The Role of the Citizen and GIScience

Goodchild posits that the “breaking down of traditional barriers between expert and non-expert has already led to widespread awareness of the power of GIS among the general public” (p. 13). He also notes that more recently, there has been a shift in GIScience to allow for a more basic understanding for everyone, away from a focus on experts within the field. As the amount of volunteered geographic information (VGI) increases, it is likely that the shift from error to uncertainty may also continue as GIS becomes less concerned about technicalities (science) and more about rethinking how to represent our world (tool-making).

On the other hand, Goodchild discusses the ability for technology to dynamically monitor various aspects of the Earth. Improvements in geographic sensors such as RFID can vastly increase the amount of accessible data. As discussed in class, the development of many fields such as computer science have progressed from being a tool, to toolmaking exercises, and lastly to becoming a science. Perhaps we are witnessing this transition taking place in GIS as well, but what does this mean for volunteered contributions and incorporating human values into GIS?

Citizen engagement will arguably increase if it is understood that a wider range of values and perceptions can be better incorporated (through more universal usage of GIS and technology improvements) into how we rethink the representations of our environment. If the concern is an access to funding and resources, perhaps the GIS as a tool vs science debate will become irrelevant as the popularity of GIS grows and as citizens become increasingly both the producers and consumers of geographic information.

Goodchild, Michael F. (2010). “Twenty Years of Progress: GIScience in 2010.” Journal of Spatial Information Science, 3-20.

– jeremy

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