A proposal to NSF by NCGIA
Final Version, November 22, 1995



Because of the large number of PIs and key personnel included in this proposal, a full report on progress under all NSF funding previously received by all personnel would be very extensive. In the interests of brevity and as directed by II.D.4 of the Grant Proposal Guide, in this section we report on progress under the NCGIA cooperative agreement SBR 88-10917, the project of greatest relevance to this application. This project, National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, has been funded by NSF with a total grant of $9,697,909 (including supplements and flow through funds) for the period November 15, 1988 to December 31, 1996. Detailed reports have been made to NSF each year in the NCGIA Annual Reports (NCGIA 1989 to 1995). Rather than attempt to duplicate those reports here, we present instead a series of summary statistics, and a small collection of key research conclusions.

During the funding period, NCGIA sponsored 16 research initiatives, each including a meeting of specialists and a published report on the research agenda in the area, a period of active research lasting up to three years, a series of closing presentations at conferences, and a published closing report.

In the period from August, 1988, when the announcement of NCGIA was made by NSF, through the end of Year 6 in December 1994, NCGIA faculty, research associates, and graduate students published 37 books and almost 400 articles in refereed journals, 40 articles in refereed conference proceedings, and 500 articles in other, largely unrefereed outlets including chapters in books, describing NCGIA research. The Center has published over 100 papers in the NCGIA Technical Reports series, plus the Annual Reports, NCGIA Annual Bibliographies, and Initiative Closing Reports. In addition, the Center publishes a regular newsletter, and maintains WWW pages, ftp sites, and other mechanisms for disseminating its research and supporting research by others.

Elaborate efforts have been made to encourage a sense that NCGIA is truly a national center, serving the entire national community. Over 300 different participants from outside the NCGIA attended our specialist meetings. Close to 1,000 visitors have spent time at one of the three NCGIA sites, and NCGIA research staff have made over 700 presentations on Center research at conferences, agencies, and institutions. A Visiting Scholars program is in operation at each site, providing direct support to visitors from non-NCGIA institutions who wish to spend time at NCGIA pursuing their research interests. The Center has organized or sponsored many meetings, some more specialized than others, including the series of International Conferences/Workshops on Integrating GIS and Environmental Modeling and two meetings of the Large Spatial Database Symposium series.

NCGIA's contributions to education began with the development of the "NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIS", a set of teaching materials that has been adopted as the basis for university-level GIS courses in over 1,400 institutions worldwide and translated into several languages including Russian, Chinese, Japanese, French, and Hungarian.

Many NCGIA personnel play key roles in the development of national geodata policy, through memberships on appropriate NRC committees, participation and presentations at national forums, and sponsored research. NCGIA has become known internationally as a model for basic research infrastructure, and as a leader in defining scientific agendas and delivering scientific results. Several international linkages have been established, including the NSF/European Science Foundation GISDATA program, in which NCGIA provides US coordination.

The following paragraphs describe a selection of research contributions made and published by NCGIA since 1988:

The NCGIA has influenced and benefitted a large number of graduate students. While it is difficult to be precise about who has been assisted by the NCGIA and its researchers, since 1988 at least 47 PhDs, of whom 36 are now employed at academic or research institutes and the remainder working in the private sector, and 85 Masters students have completed GIS-related research at UCSB, Maine and Buffalo.


We propose new research directions to advance geographic information science, particularly linking it with the new paradigms of digital worlds. The technologies for digital worlds are developing at a rapidly increasing speed, and it is paramount to explore now how their advancement will change our abilities to develop and use geographic information in the future.

We start in Section 2.1 with the argument that there are complementary scientific, technical, and societal reasons for conducting research into geographic information science, many of which have arisen or become clear only in the 1990s.

Central to our research plan are geographic concepts and the notion of a geographic information science. While geographic information systems (GISs) are ubiquitous and expertise in GIS is in great demand, we foresee that in the long term the development of GISs must rest on a strong scientific basis, as provided through the multi-disciplinary field of geographic information science. In Section 2.2, we reflect on the linkage between geography and geographic information science, and between geographic information science and geographic information systems.

