An essay on collaborative GIS methods in West Bali by Kitty Currier.
In the village of Pejarakan, West Bali, Indonesia, tourism is slowly replacing agriculture as the predominant local industry. As land once used to grow corn, peanuts, and chili is developed to support homestays, villas and resorts, the community is changing in other ways, too. Hole-in-the-wall shops sprout along the main road during the high season; concrete has replaced dirt on back roads; and enrollment at the local tourism vocational high school has skyrocketed. Yet, the potential for other, less palatable changes remains: more trash to manage, competition for resources like fresh water and space, and loss of traditions tied to an agrarian way of life.
I spent a little over a year in Pejarakan to conduct fieldwork for my dissertation on collaborative GIS for coastal and marine spatial planning. Working with the non-profit organization Biosphere Foundation, I used map-based surveys to collect opinions on two topics: trash—particularly plastic—as an environmental problem; and tourism in West Bali—its future development, including opportunities and challenges. The surveys were hosted on SeaSketch, an Internet-based tool for collaborative (usually marine) spatial planning developed at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute.
Map-reading and map-making, however, are not universally shared abilities. In a place where few people use desktop or laptop computers, and Google Maps on smartphones only rarely, administering a digital, map-based survey may seem an impossible task. One activity we used to teach map-reading skills was kite aerial photography (KAP), which capitalizes on the Balinese culture’s affinity for kite-flying while collecting useful cartographic data. In KAP, a kite is used to loft a camera to an appropriate height—usually 60–120 meters above ground—then towed across an area to be imaged while the camera snaps photos automatically. Afterwards, the pictures are aligned to create a continuous aerial photomosaic that can be used like a map. By conducting a KAP survey, then aligning the photos by hand in hard copy or digitally in Google Earth, participants learn to connect their ground-based perspective with the aerial perspective of a typical map.
Thanks to the connections of our friend and collaborator Pak Nasa, a local English teacher, several groups of high school students participated in a class we offered that focused on computer mapping skills. Using five donated laptops set up at our field station in Pejarakan, the students created maps in Google Earth, submitted corrections to Google Maps and edited OpenStreetMap. By correcting these geographic datasets, the students gained practice reading and using Internet-based maps while helping to make the places in their village more discoverable by visitors.
With their newfound skills in computer mapping, some of these students helped administer the surveys on trash management and tourism to other residents of Pejarakan and surrounding villages. Their help, combined with the attention, curiosity and patience of the participants let even first-time computer users successfully complete, and perhaps even enjoy, the surveys. The experience demonstrated that people with no prior computer experience could participate in a digital effort to crowdsource geographic information for environmental planning—something that is now common in more affluent countries but is rarely practiced in the developing world.
As in many places, residents of West Bali face choices about how best to use and develop their resources—land and sea, coastlines, infrastructure and communities, among others. Many have expressed a desire to proceed in a way that improves their standard of living without sacrificing the integrity of their environment or culture. Living in this lesser-known corner of the legendary island, I was humbled by the hospitality of its people. They gracefully integrated me into their daily life of work—often hard physical labor—balanced by an intricate system of ceremonies to commemorate weddings, births, deaths and significant events in the Hindu and Islamic calendars. As West Bali’s tourism industry evolves, maintaining the character that makes this region unique will require careful planning—and perhaps a few maps.