Usability Trumps Features: User needs and the redesign of a web-based GIS to support community environmental monitoring

Martin Joseph Bunch, Micheal David MacLennon

Abstract


Web-distributed tools that complement community-based environmental monitoring (CBEM) initiatives can improve processing of and access to information, supporting environmental education and better informing decision-making. To this end a web-based geographic information system known as “Juturna” was developed to support CBEM in the vicinity of Toronto, Canada. This web-GIS facilitates input, analysis, and reporting of community data. However, use of the system steadily declined in activity since this initiative started in 2004. Lay users reported that the system was complicated and confusing, and so discouraged use. Also, it employed expensive proprietary software, which was a disincentive for the local Conservation Authority and collaborating NGO to adopt the system.

To revitalize use of the website and provide support to the CBEM program, we undertook to redesign the web-GIS using open source software. To understand why the original web-GIS was not well used and to inform redesign of the system, we implemented a user-centered design methodology. Methods included user testing, rapid prototyping and stakeholder interviews. The process was invaluable in prioritizing user tasks, defining characteristics of users of the website, and identifying those components of the web-GIS most confounding to them. Findings were used to inform re-development of the web-GIS through an iterative process that led to the creation of two prototypes that were evaluated by the user audience and so informed the design of a new (more accessible) website.

Keywords


web-GIS, public participation GIS, user centered design, iterative development, community based environmental monitoring

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