The field of geographic information science is too broad to be studied in its entirety. Therefore, we have identified areas that we consider to provide the highest potential to advance geographic information science within the near future. These strategic areas of our research highlight the role of geographic information science in the era of information technology. In Section 2.3, we describe the issues and broader research questions of our three strategic areas: cognitive models of geographic space (Section 2.3.1), computational implementations of geographic concepts (Section 2.3.2), and geographies of the information society (Section 2.3.3).

In Section 3.1, we examine how such a large-scale research effort can be conducted, and argue that a national research center is the only effective solution. Section 3.2 presents organizational structures to manage the research, including means to initiate and monitor collaborative research activities with the geographic information science research community at large. We will use four research vehicles: research initiatives (Section 3.2.1), conferences and workshops (Section 3.2.2), research partnerships (Section 3.2.3), and a visiting scholars program (Section 3.2.4). The organization of research under the umbrella of a national center requires a management structure, which we present in Section 3.3. While it builds on NCGIA's current structure, it is leaner and uses only those mechanisms that have proven to be effective and necessary.

Section 4 provides the topical details for each research vehicle that we plan to pursue over the next three years, including new research initiatives (Section 4.1), new research partnerships (Section 4.2), and conferences and workshops on timely topics (Section 4.3). We will complement this research with activities in education and outreach, which we describe in Sections 5 and 6, respectively.

2.1. Motivation for Research in Geographic Information Science

The proposed research is motivated from three distinct directions: scientific, technological, and societal. In this section we address each of these in turn, commenting on the external trends that make the proposed research important, and which in our view justify investment of the magnitude of this request. We identify the various constituencies whose needs the proposed research and outreach programs are designed to serve. We use the term geographic information science to refer generically to the subject matter of our research and discuss its meaning at length in Section 2.2.1.

2.1.1. Scientific Motivation

Research in geographic information science serves the needs of science and scientists in two ways. First, our research will address areas where our understanding of key geographic notions and their appropriate representations is currently incomplete. We see such basic research as particularly important at this time in areas where human conceptualization and the digital implementation of corresponding concepts interact and conflict, and discuss this point at length in Sections 2.3.1 (Cognitive Models of Geographic Space) and 2.3.3 (Geographies of the Information Society). Second, our research will contribute to the conceptualizations, methods, and tools with which scientists approach geographically distributed phenomena. Thus it will contribute to the infrastructure of science, particularly for those disciplines whose subject matter is distributed over the Earth's surface and for which a geographic perspective is likely to prove useful.

Historically, the development of the geographic information technologies has been influenced only in a limited way by the needs of science. Geographic information systems have their roots in government agency data-gathering and decision-making, the design disciplines like landscape architecture and planning, and the mapping sciences of cartography and surveying. The global positioning system (GPS) was a military development. Only in remote sensing has there been a long-standing link to scientific applications. But this situation has changed rapidly in the past decade, particularly in disciplines like anthropology, hydrology, and terrestrial ecology, where the broadly based functionality of GIS is able to provide a comprehensive software environment for a terrestrially-based science. In other fields, however, such as oceanography and atmospheric science, the role of GIS is currently limited to preprocessing of boundary conditions and visualization, since the two-dimensional, static map metaphor used in current GISs has proven too restrictive for sciences concerned with the transient behavior of fluids in three dimensions. On the other hand certain generic issues of geographic information science, such as error modeling and propagation in spatial data, are eminently relevant to these sciences also.

As in many other instances, the development and adoption of GIS tools in the scientific community raises questions about the influence of tools on the conduct of science, and whether such tools can alter the ways of doing science as the microscope and the telescope did in the past. Should the scientist insist on knowing exactly what operations are performed by the tools, or is this principle bound to be weakened as science becomes more complex, more collaborative, and more interdisciplinary? Do the choices that the use of a geographic database imposes on its users constrain the science that can be performed, in ways that are often out of the immediate control of the scientist? Under what circumstances is a scientist willing to trust data that he or she did not collect, and will the increased technological ability to share scientific data over the Internet and using the World-Wide Web (WWW) change them? These questions about tools very often have their roots in theoretical questions about appropriate representations, operations and concepts. We explore these issues at greater length in Section 2.3.1 (Cognitive Models of Geographic Space).

