Archive for January, 2013

Decision Support Systems

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

M.C. Er’s article on “Decision Support Systems” seem to capture the beginnings ideas that form some of the basic aspects of GIScience, where systems are used to help in the decision planning. For instance, a GIS program, such as ARC, which has the characteristics of a “Decision Support System” (DSS), will help me in deciding the placement of sample sites based on elevation and “wetness” of my study site. The data set would be too complex for analysis, without a computer program helping / supporting my determination of placement. That said, M.C. Er’s article although describing a DSS and its uses, lacks the knowledge (due to age of article) of modern computing power, which was not foreseen 25 years ago. To clarify, many of the problems mentioned with predecessors of DSSs and DSSs themselves have been solved with current day processing power, gorilla programming, AI evolution and cloud computing. Furthermore, the power of DSSs have grown beyond the constraints of the article, to the point that no matter what level of organization or field, DSSs are used in decision making. The article does leave one with the question of what is the current role of the DSS and how has it been modified and improved in view of current day GIScience’s integration of DSS to GIS systems? The progress of today, towers over the technology and its use in the past. The use and idea of the DSS is no longer for just for business but is now a integrated part of the way GIS and environmental modeling programs function. Furthermore the aspect of hardware is no longer a large component of the DSS since the PC is now is almost every home, institution, and business with a minimum computing power that can run most programs as a result of bundling with either Microsoft’s pervasive Windows or Macintosh’s use friendly interfaces.




Web 2.0

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

This area is far outside my expertise and I find it hard to comment on, or situate it within the broader contexts of GIS. The paper certainly points out that the way individuals interface with spatial information via the web has changed not only how we view the utility of (spatial) information, but also who we view as valid contributors to decision-making. It is  now easier to gather information (including opinions) from a variety of individuals, say for planning decisions or gain momentum on grassroots movements, but this also raises new concerns and complications – who does and doesn’t have access to this information, who does and doesn’t have the expertise needed to interface with the web in these ways?



GIS and Personality

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

In his early overview of decision support systems (DSS), M. C. Er (1988) discusses the importance of allowing for variation in personal choice when choosing a support system. What was most interesting to me was the incorporation of cognitive style and Myers-Briggs personality types as determinants of people’s “preferred way of getting data and preferred way of processing data” (p. 359), and it led me to thinking about whether there is room for different personalities and cognitive styles in using a GIS for decision support (as a tool, that is). Stemming from the (pretty crude) dual personality descriptors on page 359 of Er’s article, I think GIS caters a bit to all of these types. On the other hand, I don’t think it is easy to use a GIS in any particular way that you want to—it’s known for a steep learning curve and definitely has its counter-intuitive moments—and people have to learn to think like the computer; learn to think like ArcMap. Maybe GIS is catered towards a certain cognitive style, which makes sense when it’s described as something you either love or hate.

I think this could be tested with a potential research project: get a group of people, give them a Myers-Briggs test, and give them a GIS task. See how they do it differently and compare that with their MBTI (while controlling for experience, etc).

Er, M. C. (1988). Decision Support Systems: A Summary, Problems, and Future Trends, Decision Support Systems 4. 355-363.


Call for a decision-based framework

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

In this chapter, Densham spoke at length about the components required to develop a decision support system capable of handling and utilizing spatial information. He seemed to approach this from the development perspective – how can this type of system be designed to be useful and useable for both programmers and decision-makers. As Dipto already mentioned, two decades have passed since this book was written and GISystems have advanced considerably since – many packages now could be considered at least many aspects of what Densham describes as important in a SDSS. This discussion also reminds me of some statistical debates, where many statisticians have argued the need for a decision-theoretic approach to analysis. In a full Bayesian data analysis (with spatial data or not), a loss function should be specified that relates to the decision made from the results of the analysis – the loss function should capture the “consequences” of making a given decision. An example could be a randomized clinical trial between two drugs (A and B), and based on the results of the trial, drug B is deemed superior based on some criteria. The decision to use one drug over the other will negative consequences (adverse reactions, financial repercussions) and these could be represented in the loss function probabilistically. Presumably one set of repercussions would be worse than the others, and ultimately assist in a more holistic decision-making process beyond the usual statistical analysis performed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this actually attempted in the literature yet,  but with more data and better software/systems, analyses could move in this direction. I think there are probably many areas where researchers, scientists, and many others call for systems that aid in decision-making rather than simply performing a given task or analysis.


