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rohrer C (2008) When to use which user experience research methods. Nielsen Norman Group.
  45. Roth RE (2015) Interactive maps: what we know and what we need to know. J Spat Inf Sci 6:59–115Google Scholar
  46. Sauro J (2011) A practical guide to the system usability scale: background, benchmarks & best practices. CreateSpace, Seattle, WAGoogle Scholar
  47. Schlossberg M, Shuford E (2005) Delineating “public” and “participation” in PPGIS. URISA J 16(2):15–26Google Scholar
  48. Sieber R (2006) Public participation geographic information systems: a literature review and framework. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 96(3):491–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Skarlatidou A, Cheng T, Haklay M (2013) Guidelines for trust interface design for public engagement web GIS. Int J Geogr Inf Sci 27(8):1668–1687CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Slocum TA, Blok C, Jiang B, Koussoulakou A, Montello DR, Fuhrmann S, Hedley NR (2001) Cognitive and usability issues in geovisualization. Cartogr Geogr Inf Sci 28(1):61–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Smith DA (2016) Online interactive thematic mapping: applications and techniques for socio-economic research. Comput Environ Urban Syst 57:106–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sprent P, Smeeton NC (2007) Applied nonparametric statistical methods. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FLGoogle Scholar
  53. Stevens M, Vitos M, Altenbuchner J, Conquest G, Lewis J, Haklay M (2014) Taking participatory citizen science to extremes. IEEE Pervasive Comput 13(2):20–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyBirkbeck, University of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geography, Center for Spatial StudiesUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

Personalised recommendations