2.1.2. Technological Motivation

Our second motivation derives from the technology push that we are currently experiencing. The proliferation of faster computer hardware and the emergence of an information infrastructure are quickly changing the way people think and work, creating digital worlds.
While the politicians struggle with the baggage of history, a new generation is emerging from the digital landscape free of many of the old prejudices. These kids are released from the limitation of geographic proximity as the sole basis of friendship, collaboration, play, and neighborhood. (Negroponte, 1995, p. 230)
New information technologies have significant influence on the advancement of geographic information science through the design and use of geographic information systems. They enable geoscientists to collaborate in new ways, sharing large spatial data collections or performing tasks together without the need to be present at the same location at the same time. Digital worlds embed new paradigms. They move bits rather than atoms, offering access to data and information without any need to relocate physical media. They offer everyone the chance to make information publicly available. The telephone has been the medium for the exchange of voice, but the new information highways will allow users to collaborate by exchanging digitally coded data that stand for text, voice, images, and more complex structures such as geographic information.

Digital worlds form a new culture of computing, in which the user is paramount.

It is important in focusing on what's ahead in communications, to zero in not on the technology, but what we use technology for. No one says "Let's use the telephone." They say, "Let's call Grandma." (Gore, 1993)
Ease of use is crucial and only the users' tasks should matter; therefore, systems should reflect the needs of the users, without requiring them to be concerned with technicalities. Of particular importance are visual representations and visual thinking, which replace numeric representations. While visual presentation boosts communication ("A picture is worth a thousand words"), it hides internal representations. This perception causes a dilemma for scientists who in general desire to understand fully what the system they are using does with their data. One might argue that the culture of science and the culture of digital worlds diverge on this issue, counter to the commonly held belief that computing provides an ideally supportive environment for science.

Despite such concerns, we expect that the technological push will further increase the popularity of geographic information technologies. A 1994 report by an international high-technology industry analysis firm concluded that worldwide markets for GIS software and services will more than triple from $1.2 billion in 1993 to $3.8 billion in 1999 (Frost and Sullivan, 1994). A recent survey of the Office of Management and Budget found total annual expenditure on activities related to geographic data in the federal government to be over $4 billion, and there is speculation that the national total is over $10 billion. With limited exceptions, the U.S. GIS software industry dominates the world market, including the Japanese market. GIS is repeatedly identified as a "hot" information technology sector with apparently unlimited growth potential (e.g. US News and World Report, 1995). While there are many other comparably sized industries without a visible research sector, the multi-disciplinary origin of GIS, its positioning at the forefront of digital technology, and the fundamental nature of the scientific issues raised by its development and use all argue for the existence of a visible, strong, basic research activity in the U.S.

Although the GIS software industry continues to invest heavily in research and development, the academic sector is uniquely equipped to undertake the kinds of long-term, high-risk, high-reward research that will assure continued progress and competitiveness. The current limitations of GIS are such that it is clear that the technology will have to be repeatedly reinvented, and we doubt whether the GIS of ten years from now will be recognizable to its current practitioners. The academic research sector is more likely to lead innovation, having less stake in current solutions, and having a peer review and career reward system that is driven primarily by the production of new ideas. As opposed to commercial R&D, academic research, through its system of formal publication and peer review, is built on a foundation of the free sharing of innovative ideas and new information.

2.1.3. Societal Motivation

Bullish predictions of a glowing future for GIS aside, we also believe it is important that such a fast-moving and groundbreaking technology be subjected to the kinds of dispassionate reflection at which the academic research sector excels. No other group is likely to take the kinds of long, hard looks at GIS that are needed if its benefits to society are to be maximized, and its potential abuses avoided or controlled.

Geographic perspectives are fundamental to an understanding of the interplay between local and global environments; the couplings between physical processes in the terrestrial subsurface, atmosphere, and ocean, and their interactions with the human world; or the integration of processes and policies over geographically varying boundary conditions. As such, they may offer approaches to the solution of many of society's most pressing problems. For example, the National Research Council (NRC) report, Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change, concluded that:

substantial advances have been made in geographic information systems, which allow the merging of population data with other data using geographic location as a join point, [and] geographic information systems allow the population research community to bring its considerable statistical, methodological, and theoretical skills to issues that heretofore have not been researchable.... In the past, the population research community sat on the sidelines when global change issues were discussed, and as a result demographic expertise was not brought into discussions of population and global change. (NRC, 1994b)
While we can claim only the most indirect of linkages between our activities and the solution of problems of global hunger, unemployment, or crime, each of these issues provides a context in which geographic information technologies may eventually play an important part, and where it is important that these tools be as carefully thought out and as effective as possible.

