“If you had the chance to choose, what emerging issues would you like to research?” That’s a simple question with a difficult answer. Let’s start by framing the problem, letting the attempt to answer this question for another day.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are widely recognised (and wrongly perceived only) as a set of software tools and applications to store, manage and analyse geospatial data so as to often produce map visualizations. Most users, ranging from urban planning and economic/human geography, to public administration and government, to academia and industry, use GIS applications for data collection, storage, analysis, and visualization in their own disciplines and sectors for varied intended uses and scenarios.
In contrast to the traditional perception of GIS, the S of GIS does not only stand for “Systems”, but for a set of “Ss” that altogether shape holistically my research goals and scientific challenges in the long-term. The eight S-dimensions are: Systems, Software, Services, Standards, Science, Sensemaking, Social (Sciences), and Society. Likely, other colleagues may to some extent differ from my interpretation but I am pretty sure that we all agree on most of the S-dimensions I proposed here. I am going to briefly introduce them to put readers into context.
The Systems and Software S-dimensions are closely related. The former refers to the architecture of the information system in GIS, characterized by their traditional functions or capabilities: collection, storage, management, analysis, and visualization of geospatial data sets. Software complements the Systems dimension by encompassing the software tools and techniques (e.g. spatial data bases, spatial analysis techniques, mapping visualization tools) to support and implement such information system. While these two S-dimensions contributed greatly to the creation of the first GIS desktop-based applications in the 70s and 80s (and this is the vision of GIS that most still have), new advances during the 90s and early years of 2000, such as the Web, service-oriented architectures and distributed computing, made it easier the development of geospatial web services which aimed to make GIS desktop-based capabilities available on the Web. At this point, the S-dimension of Services played an important role to opening up the potential of GIS to users beyond the borders of the closed and isolated GIS-desktop solutions.
Nevertheless, the proliferation of geospatial web services came at the expense of a lack of interoperability: developers had to implement custom client applications to interact with each type of web service because of the heterogeneity and diversity of service interfaces, communication protocols, and data formats. The Standards dimension was the glue to let the S-dimensions of Systems, Software and Services work together according to consensus-based vocabularies, agreements, data models, and service interfaces to name but a few. The four dimensions –Systems, Software, Services, and Standards– defined the core, technical elements that articulate the so-called Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDIs), also known in the literature as Geographic Information Infrastructures or Cyberinfrastructures. In short, an SDI is an interrelated network of distributed nodes to facilitate the sharing, access and discovery of spatial data sets (hosted in geographically distributed nodes) via standards-based services on the Web. This concept was and continues being strongly backed by the international community (industry, academia and public administrations) and by international standardizations bodies (OGC; W3C, ISO) at political, legal, semantic and technical level.
In my view, the dimension of Science has at least two facets. First, it refers to the theoretical background/root of GIS as a scientific discipline. This means for example to investigate new algorithms, models and theories to make substantial progress on the state of the art of GIScience. The second facet takes GIS as an “enabler” to easy collaborative science and scientific research. This may seem a strong claim but it is easy to explain. Imagine that scientists were able to use a kind of virtual globe tool to simulate climate change models, monitor invasive species, and study humans migration. All these examples have in common that things happen in a particular location and/or place on the Earth. The Digital Earth envisions a sort of “digital replica of the Earth” (like a virtual globe) which would let scientists to access, discover, process, share, analyse, and visualise data, services, models and in general any type of informational resources to study Earth-related phenomena at any scale (from regional to continental). The Digital Earth can be seen as an “open laboratory tool” to do collaborative science, where many scientists could teamwork using Digital Earth tools. From my point of view, the Digital Earth vision fits also into the dimension of Science, as it leverages the four previous dimensions to facilitate scientific collaboration for doing science.
The upper part of the figure shows the last three S-dimensions: Sensemaking, Social Science, and Society.
While the idea of accessing, managing, processing and visualizing geospatial data was implicit in the previous S-dimensions, the current trend is otherwise to process, analyse and visualize large quantities of real-time data streams coming from people, sensors, and other types of sources. Making sense, as the ability or attempt to make sense of an ambiguous situation, of real-time geospatial data sets is actually crucial to create and deliver location-based services and new analytical methods to empower anyone to innovate with the information generated from everyday objects.
GIS, geospatial data and technologies are used by many disciplines both in Sciences and Social Sciences alike. Social Sciences and Humanities may greatly benefit from GIS and its technical capabilities described in the previous S-dimensions. There are lots of recent examples and initiatives (e.g., geohumanites, geolibrarians, etc.) that clearly point to this direction.
And finally, I have used the term “users” so far as the primary beneficiaries of the S-dimensions of GIS seen above (Systems, Software, Services, Standards, and Science). The scope of the term “users” should not be limited to scientists and experts but it should be pretty ample: It must include citizens, people and society in general. The promotion of GIS and spatial thinking for education and learning purposes is part of the dimension of Society in GIS.
Before going into detail in next posts, do you agree in the eight S-dimensions of GIS? Your turn.
- Posted by geoadmin
- On 21 April, 2016
- 0 Comments