Berger, James O. Statistical decision theory and Bayesian analysis. Springer, 1985.
Densham, Paul J. “Spatial decision support systems.” Geographical information systems: Principles and applications 1 (1991): 403-412.






Using Web 2.0 as a deliberation technique in Spatial Decision Making

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Compared with the M.C. ER’s  “Decision Support Systems: A Summary, Problems, and Future Trends” from 1988 and the “The use of Web 2.0 concepts to support deliberation in spatial decision-making.” by Rinner et al. shows the progression of the DSS since its inception. Information gathering and sources of information are no longer limited – a wider audience of professionals and non-professionals in the field are able to participate in the debate significant to them. “Graphical and other sophisticated displays” (M.C. ER’s, 1988) has now evolved from a pretty user interface to also encompass a geographical aspect through the incorporation of GIS, and easy to use geospatial interfaces like Google Map.

A real benefit to utilizing web 2.0 is the efficiency to gather information from a variety of sources. By using an increasingly sophisticated World Wide Web and taking advantage to the space-time compression, the forum is open to anyone with Internet access to contribute their ideas and opinions. At the same time, opening the forum to such a wide range of audiences can cause an overload of information that can be hard to manage, and prove as credited sources.

The authors have touched on the desire of using Web 2.0 and PGIS to assist in the decision making process. Since the article has been written in 2008, a quick Google scholar search shows ~ 7000 results (dating from 2009 or later) from using the search criteria “web 2.0, spatial decision, policy, public participation”. To me, this indicates that this field continues to gain momentum and show real opportunities in changing the way decisions tend to be made in a top down manner. However, are the professionals and decision makers open to involving a wider audience who may not be as academically qualified?  Gathering the data, and analyzing it takes a tremendous amount of time as well, which can deter policy makers from taking advantage of these tools. I see this as a huge opportunity in the urban planning field, where no one can be categorized as inappropriately qualified. By living in the city, planning decisions made will inherently affect your day to day life where those opinions should have some weighting in the decision making process.



GIS and Spatial Decision Support Systems

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Decision Support Systems (DSS) are distinguished by the fact that they aid in taking decisions about problems that are semi-structured in their definition. However, they do not replace the decision maker. A DSS have capabilities for handling data, analyzing data and provides muti-dimensional views to help highlight the different aspects of the problem.

One may notice that GISystems are already dealing with the some  of  the things mentioned above. Hence, it may be said that a complete GI suite is quite close to a DSS. The paper by Densham rightly points out that there are however some aspects in which the GISystems lacks from being a complete Spatial Decision Support System.

GIS systems are traditionally meant to handle only spatial data. For a GISystem to be useful as a Spatial DSS, it should have more flexibility in how it handles non-spatial data. Moreover, the outputs of GISystems are usually only cartographic in nature and might not provide some insights about the problems. It is necessary for the system to be able to generates reports, charts and use other data visualization methods to supplement the cartographic maps, thus ensuring a 360 degree view of the situation. A further challenge for simultaneously handling spatial and non-spatial data is to model the complex relationships between them and to come up with algorithms which are able to leverage these relationships.

The paper also proposes a framework for the development of SDSS. The framework leverages the modular approach of building softwares. This approach enables maximum flexibility in terms of re-use of components in building different systems. SDSS toolboxes can be combined into generators, a combination of which can be further configured to produce specific SDSS. This approach not only provides the ease of component re-usability but also facilitates addition of new capabilities to an existing system without disruption.

Densham also emphasizes on the importance of incorporating research results from the fields of DBMS to have a high performance system. The UI of the system needs to be built keeping in mind the fact that the system is going to be used by decision makers who may not be GIS experts. Both the spatial analysis and non-spatial analysis components should be intuitive to use and a variety of outputs ranging from maps to charts to tables must be available in order to highlight all the aspects of the problem.