At a more immediate level, our research will address such issues as the implications of geographic information technologies for our system of democratic representation; the potential for popular empowerment through concepts of electronic democracy; the legal liability associated with use of geographic data and geographic information technologies; the potential for invasion of privacy, surveillance, and control; and the implications of geographic information technologies for the organization of human activities in geographic space. Similar issues arise in connection with all aspects of digital technology, but an important question in each instance will be whether the geographic context makes the problem in any sense unique.

2.2. Research into Geographic Information Science

2.2.1. Geographic Information Science Defined

Geography examines the differentiation and variation of phenomena on the Earth's surface. Geography has long had a particular emphasis on human relations to the physical environment, thus forming a bridge between the social and natural sciences. Quantitative geographers have sought generalizations about processes and flows in geographic space, while others have focused on the distinctive character of specific places. In more recent years there has been a growing interest in the study of how geographies are socially constructed within political and economic contexts. And geography has always had a technical side, emphasizing the development of methods for spatial analysis, description, and display.

Geographic information is information about locations, processes, relationships, and patterns that result from or are required by all of the above perspectives, whether they are carried out by geographers or within other disciplines that also deal with phenomena distributed over the Earth's surface. Geographic information systems (GISs) are computer programs to facilitate the collection, manipulation, storage, retrieval, analysis, display, and communication of this information. We define the term GIS very broadly, to include any computerized system for providing information about specific locations on the Earth's surface. Thus we include in this definition both the current implementations (current GIS software, GPS, remote sensing systems) and the improved systems that will emerge in the future to handle a much wider range of concepts, applications, and tasks.

Geographic information science is the basic research field that seeks to redefine geographic concepts and their use in the context of geographic information and, more broadly, the digital age. It re-examines some of the most fundamental themes in traditional spatially-oriented fields such as geography, cartography, and geodesy, while incorporating more recent developments in cognitive and information science, and is beginning to embrace more specialized research themes in such established disciplines as computer science, statistics, mathematics, and psychology. It is motivated in part by questions of why certain geographic problems cannot easily be addressed with current GIS software. Similarly, the difficulty that some people have in using state-of-the-art GISs, or in moving from one GIS to another, raises basic questions about human spatial cognition, how to capture and represent geographic knowledge in an information system, and the continuing interference of immature technology in the performance of substantive tasks.

On a more technical level, geographic information science needs to resolve a number of questions such as:

Traditionally, such questions have been addressed by researchers working within existing disciplines, and much progress has been achieved. However, the work has been spread across many research fields, and often has been conducted within very different research traditions. No systematic conceptual framework has emerged from these relatively isolated efforts. Commonalties among the questions and their solutions may be missed in fragmented research environments. Furthermore, in academia, cross-disciplinary work is often risky, especially to early career researchers, because promotion standards often give high priority to scientific outlets defined by the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines. We believe that by addressing these questions within the framework provided by the emerging field of geographic information science, we can help to reduce institutional impediments to progress in these research areas, and encourage the exploration of issues in ways that go beyond the solution of immediate problems.

2.2.2. Geographic Concepts in the Digital Era

Geographic concepts form the heart of the research we propose. We define these as the primitives of all thinking and action relating to geographic space, and group them into three major categories. First is the group of commonsense geographic concepts, as used by people in everyday life, which have their roots in the interaction between human biology and culture on the one hand, and the material world on the other. Second is the group of abstract spatial concepts, deriving from diverse mathematical formalisms and especially geometry. These have been central to quantitative geography and are most amenable to digital representation. These first two groups of concepts are of course related but not in any obvious or simple way.

