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Participatory 3-Dimensional Modelling

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This page was
 last updated on:
June 03, 2012

Home Mapping ToolboxParticipatory 3-D Modeling

About Participatory 3D Modelling (P3DM)


Through a participatory process, Participatory 3D Modelling (P3DM) merges conventional spatial information (contours) with people's mental maps; makes information tangible and meaningful-to-all, and visualizes scaled and geocoded indigenous spatial knowledge.

This is a 1:10,000 scale model of Mt. Malindang, Misamis Occidental, Mindanao, Philippines.P3DM is a relatively new communicative facilitation method conceived to support collaborative processes related mainly to resource use and tenure and aimed at facilitating grassroots participation in problem analysis and decision-making.

P3DM integrates people’s knowledge and spatial information (contour lines) to produce stand-alone scale relief models that have proved to be user-friendly and relatively accurate data storage and analysis devices and at the same time excellent communication media.

Participatory 3D modelling works best when used jointly with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in a Participatory GIS (PGIS) context

Participatory 3D models are manufactured at village level based on the merger of traditional spatial information (elevation contours) and peoples’ spatial knowledge (cognitive maps). Elevation contours are used as templates for cutting out sheets of carton board of a given thickness (i.e. expressing the vertical scale). Cut-out sheets are progressively superimposed to build the relief.

Based on their spatial cognition, informants depict land use and cover and other features on the model by the use of pushpins (points), yarns (lines) and paint (polygons). Once the model is completed a scaled grid is applied to transpose spatial and georeferenced data into GIS.  The grid offers on one hand the opportunity for adding geocoded data generated by GPS readings or obtained from secondary sources to the model, and on the other hand to take approximate coordinates on the model and verify these on the ground by means of GPS readings. This is extremely useful when models are used to support boundary negotiations.  

P3DM brings GIS potentials closer to rural communities and bridges the gap existing between externally supported GIS and capacities found among marginalised, isolated, and frequently natural resource-dependent communities.

View the illustrated P3DM process

Preparatory Phase P3DM supplies Assembling the "blank" Depicting info Transposing info Data Extraction Digital Photography On-screen Digitizing GIS processing Map Production (1) Map Production (2) Data validation Handing Over P3DM and PM&E

Below are some noted Advantages
Applications of P3DM


Both process and output fuel self-esteem, raise local awareness of interlocked ecosystems and delineate intellectual ownership of the territory.

Relief models provide stakeholders and local authorities with a powerful medium for easing communication and language barriers and create common grounds for discussion.

The method is especially effective in portraying relatively extensive and remote areas, overcoming logistical and practical constraints to public participation in land/resource use planning and management. ·

3-D modeling is an efficient community-organizing tool because it gathers people to share information and concerns. Old people share history with young people, passing on legends and religious beliefs, sacred rites and places so essential to conserving tradition.

In Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) sketch maps, transect diagrams or other conventional spatial tools, produced at different times are compared. There is an inherent weakness in the fact that the outputs are not properly geo-referenced and consistently coded. P3-DM overcomes this weakness, because the relief model is a constant with its legend and coding embedded.

The use of a coding system based on a rich assortment of different materials and colors allows a 3-D model to function like a rudimentary community-based GIS accommodating overlapping layers of information. This is extremely useful to establishing visual relations between resources, tenure, their use and jurisdiction.



Participatory 3-D Modeling (P3-DM) is the community-based tool which merges Geographic Information System (GIS)-generated data and peoples' knowledge to produce a stand-alone relief model. The model provides stakeholders with an efficient, user-friendly and relatively accurate spatial research, planning and management tool, the information from which can be extracted and further elaborated by the GIS. The 3-D modeling process and its output (the scaled relief model) are the foundations upon which participatory GIS or Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) can release its full potential.

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For Awareness Raising and Education

Collaboratively produced 3-D models generate a tremendous, long-lasting enthusiasm not only among participants in the process but generally among a large proportion of local residents. An enormous amount of information is collated, gets on permanent display and is readily accessible to all stakeholders, local residents and outsiders. Relief models are useful for teaching local geography and to enhance people's interest in conserving and restoring natural resources.