-Dipto Sarkar

PPGIS in spatial planning

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Web 2.0 shifted the role of the Internet users from being a mere consumer of service to a more active one where they are responsible for creating the content. The availability of mapping services like Google Maps and their public APIs have encouraged the development of various innovative mapping applications. However, there has been a lack of mapping applications where the main intent is to facilitate planning. Various web based applications of geographic information are there that generates hoards of spatial information, but the kind of application that will narrow the divide between GIS for people and GIS for professionals have been lacking. ArgooMap, in fact is an interesting experiment to understand the utility of public participation web mapping projects to facilitate planning.

The discussion thread for the application was carried out in a non-GIS environment first and yet generated a lot of spatial references. Thus it is clear that the inherent way in which people think about planning problems is spatial; hence a UI with a map will help in better representation of the locations being talked about. When the discussion was imported into ArgooMap, the linking of the threads to geographic locations provided a better understanding of what (place) is being discussed. The end output of the system was also helpful for the administrators as they could easily see the regions that generated the most interest without reading through all the messages. One of the problems with building such a system however will be to define what one means by high, medium and low spatial resolution, as the definition for them is very application sensitive. Moreover, a very intuitive UI is needed for such applications so as to ensure good participation from the public. Results of GIS research can also be incorporated to increase the efficiency and performance of the systems.

PPGIS applications such as these have the potential to change how grass root public participation is incorporated into spatial planning related decisions and hence give rise to a new range of e-governance applications.

– Dipto Sarkar

GIS: Tool or Science?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Although written 15 years ago in 1997, (which seems like an eternity when considering the expansion of the World Wide Web) this paper by Wright et al. raises some excellent considerations when thinking about how we perceive GIS. GIS is a unique field in the fact that it is so closely knit to a “conventional” discipline (Geography), yet seems to now have its own place in academia. Prior to the writing of this paper (and others by Goodchild), GIS was widely considered as a useful tool to display or visualize findings across many spatially relevant disciplines, and nothing really more. While the view of GIS as a science existed among some of those heavily involved in the field, I think that it was less popular view as it is now. Today, more than ever, GIS has become more accepted as a discipline on its own rather than a vehicle for displaying data.
However, I believe Wright et al. drives the point home in the conclusion when they call for a need to shift away from ‘”black and white’ boxes of description” and move towards a more continuous definition of how GIS should be perceived. While I understand that defining GIS as a science eventually leads to more focus (and funding!) on the field, I cannot see the benefits in trying to encompass a set of rules in order to understand GIS as a science. The reason GIS is unique as a field is because of its versatility and it’s increasing power to contribute to societies in the world today. As of 2013, one cannot deny the amount of discourse concerning the scientific theories, models and analyses involved with the creation of various GIS. The paper by Harvey Miller clearly points this out, as we can no longer look at GIS as a purely objective tool but something that must be developed in line with a specific research question. However, being able to take the entire discipline and invoke rules to try and mimic conventional sciences will not work for GIS. Each individual project will have its own set of scientific methods involving a range of academic disciplines.


People-Centered Geographic Information Science

Friday, January 18th, 2013

The need for a people-based representation of space brought up by Miller is increasingly relevant as we continue in an age where distances are shrinking and populations become more mobile. It is no doubt that space has become less of an obstacle and time has become a larger constraint on our lives. Thus the need for more dynamic methods and models of representing the needs of populations in terms of transportation and urban resources is present. These are of course extremely complex and the sheer amount of information involved leads to a great deal of time and effort spent sifting through incoming data. I believe that this is where the difficulty lies. With techniques such as twitter scraping and SQL, there are ways to get a hold of this kind of data. However, what follows is the hard part. How do we decide what data is important? Does one space or group of people more relevant than another?

I understand that we can limit this by means of things like socioeconomic and neighborhood grouping, however I believe this inevitably leads to the kinds of generalizations that people-based GIS is trying to get away from. By attempting to choose which incoming information is deemed important or not, certain space-time activities will be ignored. This is, of course, combined with the gaps created by the digital divide can potentially lead to the marginalization of certain groups.
Overall, this movement to a people-based GIS will definitely lead to nuanced information and practices. Theoretically, transportation systems will become more efficient and become tailored more to the actual day-to-day activities of individuals in a city. It will just require a lot of work and a style of thinking never done before.


