E-Commerce/E-Gov for Community Economic Development

Since 2000, we have been investigating the applicability of GIS and e-commerce for community economic development. More recently, we have been exploring the use of agent based models for local economic development. I was intrigued by Frances Cairncross, of The Economist, who claimed that e-commerce has brought about the “death of distance”. That is, a rural business in central Labrador should be able to market its goods online as easily as a store in New York City. Another journalist, Thomas Freidman, a columnist for The New York Times, decreed that should communities fail to adopt innovations in ICT such as e-commerce, they would remain pockets of the “unconnected world, falling farther behind the connected world”. There is considerable hyperbole about the potential, indeed the necessity, for so called high technology to empower low-income communities. I wanted to uncover the potential behind the rhetoric.

I research four main arenas. First, I investigate the existing technical and social capital of these communities and whether they can support locally managed e-commerce. Second, I examine the role of social networks and public-private partnerships and whether they can offer substitutions to compensate for gaps in community capacity (e.g., relying on a community college internship program instead of paying for an in-house computer programmer). Third I develop prototypes—middleware that is written in-house and bundled with other software—that are sustainable (i.e., inexpensive, online 24/7 and manageable) in the communities given their technical and social capital. Finally I evaluate the impacts of e-commerce as a community economic development strategy for these communities.

This research has been well-funded through several sources. A SSHRC standard research grant pays for graduate students; a CFI grant provides the infrastructure; a FCAR Programme Stratégique grant funded the startup software framework and determinations of target communities. Thus far, I have created two prototypes of e-commerce and GIS for community economic development: a GIS enabled community tourism portal that, similar to MapQuest, allows prospective tourists to plan their visit and reserve accommodations, cars and purchase goods via a back-end database. A suite of market analysis tools for business incubation provides to new businesses access to the same types of tools as available to larger economic development authorities. As of this writing, the first two prototypes have been developed for communities in the Eastern Townships. A framing article describes the technical, telecommunications and human capital requirements should e-commerce be implemented as a community economic development strategy.


Graduate Students Supervised

P. Johnson (2005-present). Ph.D. Dissertation title: Modeling Tourism Development in Nova Scotia.

H. Yang (2004-2007). MSc. Thesis title: Using E-Government to Strengthen Montreal’s Chinese Ethnic Economy.



Johnson, P. A., and R.E. Sieber. (forthcoming). Agent-based modelling: A dynamic scenario planning approach to tourism PSS [PlanningSupport Systems]. In S. Geertman and J. Stillwell, eds, Planning Support Systems: Best Practices and New Methods. Berlin: Springer.

Sengupta, R. and R. E. Sieber. 2007. Geospatial Agents, Agents, Everywhere. Transactions in Geographic Information Science 11(4):483-506.

Publications: Research Reports

Sieber, R.E. and A. Allesandro. 2004. Web Portals and Portlets for Community Economic Development. Montreal, Canada: McGill University. 23pp.

Sieber, R.E. and G. DeSouza. 2004. Six models of geo-commerce for community economic development. Montreal, Canada: McGill University. 18pp.

Publications: Invited Presentations, Workshops

Sieber, R. E. 2003. Challenges and Opportunities for Geo-commerce in Community Economic Development. International Conference on Public Participation in Information Technologies, November 8-10, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Publications: Conference Presentations

Johnson, Peter and R. Sieber. 2006. Agent-based Models of Tourism Development in Nova Scotia. Annual Conference of the American Association of Geographers. Chicago, IL

Sieber, R. E. 2003. Traversing the steps of E-commerce in Community Economic Development. Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning-Association of European Schools of Planning, Leuven, Belgium, July 8-12.

Sieber, R. E. 2002: Public Participation GIS and E-commerce. 1st Annual Public Participation GIS Conference. New Brunswick, NJ: July 21-23.

Sieber, R. E. 2002. G-Commerce and Community Economic Development. Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Conference, Toronto, ON May 28-June 1.

Sieber, R. E. 2000. E-commerce, GIS and Community Economic Development. Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, Atlanta, GA, November 2-5.