A third group of critical geographic concepts are those originating in the diverse disciplines and sciences dealing with phenomena distributed over the surface of the Earth. Though connected with both the commonsense and abstract realms, the specialized sets of concepts developed in each field are a function of empirical subject matter, methodological approach, theoretical perspective, and reigning disciplinary paradigm. Thus, for example, the same general concept of flow is expressed and used very differently in the fields of hydrology, meteorology, transportation engineering, or economics. Moreover, these discipline-specific concepts are constantly evolving under the influence of new information technologies, computer-aided analysis methods, and visualization techniques.

All three of these groupings of geographic concepts are important if we are to make geographic information an integral part of an increasingly information-oriented world. Our research concerns the interplay between geographic concepts and geographic information technologies, particularly geographic information systems.

2.2.3. Methodological Context

Our proposal is firmly embedded within continuing debates over the value of GIS to science, and its role in geographic research in particular. As in many other disciplines concerned with phenomena distributed over the surface of the Earth, the need to understand and explain such phenomena, the processes that shape them, and the patterns they form has been a recurring theme among geographers, and has spawned a variety of approaches and traditions. The quantitative or "scientific" geography that flourished in the 1960s and early 1970s took the position that general truths could be discovered through the study of geographic phenomena; that these truths could be subjected to the norms of scientific objectivity and verification; and that they would be based on primitive geographic concepts, just as primitive spatial concepts appear in many laws of physics.

Our inability to find such general truths led in the mid 1970s to a bifurcation of geographic research. One group, concerned primarily with social phenomena and echoing broader trends in social science generally, argued that the norms of positivist science were too stringent for the complexity of the human condition and insufficiently sensitive to the social context of science. The other, with strong roots in physical phenomena, shifted their focus to the processes that shape the landscape, arguing that the patterns created by those processes were too confused by complex local interplay between processes and boundary conditions to yield much in the way of scientific understanding.

From a broader perspective, this recent methodological debate in geography can be seen as one more expression of the fundamental tension between the geographically general and the geographically particular (Varenius, 1650; Newton, 1687; Bunge, 1962; Warntz, 1981). Some aspects of our experience with the world around us are common to all locations; others are particular.

The question of predictability is crucial since it is the basic assumption of all theory. The predictability of geographic phenomena depends in turn on the answer to a question: Are geographic phenomena unique or general? If they are unique, they are not predictable and theory cannot be constructed. If they are general, they are predictable and theory can be constructed. The clarification of this issue may be drawn from the philosophy of science. Science assumes phenomena to be general, not unique. Whether a phenomenon is unique or general can be considered to be a matter of point of view or of the inherent property of the phenomenon itself. (Bunge, 1962, p. 7)
In one sense, maps and geographic data capture the essence of the geographically particular, the boundary conditions that influence the outcome of physical and social processes; and in that sense geographic information technologies serve the particular. But unlike maps, the purpose of GIS is not to maintain geographic data in static form but to allow it to be transformed, processed, and analyzed in ways that are geographically uniform. Thus GIS is a technology of both the particular and the general, implementing the geographically general in its formalized algorithms, concepts, and models, and the geographically particular in the contents of its data sets. In this sense GIS as a technology seems uniquely appropriate to the nature of geographic research, and to hold the key to transforming knowledge of process into predictions, policies, and decisions.

But this simple dichotomy between general and particular obscures other equally powerful elements of the geographic experience. "Particular" suggests that all places are unique. In reality, geography is continuous and infinite, terms that are not obviously compatible with uniqueness. Geography is also strongly and positively autocorrelated, such that nearby places are almost always more similar than distant places (Tobler, 1970). Moreover, geographic phenomena tend to repeat in space, a point brought home very forcefully by Weiss (1988),

But while the cluster system disputes the notion of a global village and the "malling" of America, it also reveals that there are hundreds of neighborhoods all over the country filled with households just like our own home, sweet home. However unique we may feel, we are not alone in our lifestyles. (Weiss, 1988, p. xiv)
Both points serve to blur the distinction between the general and particular, suggesting that even the most ardent particularist can benefit from a search for similar places, or what a spatial statistician would call an extension of support. The ability of GIS to search, find, compare, and integrate is clearly of central importance here.