People centric GIS -is it the only way?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

The paper by Miller is concerned with the shift in perspective of making GIS people centric rather than Geography centric. The rapid development in the field of GIS has spawned several new applications like Location Based Services which essentially look into the more commercial aspect of spatial information. Innovative applications of LBS have been developed where the most important piece of information required is the location of the user. Location based advertisements and offers are just one side of the spectrum. On the other side of the spectrum are more futuristic developments like Google Goggles or other augmented reality based applications.

However, it is to be noted that GIS does not merely encompass the likes of the above mentioned applications. GIS has evolved into a scientific discipline which encompasses a whole range of problems. The “people centric” approaches to GIS will thus essentially only a part of the larger scientific discipline. New data models and new analysis techniques will be developed for addressing the specific issues of these applications, but by and large the main focus of GIScience will continue to be Geography or the spatial domain.

-Dipto Sarkar

What about People in Geographic Information Science?- by Harvey J. Miller

Tool to Science

Friday, January 18th, 2013

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

How subjects evolve?

The above quote was made by probably the first of the well-known Western Philosopher Socrates. Back in the time of Socarates, Plato and Aristotles, the men of intellectuality used to ponder about things material and spiritual. They were Theologists, Mathematicians, and Logicians at the same time. Once the ball of intellectualism had started rolling, more and more people delved deeper into the realms of the subjects. Starto (known as “The Physicist”) and Aristarchus (who anticipated Copernicus’s claims) and made important contributions to physics. Mathematics was enriched with the coming of Euclid. Eventually the body of knowledge started to increase, and soon by the time Newton had arrived, philosophy had spawned two new fields, namely Physics and Mathematics.

The 1960-80’s saw the development of another new field which has caused major inroads into all the aspects of our lives- Computer Science. When computers started being developed, mainly Electrical Engineers and Mathematicians used to show interest in the new tool. However, computer users started to develop their own vocabulary and as people delved more into the intricacies of theory of how computers work, they started realizing that the computer was not merely solving some existing problems but also enabled to create and solve a whole new spectrum of problems that were previously unknown. Hence the entire spectrum of problems that could be solved with computers and the ones they created emerged into a “Science” of its own called Computer Science.

What about GIS?

We the people working in GIS are at another cross road which is seeing the development of a new Science. The Geographic Information Systems cannot be called a mere tool anymore. It has amalgamated several fields which were related, but thought to be incompatible with each other. Today GIScience encompasses the Remote Sensing, Cartography, Geography, Computer Science and several other Earth based Science subjects. Several new tools have also gotten added to the arsenal like GPS which has transformed work flows. New ways of representing data have emerged. Active research is going on to solve a whole new class of spatial problems which was non-existent previously. The strong backbone of IT infrastructure is also creating interest in new data models, algorithms and large scale distributed GIS systems. Many of the existing academic fields have started showing interest in using and developing this new “emerging field”. The research interests in GIScience today are varied and far reaching. All-in-all GIScience is showing the same development cycle that has been followed by all the fields of Science that has developed.

So, it may be rightfully concluded that GIScience can definitely be considered as an emergent Science rather than merely a tool. We are at the crossroads where this transition is taking place. So, 16 years after the paper by Wright et al. there is little doubt that all the scepticism mentioned in the paper for a field to be deemed as a Science has been answered. The four conditions mentioned in the paper “for the emergence of a science from a technology” have effectively been fulfilled. GIS has thus progressed along the three continuums from being “a tool”, to a “tool making” to a “Science”.


-Dipto Sarkar


Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS as “Tool” Versus “Science” –  Dawn J. Wright, Michael F. Goodchild, and James D. Proctor

It’s Miller Time, but what will the people say?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Miller’s article calls for a change in procedure and thinking from place-based GIS to people-based GIS. His thesis stems from the notion that people are becoming more and more displaced from given anchor points in their lives. For instance, instead of using the telephone or connecting to the internet or exposing themselves to advertising at home or at work, more and more people are constantly connected and targetable due to increased use of their mobile phones and other forms of information technology. Miller outlines the current state of spatial-temporal GIS, its challenges, roadblocks and existing models.

