Participatory geographic information systems for the co-production of science and policy in an emerging boundary organization

Bethany B. Cutts, Dave White, Ann Kinzig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Boundary organizations are designed to stabilize the relationship between science and policy communities. The literature emphasizes that products (i.e., boundary objects) should be salient, legitimate, and credible to both communities. The related field of participatory geographic information systems (PGIS) focuses on creating useful products (i.e., maps and geographic information systems) in an explicitly political environment. PGIS focuses more directly on the ways in which people may engage with information and power dynamics between actors. We argue that the epistemological parallels between PGIS and boundary organization research create an opportunity to fuse approaches to the advantage of both fields. Combining approaches facilitates communication and provides opportunities to negotiate conflict between science and policy. We apply the frames to a public information project conducted in a water resource decision-making boundary organization in Phoenix, Arizona. Through participatory action research, we evaluate the extent to which relationships between saliency, legitimacy, and credibility across change through time and interact with one another. We find that the boundary organization framework provides a unique role for science in framing questions and evaluating the feasibility of environmental management solutions. However, it neither guides the process of generating boundary objects nor adequately conceptualizes heterogeneity within the policy community. PGIS highlights processes internal to the policy community driving low levels of political support for initial maps of public information programs. Credibility improved after participants discussed why they felt maps lacked legitimacy, and credibility. Discussion among policy makers at a meeting convened by scientists improved legitimacy and credibility. Despite policy involvement in the process of generating research questions, the saliency of the map remained low. Policy stakeholders viewed the map as a necessary precursor to more usable science in the future rather than a as boundary object per se. The framework developed and applied in this paper is relevant to research centers and projects that intend to link policy and science that have stronger formal ties of accountability to science through funding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)977-985
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Boundary organization
  • Participatory geographic information system
  • Water management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Participatory geographic information systems for the co-production of science and policy in an emerging boundary organization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this