2.3. Strategic Areas for Geographic Information Science Research

Having established the existence, nature, and potential utility of geographic information science, we now present three strategic research areas that we feel are necessary to advance this science. These areas are novel in their content for the research community, and focus on the areas we perceive to be the most critical within geographic information science research. They are, therefore, sharply different from NCGIA's earlier research plans (NCGIA, 1989; NCGIA, 1992). After a brief introduction, we discuss these research areas under three main headings: cognitive models of geographic space; computational implementations of geographic concepts; and geographies of the information society. In the interests of brevity we have provided few references in these sections, but would be able to provide more if requested.

We begin by arguing that the dimension of conceptual complexity is fundamental to the distinctions between data, information, and knowledge--that data is regarded as raw when its conceptual basis is simple, and data becomes information and leads to knowledge through a process of interpretation, modeling, and analysis embodying increasingly complex concepts. A system that implements only simple concepts is thus limited to the capture, storage, and processing of "mere" facts, while a system that implements the complex concepts of geography is able to support a much wider range of activities, including scientific reasoning (Taylor, 1990; Goodchild, 1991).

Our concern with the interplay between technology and concepts extends throughout the range of human activities based on geographic information. It includes the ways we ourselves think, learn, and communicate about the world around us in exploring, naming, describing, navigating, and helping others with directions. It includes the ways our concepts are formalized and implemented in digital systems, and instantiated through processes of measurement, map-making, data capture, and digitizing. It extends to methods of manipulation and display, query, analysis, modeling, and the full range of processes and transformations that can be defined for geographic information. Finally, it includes the implications of present and future geographic information technologies for individuals, groups, governments, and human society as a whole.

Besides conceptual complexity, a second dimension that is fundamental to our proposed research is the degree of similarity between geographic concepts as used by humans and the concepts that are implemented in digital technology. We assert that this dimension is the primary determinant of the technology's ease of use and acceptance, and that increasing the degree of similarity must be a major goal of this research effort. Moreover, the concepts implemented in GISs currently vary markedly from one system to another, in part because of the lack of a better link to processes of human spatial cognition. The conceptual disparity between cognition and implementation is reinforced by many GIS education programs, which can be accused of teaching students to think like GISs, or even to think like the particular GIS that the program has chosen to emphasize.

The fundamental significance of many geographic concepts is reflected in their use in language and metaphor. Lakoff and Johnson suggest, "Most of our fundamental concepts are organized in terms of one or more spatialization metaphors" (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p.17). Clearly, the inherently spatial nature of geographic concepts and metaphors lends itself to visualization, opening access to the power of visual modes of communication and knowledge expression. For this reason we also plan to investigate the extent to which geographic concepts can be employed in addressing phenomena that are not normally treated spatially--an approach that can be termed spatialization (Kuhn, 1992).

We are well aware that new technology changes the way people think, and new tools change tasks.

When a task seems inherently complex because of the manual skill required, certain technological aids can dramatically change which type of skill is required by restructuring the task. In general, technology can help transform deep, wide structures into shallower, narrower ones. (Norman, 1990, p. 194)
Often, the first steps toward new technology replicate what was done in the previous technological context. The first motor cars really did resemble a "horseless carriage," and similarly, early GISs and computer mapping systems attempted to replicate on the flat-bed plotter or later on interactive computer displays the map design principles that had been used on paper for decades and had evolved over centuries. But new tools and technologies afford new ways of representing, of problem-solving, of displaying, and of communicating. What should we be able do with a GIS that we could not do with a printed atlas, with paper maps on a light table, or with static tables of census data? We have seen how technology has transformed the workplace in many fields, but have very little specific information about how GIS technology has changed spatial thinking and problem-solving. We must study the impact of technology on people, and of people on the technology. This must be done at the individual (cognitive) level, as well as at the level of organizations and society as a whole.

2.3.1. Cognitive Models of Geographic Space

How do people think about geographic space? Answers to this question are fundamental to many of our activities. Geographic databases are built so that they can be used by people, and their utility depends on their content making sense to their users. To make this more likely, we must know how members of the expected user community conceptualize the phenomena being represented in the database, whether they are using an information system or not. Sound cognitive models are perhaps even more important at the level of the human-computer interface. In a sense, the interface is all the end users ever see of the system, and if the interface does not match human intuition ("make sense"), the system and the database are useless.

Human spatial cognition has long been studied by psychologists, geographers, and others, while cognitive science has taken up these questions within a research paradigm that stresses formalization and computational modeling. These formal models must be incorporated into the formalisms in GISs, from the user interfaces to deep within the databases.