I agree in large part with the need to change the focus from place to people. However there is a crucial component to his argument that he touches upon, but only barely: the importance of privacy and ethics in mapping the activities of individuals. The techniques described and discussed by Miller account for increasingly minute detail in a target’s activity. And furthermore, targeted advertising and location based services can be shown to require spatial detail down to the direction the target is facing. It would not surprise me at all if the greatest roadblock to using an accurate people-based, temporal GIS would not be in the technology, but rather in the policy that would make available (either publically or privately) all of the minutiae of an individual’s day. Where is the line? Where do our own personal freedoms end and commercial and/or governmental freedoms begin? These issues should be at the forefront of a people-based GIS every bit as much as technology and deserves more than a mere passing mention in a scholarly article.

– JMonterey

Are we asking the Wright question?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

In their article entitled, “GIS: Tool or Science?”, Wright et al. attempt to break down—not answer per se—the ambiguities surrounding the fundamental basis of GIS. They use online forum responses to gather data on whether the general GIS community perceives GIS as a science or as a tool. They conclude by insisting that there are three unique schools of thought—those who consider GIS as a tool, as tool-making, or as a science—and that underlying this question is the ambiguity of the word “science.” I have two problems with this particular article: one pertaining to the antiquated outlook on a topic (GIS) that has evolved since the article’s publishing; the other pertaining to its lack of a formal thesis.

First, in regards to the timeliness of the article and the data collected, this piece was written in 1997, and the online conversation that serves as the source of its central data, occurred in 1993. To put this into perspective, ESRI first launched the first version of ArcView in 1995 and ArcMap in 1999.  GIS as a concept existed long before this, but it was hardly user-friendly, and its toolset was nothing compared to the long lists present in the modern Toolbox in ArcMap’s user interface. The majority of GIS in 1993 was most likely command line-based, requiring a level of specialized programming to which relatively few people had access. The authors should have overseen a live chat rather than draw from four-year-old data.

Second, the only conclusion that Wright et al. come to is that there is no conclusion. The process of the exploration should not be “What are the different perspectives of GIS?” because simply by glancing at the title of the article, it is clear that the authors already knew the various perspectives of GIS. Rather, they should have outlined their working definition of science first and proceeded from there. A much more fruitful discussion would have ensued, likely with a conclusion on the major view(s) of GIS.

– JMonterey

Is GIS a tool or a Science?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

One of the most interesting debates within the discipline of GIS is whether it should be categorized as a “tool”, employed to solve problems in other disciplines; or whether it should be considered a “science” in its own. Although the article is relatively dated, Wright bring up some interesting points about the debate. It is interesting to note that from its inception, up until the time period during which the large debate that was sparked on the GIS-L listserv in 1993, GIS was employed almost unanimously as a tool in order to advance a specific focus. However, this huge exchange of opinions by scholarly sources, along with the rapid development of technology, has greatly changed the field of GIS.

Miller does a great job of summarizing and analyzing the GIS-L debate of 1993, which at the time was an unprecedented interaction on an online forum between scholarly individuals and their colleagues around the world. It is fascinating to see, from the provided excerpts, how the argument developed over time. Before considering a solution to the argument, It is vial to define what “science” actually is. This, however, is problematic because science can be defined in so many ways, and sometimes incorrectly! Miller identifies science as “a logical and systematic approach to problems that seek generelizable answers”. But does a complex field such as GIS fit into this category? Miller hits the nail on the head when he concludes that GIS represents a continuum between tool and science. However, it is clear that out of all the ranges on the continuum, GIS must be considered a science because it encompasses the analysis of issues raised by the use of GIS.

– Victor Manuel

GIScience… Of course!

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Well, that was a good debate back then… I’m glad that the issue is solved and that GIS as a science is now accepted. Science is not about having answers; it is about asking questions. We now have resources to think critically about how GIS has an impact on the society, and conversely how the social, cultural, political and economic dynamics influence GIS developments. I’m glad that we (westerners) are less and less going into non western communities or working with marginalized groups saying: “I have the tools to solve your problems!”.  Science brings a critical and analytical point of view when working with GIS to answer research questions, or when directly questioning the GIS itself.

I’m glad that we (academics) let go of that epistemological debate about GIS, and that we are focusing more on ontological issues about GIS, on ways to represent qualitative information, and on ways to make GIS accessible, useful and beneficial to marginalized populations.

