“Sure, Everything Looks Fine on the Map, But …”: Communicating Spatial Data Uncertainty to End-Users

In Chapter 3 of Fundamentals of Spatial Data Quality, the authors approaches to uncertainty in spatial data, with a focus on the subject as it pertains mainly to geographic information systems (GIS) and, more broadly, GIScience (Fisher et al., 2006). The main themes of uncertainty (ambiguity, vagueness, and error) are reviewed, and each theme’s challenges listed.

While even introductory levels of GIS users can begin to understand the importance of uncertainty relatively quickly, end-users of GIS products (maps, spatial analysis results, 3D visualizations of phenomena) may take the data at face-value, as they typically only care about the final results and conclusions for further use for either research, policy-making, or as a navigational product to be sold to the general public, for example. How do we ensure that uncertainty is not only captured within the quantitative analysis on the GIS-user side, but also on the visual interpretation of the end-user?

This relates straight back to the conversation last class about the ethical implications of GIScience, and how to reconcile differences in cultural and historical epistemologies and ontologies. Creating a map with a similar spatial extent to the map produced may allow for users of maps that are not familiar with a GIS and more broadly GIScience to understand the probability of a certain region to contain errors in the original map. As to ambiguity, perhaps multiple maps could be produced, although this would only be realistic with Web GIS, where users can select layers to visualize, and perhaps even change then underlying assumptions of the GIS to account for personal aspirations of the intermediate or end-user (e.g. geo-political conflicts).

That being said, I look forward to next week’s class on Uncertainty to discuss this topic further, as well as the class where we will discuss Visualization in its various forms.


Comments are closed.