Theories and models of human spatial cognition have included both general and particular components. There seem to be some universals of human spatial cognition, and these appear to arise from the physics of human environments, from the nature of human bodies and senses, and especially from the ways people interact with and are influenced by their environments, both physical and social. But there are also many aspects of human spatial cognition that seem to vary across individuals. Some of these variations may be correlated with factors such as culture, language, or gender, while others may be truly individual differences. Of particular interest here is that GIS-using professionals from different fields may have systematic differences in their cognitive models for geographic phenomena and processes. Work on cognitive aspects of GIS user interfaces has emphasized spatial cognition by "spatially aware professionals" who made up the bulk of the GIS user community in the early 1990s. However, as information systems come "on line" to the general public through home Internet access and other means, we will need to know a great deal more about spatial cognition in general. Current geographic information systems are difficult to use without extensive education and training that is generally unavailable to the public. Even academic researchers find it difficult to find available training opportunities, or to fit them into their already full professional schedules. Making the technology truly easy and natural to use will empower new communities of users, thus increasing the value of the software and databases being built now and in the future by government and the private sector.

General research on spatial cognition has made considerable progress, and a number of classifications of spatial knowledge exist. One important and somewhat controversial issue is whether geographic space is cognitively different from other spaces, such as manipulable ("table-top") space. Although both spaces might be represented by the same Euclidean geometry, they seem fundamentally different in the context of human cognition. In manipulable space, prototypical entities are three-dimensional, and solid. Two things cannot occupy the same place at the same time; Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics are appropriate generalizations; and properties of things are assumed to remain unchanged as they are moved about, rotated, and otherwise manipulated. Such properties are characteristic of computer-assisted design (CAD) software, which is designed for representing manipulable spaces.

Geographic space and geographic phenomena require a sharply different approach. Usually, the vertical dimension can be treated as an attribute of location in an otherwise two-dimensional space. Entities may overlap, being in the same place at the same time, so that a point may, for example, be part of some drainage basin and part of some county. Geographic entities normally cannot move relative to each other; apparent movement of land use or land cover zones might be better modeled as changes in the attributes of static places. However, a phenomenon like an advancing forest fire is thought of as a moving entity, and we are not surprised that properties such as size and shape will likely change as the entity `moves'. Without making this distinction explicit, GISs differ from CAD software largely because the spaces they were developed to represent are different to human cognitive agents.

Beyond such distinctions based on size or extent, there are other ways to categorize spatial cognition. In many reviews, spatial knowledge is subdivided in procedural and declarative types. Procedural spatial knowledge allows people to move purposefully in space, to find their way around, while declarative knowledge is more in the nature of facts about geographic space. One type of declarative knowledge is often separated as a third type: configuration knowledge allows people to perform in the mind tasks involving relative locations, distances, and directions. There is evidence that many people find it difficult to infer configurational aspects of a geographic space given only the experience of moving around within that space--access to pictorial maps may be essential to the process of integrating experiences of geographic spaces into a configurational framework.

Efforts have been made to identify primitives or elements of spatial cognition. Perhaps the most fundamental is differentiation of self from environment. Next is division of the environment into "things," which can later be classified. Attention selects one or a few things as "figures" for spatial reasoning or discourse, against the "ground" of the rest of the environment. Spatial relations between figure and ground can then be recognized, and these too can be classified. Two of the most basic spatial relations seem to be containment and touching. Topology provides formalisms for representing spatial relations. These formal models can be used to implement spatial relations on computers, and can also help in the design of experiments to characterize various aspects of spatial cognition. Natural languages attach words as labels for categories of entities and relations, and studies of language provide valuable evidence of the nature of cognitive models. Evidence to develop, verify, and refine our formal models of spatial objects, relations, and processes can come from carefully controlled experiments using human subjects, from observations of human behavior in less controlled situations, from language studies, and from examination of the outcomes of human decision-making and reasoning in geographic space.

