Political Power, Governance, and E-Planning

Political Power, Governance, and E-Planning

Kheir Al-Kodmany (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-929-3.ch008

Abstract

Spatial information is a crucial cornerstone of e-planning. This paper explains the process of constructing a mega geospatial database for the Hajj, the annual Muslim Pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia. It discusses the complex process and influence of top-down political power on the comprehensive planning process for the Hajj. It specifically examines how the process led by a politically powerful agency impacted the creation and adoption of a mega geospatial database. The paper provides transferable and useful lessons on GIS misconceptions and solutions, as well as insight on how and when political power may help in advancing the planning process.
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Introduction

Since the beginning of this millennium, there has been an ever-increasing volume of literature on e-planning. An e-planning model presented by Budthimedhe, et. al, 2002, may help in contextualizing this case study. The presented e-planning model divides activities into three categories: debates, technologies, and applications. It further breaks technologies into three categories: geospatial data, geospatial analysis, and technology interface. Budthimedhe, et. al argues that given that urban planning is essentially a spatial problem, spatial data is vitally important for e-planning. This paper focuses on the geospatial database needed for planning purposes, specifically for Hajj.

Although there is an extensive research on e-planning and geographic information systems, there is little research that documents the impact of politics and power on the process of creating large geospatial database (Obermeyer and Pinto, 2007). Through a detailed case study, in a story-telling format, this paper attempts to examine how political power can dramatically steer the planning process and profoundly influences the outcomes. It examines the positive and negative impact that a politically powerful, government-sanctioned agency can have on leading the implementation of a GIS database, in terms of quality and quantity of data, participation by key stakeholders, and delivery timeframes. It also observes how political leaders, despite their immense resources, had to seek compromised solutions in pursuing GIS. The paper provides insights on common GIS misconceptions and intricacies about data, software, hardware, basemaps, layers, and GIS expertise. It also provides useful lessons on problems and a solution on the way for building GIS. These lessons are particularly applicable to projects concerned with building large geospatial database.

The case study presented in this chapter is unique for several reasons. First, it deals with a very complex planning problem. Hajj is a multi-faceted event that requires considerable planning by more than 20 government agencies to safely accommodate and transport three million pilgrims during a week’s time. It encompasses a large region (68,000 km2) with multiple activities happening at multiple sites at a given time. Hajj involves a series of rituals conducted at various Holy Sites on different days and specific times with a slightly varied order. Therefore, planning for Hajj must take into account a complex spatial-temporal-ritual phenomenon that involves moving of large masses of people and their services at multiple sites at different times.

Second, the case study deals with an intricate political context. There are more than 20 agencies that are closely or remotely involved in planning, preparing, and running Hajj. The audience of Hajj is immense as it concerns almost the entire Muslim population for Hajj is obligatory on every financially and physical capable Muslim. Collectively, this would make the process of planning far more complex than a project with fewer stakeholders. The involved agencies have varying levels of political “weight” that must be observed and respected to ensure the smoothness of the process.

Third, Hajj is of paramount importance to the Saudi government for religious, political, and economic reasons. The government of Saudi Arabia takes great pride in its role as the sole host of the Hajj. Playing host to all Muslims from around the globe confers certain legitimacy upon the government. In response, the government makes every possible effort to ensure the ease of Hajj and the safety of pilgrims. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, HM1 King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and his brother, the former king, HM King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, have taken a keen interest in the affairs of Hajj and matters that affect the two holiest cities of Islam, Makkah al Mukarramah (Makkah the dignified) and Madinah al Munawwarah (Madinah the illuminated). In recent years, the government has invested heavily in research and planning to solve Hajj problems. Finally, the research presented in this paper is based on personal experience. The author of this paper worked on the project for two years in Saudi Arabia (2004-2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Political Power: Totality in influence, pressure, and decision making.

Top-Down: An organizational hierarchy where decisions are made by a few individuals at the top.

Database: Primarily imageries, textual, and numeric data; no audio-video data is involved.

Geospatial: Geographic data at both regional/national scale (geo) and urban scale (spatial).

E-Planning: An online setup for facilitating planning activities among government officials and associates.

Hajj: The annual Muslim’s pilgrimage to Makkah that happens on the 12th month of the lunar Islamic calendar.

Governance: The administrative infrastructure that governs decision-making process.

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