For Community Cohesion and Self-actualization

Much more so than sketch maps or GIS outputs, a well displayed 3-D model is appealing, fuels community-esteem and sense of intellectual ownership, becoming part of the local cultural landscape.

For Increasing Local Communications Capacity

Because stakeholders play an active role in the realization of a 3-D Model, communities and administrators both understand it easily.  A relief model makes information tangible, eases communication, helps bridge language barriers and increases the potential of all stakeholders to deal within their constituencies as well as with central government and outsider institutions. Models and maps can be used as part of a larger communication strategy to foster legal and policy reform at the national level. Consensus surrounding a map gives legitimacy in political debates, in an open society.  In the Philippines, maps and models produced for establishing Ancestral Domain Claims built public support for the passage of the Indigenous People's Rights Act in 1997. (Alcorn J.B., 2000).

For Collaborative Planning

Relief models are excellent visual aids capturing the ruggedness and details of a territory. Users can see and feel the contours of every mountain range and river valley. Two-dimensional maps cannot match their impact and appeal. Compared to data appearing on a planimetric map, a relief model facilitates assimilation, interpretation and understanding. 

People get a "bird's eye view" of their environment, enhancing analytical skills, broadening perspectives, especially on interlocked ecosystems, and helps to deal with issues and conflicts associated with the territory and resource use. 

A relief model highlights pressure points (household concentrations, converted forest, access ways, etc.) making them visible and tangible to everyone. When dealing with remoter and extensive areas, P3-D models remove logistical constraints to public participation in land and resource use planning and management. 

In Less Developed Countries (LDC) few protected area boundaries have yet been demarcated. Relief models allow stakeholders to get a first time factual perception of their location. This facilitates a bottom-up approach to boundary delineation and zoning, activities otherwise characterized by a top-down process, heavy logistics and lengthy negotiations.

For Collaborative Research

Relief models facilitate selective pinpointing of resources, households and other features. Because of their accuracy: P3-D Models can have positive and negative effects. Alone or combined with GIS, they turn local knowledge into public knowledge and conceivably out of local control. This can be used by outsiders to locate resources and meet development needs, or merely, to extract more resources, or to increase control [from the outside]. (J. Abbot et al. 1999).  Some groups have expressed concern that the mapping process enables outsiders to control information previously controlled by communities (Pole P. 1995). PLA Practitioners, planners, researchers and facilitators should be aware of these possible drawbacks and be careful in the application of the process. Plotting the habitats of endangered species, or the location of hardwoods, or other resources in demand on the black market, should be done with caution and behind closed doors in the course of focus groups discussions.

For Collaborative Protected Area Management

P3-D models serve the following purposes in protected area management:

Involving communities in developing management, zoning and resource use plans, geo-referencing their priorities, aspirations, concerns and needs.

Monitoring the dynamics of settlements, infrastructures and access points vis-ŕ-vis a protected areas.

Substantiating public hearings and planning workshops.

Introducing visitors to the area.

and more ... visit case studies on collaborative protected area management


For Self-determination

In the Philippines, NGOs like PAFID (Philippine Association for Inter-Cultural Development) led the way towards national recognition of ancestral rights by combining the use of Participatory 3D models, Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) and GIS to provide the evidence required by law substantiating applications filed by Indigenous Peoples.

For Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

A working P3-D model is never completed. Like in any dynamic system, change is a constant. Although a relief model, like GIS, can accommodate regular up-dating, it cannot memorize past scenarios. This is where GIS "adds value" and becomes a vital ingredient for monitoring change. A P3-D model can be instrumental to conducting Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) provided the data are up-dated at given intervals, periodically extracted, digitized, plotted in GIS thematic maps and finally returned to the community for assessing change, and identifying its causes and effects.

For Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution involves area-based mechanisms to prevent, mediate and resolve local conflicts and to strengthen communities in dealing with their management.  Disputes over boundary issues, resource use and tenure are often contributory causes for century-long inter-tribal conflicts.

The strategies and processes leading to conflict resolution are complex and articulated and need the backing of appropriate institutional and legal mechanisms.

At grassroots level participatory approaches and particularly 3-D modeling can help in settling of boundary disputes through the visualization of the landscape and associated land uses and settlement pattern. Initiatives making use of 3-D modeling for conflict resolution are currently on going in the Philippines under the auspices of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).


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