GIScience Grand Challenges

GIScience Grand Challenges: How can research and technology in this field address big-picture problems?

by Michael Gould, Director of Educational Industry Solutions, ESRI

To a GIS practitioner, the distinction between GIS and GIScience may be difficult to get a handle on. Geographic information science is a term coined in a 1992 paper in the International Journal of Geographic Information Systems by University of California, Santa Barbara, professor Michael Goodchild. The idea actually came from his 1990 keynote speech called Spatial Information Science, delivered at the 4th International Symposium on Spatial Data Handling in Zurich, Switzerland.

I attended that symposium, and I recall some skepticism in the audience: were we witnessing an attempt to turn something methodological into a science merely to build our credibility in the eyes of funding agencies? Some remarked that fields that find the need to add the qualifier “science” to their name (political science, computer science) are by definition not legitimate sciences. But semantics aside, Goodchild’s basic argument that “GIS needs a strong scientific and intellectual component” (or else the technology might be short-lived) was generally accepted. The GIScience term stuck, and almost two decades later, many university graduate programs now focus on GIScience rather than on GIS.

University at Buffalo professor David Mark defined GIScience in 2003 as “the development and use of theories, methods, technology, and data for understanding geographic processes, relationships, and patterns.” Practitioners can think of GIScience as the key foundational ideas (which become algorithms and then code) that make GIS software tick. In many cases, GIS software has become a test bed or sandbox for validating GIScience ideas.

For full text of the article, via GIScience Grand Challenges – ESRI.com.

Also, check out an earlier post on grand challenges from UCGIS members:

Grand Challenges in Geospatial Science Research

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