The text from Harvey J. Miller shows how it is important to think critically about GIS. It’s not perfect, and sometimes it’s not well designed to look at specific issues. Miller argue that the urban and transportation dynamics are changing with the globalization and in turn, the GIS technology has to be adapted in order to assess the everyday life practices of people. The idea of a full-circle is also present in the first text : “GIS: Tool or Science?” (sidewalkballet also saw it!). Technology (GIS toll and GIS toolmaking) influences the society (science) and in turn society influences the technology. Maybe GIScience looks like a spiral with the mutual influences of technology and society (see image: spiral). The society and researchers are questionning the developments of the technology, it’s making the spiral go backwards but after that, there is a shift to a new loop that gets bigger as it evolve.

Finally, I’m glad to be in a GIScience course and to think critically about all of this!


Bridging the disconnect between people and GIS

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Harvey J. Miller’s article on the role of people in GIS raises an interesting question on fundamental analysis underlaying urban GIS use. Traditionally, GIS uses a ‘place-based’ analysis however that fails to capture many of the essential elements that should be analyzed within the urban context. After all, transportation and urbanism are essential the expansion of people, so they should be more easily analysed using a people-based model. This difference can be hard to wrap your head around but picture these two scenarios of a student’s day at McGill, analysed using place-based (1) and activity theory (2):

1) all the different McGill buildings are places, about every hour a certain amount of students enter and exit each building, where the activities change in each class room within the building.

2) examining each individual as their physical environment changes, the trips they take from one class to another, and what they have learned where. How long they spent in each class versus how time they spent in the libraries studying for those classes, etc…

The advantage, in this case, to using activity theory is that you are able to establish pattern and purpose in the individuals action. In a world where people are constantly moving around while others are trying to figure out what exactly it is that they are searching for, this type of analysis can prove to be extremely useful.

To feed some fire to the debate on GIS as a tool or science, it is clear that Miller operates using GIS as a science since he questions the underlying concepts upon which place-based analysis is conducted (with regards to urban environments). Activity theory shows us what people – extremely mobile in this day and age – do with their limited amount of time that they are given. Place-based analysis does not capture the flux of people in a way that is capable of demonstrating the way peoples thoughts affect their actions. That is in essence, what everyone wants to know…

Pointy McPolygon

When does technology become science?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Wright et al. released an article in 1997 title “GIS: Tool or Science” which attempts to gauge the perceived position of GIS along a continuum from ‘this could add a nice figure to my research’ all the way to ‘GIS-ology (science!)’. The authors used opinionated data from a user-driven debate on a GIS listserv on the topic and found that the users perceived GIS as either a ‘tool’, a ‘toolmaking’ endeavor, or a ‘science’. Clearly GIS can be seen in many a different lights, even among us GIS nerds. As geographers – I am told – we are the perfect creatures to be paired with GIS because we uniquely combine the ability to think about data management  in terms of space and a knowledge of physical surface phenomena of the planet. The authors found that 2 dynamic forces were at work that caused this difference of opinion among GISers: how the users define ‘science’, and whether or not GIS is distinct enough to be considered a science.

Without getting into too much epistemology, the authors attempt to dissect the philosophy of science. What I found more interesting than their definition of science was the way they de-blurred the line between technology and science by saying GIS must meet 4 criteria. Significant? Check… Challenging? check check check… inadequate research in other disciplines? Definitely… Commonality among issues? Why does it feel like I keep repeating myself.. Sounds like it has crossed the boundary to me!

On the other hand, if GIS is a science, and not all geography students are scientists, then am I correct in saying that it must emerge from under the umbrella of the ‘geography’ discipline? The authors point out that GIS is what brought legitimacy to geography in academia, but if GIS wants to be popularly recognized as GIScience then it must expose the third criteria of technology as a science; it must show how it is distinct from existing sciences. In all GISeriousness, grad students now perform research projects on GIS all over the world and its hard not to see it as a science… but maybe im just an ignorant youngster – I was only 6 years old when this article was published, after all.


Wright, D. J., M. F. Goodchild, and J. D. Proctor. (1997). Demystifying the persistent abiguity of GIS as “tool” versus “science”. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 87(2) pp. 346–362.

-Pointy McPolygon

Miller: Science, Toolmaking, or Both?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Miller’s article was a very interesting introduction to temporal considerations and a person-centered approach in the context of geography. Why have I never encountered Hägerstrand’s time geographic framework before? It’s a fascinating way of looking at the world!

While focusing on the potential for advances in urban transportation modeling, Miller looks at cutting-edge trends in theory and technology to cut past the McNolegian scope on today’s dominant spatial data models and computational tools. He also zooms out from place-based representations of geospatial phenomena to propose person-based data models grounded in both space and time.  Rather than simply applying GIS as-is, Miller makes an effort to advance our understanding of how we may create more faithful abstractions of our universe to, in turn, undertake more faithful analyses of our universe’s phenomena.  For these reasons, it can be said that this article conceptualizes GIS as a science rather than a tool.

Could Miller’s work also be considered toolmaking? My initial thought was ‘yes’: he urges on the continual improvement of GIS tools and posits certain ways in which we could begin such improvements.  However, he doesn’t go quite as far as implementing the data models and analytical methods that he introduces.  It is up to subsequent work to take the theories collected and synthesized by Miller and translate them into practice—this is where the distinction between ‘doing GIS’ as science and as toolmaking appears to lie. 

Yet by getting the scientific ball rolling, Miller has made a contribution to GIS as toolmaking.  To borrow a concept from time geography, advancing the science of GIS and improving the tool can be considered an activity bundle, as the former eventually becomes a necessary precursor to the latter.  Thus, the continuum for GIS conceptualizations may be messier, and less mutually exclusive, than one might gather from Wright et al: it may indeed be possible to ‘do GIS’ in more than one way at a time.


People-based GIS and marginalised communities

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

People-based GIS: This new paradigm of analysis and visualization is undoubtedly promising and offers potentially radical new ways to devise of motion in time and space (I found particularly interesting Miller’s rhetoric of “exchanging” these two variables). But  I wonder who are the “people” that this GIS is based on and how we can use these new paradigms to help not only those with easy access to new technologies (or wireless connnections for that matter). Another student raised the question of how to evaluate which data to use from the abundance available to researchers. In market applications, it makes sense to privilege that data which will gain money for a firm. However, those with reliable incomes often have reliable transport, and as such, are not those most in need of infrastructural and transportation improvements. The new field of GIS must take into account (along with the seemingly countless technical aspects of reliable data collection) the more social aspects that may indicate to us who may most benefit from this field of research. This means extending our questions outside of the urban core, the middle class, the educated and the mobile.

Herein lies an interesting space wherein methods of participatory GIS may  thrive. By working with marginalised or remote populations and the tools at their own disposal, people-based geography may be able to live up to its name. It is important in conceptualizing research methodologies that we speak to specific ways of being and ways of knowing. While the theoretical aspect of people-based GIS is at times hard to digest, its implementation could have important implications, especially in the field of accessibility. As such, one of the maor challenges for the discipline will be incorporating those populations for whom accessibility is a major issue. It will also mean looking at methods of data collection that address the specific needs and ways of being of those communities with restricted physical or social mobility.


What about people?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Historically, place based representation in Geographic Information Systems has been the norm.  However, in an ever increasingly complex and interconnected world, place-based methods are becoming more and more inadequate, especially with regards to Transportation GIS and urban GIS. Miller proposes that a people based method is required in order to better address  the complex spatial and temporal patterns in peoples lives. A space-time perspective views the  person in space and time as the center of social and economic phenomena.

Miller states that space-time activity (STA) data, which is collected through information technologies (IT) such as mobile phones, gps, etc is crucial to this method. One particular characteristic  that I found very interesting was the traditional methods of collection. STA data is usually collected in 4 ways: recall methods, stylized recall methods, diary methods, and prospective methods. However, each of these methods is flawed by the fact that they are entirely dependent on independent input from the test subjects. As is the case with a survey based approach, individual bias and error can severely affect the accuracy of the data. Miller does a good job of citing the substantial problems with these traditional approaches

It is also interesting to note how the evolution of IT technologies, or more specifically GPS and location based services, can enhance the collection of activity data.  This is very fascinating because it signifies the fact that a people based approach to data collection will increase and become significantly more reliable and accurate with time.One issue I do have with this approach is ethics surrounding the collection of data. Although STA can provide an important pattern of human activity, it may also infringe upon certain ethical issues, most chiefly privacy. Therefore, creating a method of collection STA that is not only accurate and unbiased, but chiefly anonymous, will be key to any development within the field in the future.

-Victor Manuel