2.3.2. Computational Implementations of Geographic Concepts

Early use of digital technologies was driven by their ability to perform vast numbers of simple, repetitive transformation operations on simple, well-defined structures. Out of the wide range of geographic concepts discussed earlier, it follows that the ones most able to take advantage of digital technologies are the simplest; indeed, GIS has been accused of remaking the geographic world in this simplistic image (Pickles, 1995). To be implemented in a digital environment, a geographic concept must be formalized, most often within the formal languages of mathematics, whether it is best conceived as a concept of data or of processes that operate on data, or both. In practice, the architecture of the technology often constrains the process of formalization, by forcing the user to implement the geographic concepts supported by the technology, rather than those the user might deem ideal.

Studies of human reasoning about geographic space help us to identify the critical components for the design of information systems, what a GIS should make visible to a user and what it should hide. However, the transition from identifying cognitive processes to building machines that mimic human performance is only possible with a formal description of how a computer program should behave. While many spatial inferences may appear trivial to us, they are much more difficult to formalize so that they can be implemented in a computer system. Formalizations capture the essence of processes, describing the generic behavior of objects, which are then used to perform operations on the digital particulars. In the terms of the object-oriented paradigm, one uses the notions of a class (the generic) and its instances (the particulars), such that all instances share the same methods (i.e., the formalized behavior) (Khoshafian and Abnous, 1990); thus formalizations capture the semantics of data and express them primarily through operations ("what can be done with digital things?").

Most current methods in geographic information science were designed from the perspectives of the computer scientist and the cartographer, aiming at efficiency in capture, storage, and processing of cartographic features. The state of the art in formalizations of geographic knowledge, as reflected in most current GISs, requires that certain constraints be fulfilled before a user is allowed to perform any analysis. They include:

Our goal is to overcome some of these and other limitations, and to find formal representations that come closer to human practice, capture more complex geographic concepts, and better match cognitive processes.

At the same time, we cannot disregard current spatial data models, because they underlie current software and much data collection practice. Moreover, each spatial data model may employ different operations or implement different semantics for the same operations, making it difficult for users to perform integrated analysis by migrating across systems and integrating data sets. The most frequently cited example is the raster-vector dichotomy, with associated formalizations of continuous and discrete space and with operations that are largely incompatible. Users who wish to integrate spatial data that were collected in these different data models must be aware of each data set's method of representation; must be familiar with two different software systems to perform analysis; and must go through explicit and tedious raster-to-vector and vector-to-raster conversions to combine data. Frequently a perfect integration is impossible, resulting in loss of semantics and precision. Similar incompatibilities exist among different vector data models, particularly concerning the consistency and robustness of elementary geometric operations such as calculating line intersections. Data transfer standards only partially address the problems of data model incompatibilities as they are concerned only with the translation of data structures and pay no attention to operations (Fegeas et al, 1992). Since the operations, however, capture the essence of the semantics, such translations are mere bit-string conversions, losing the most critical meta-information, namely the operations to perform with the data and their behaviors.

We need more intelligent systems that incorporate knowledge of how to handle geographic data internally, without a need for users to be concerned with different internal representations. A seamless integration requires interoperability of software components. To achieve this goal, we need a better understanding of the different formalisms currently used in different domains, and how one could achieve interoperability, i.e., make different systems work together.

Mathematics and computer science offer a variety of methods to formalize geographic knowledge, but many of them have not yet been broadly applied in geographic information science (Egenhofer and Herring, 1991). While Entity-Relationship diagrams and geo-relational data models are commonplace, more sophisticated mechanisms to capture the characteristics of geographic knowledge, such as multi-sorted algebras and relation algebras, functional languages for algebraic specifications, default reasoning, and fuzzy set theory, have not been used extensively. Such formalizations are interesting in themselves, as they capture aspects of geographic knowledge in an unambiguous way, and studies and comparisons of formalized geographic knowledge form a critical portion of the science of geographic information.

This focus on formalization allows us to embed the techniques of spatial analysis, and their implementation in GIS, within the broader framework of this proposed research. Spatial analysis can be defined as that set of analytic techniques whose results are not invariant under repositioning of the objects of analysis (Goodchild, 1987). As quantitative techniques defined in the language of mathematics, they have been comparatively easy to implement within GIS, so much so that spatial analysis has often been presented as the primary objective of GIS (Cowen, 1987). The same arguments about the interrelationships between the formalisms of representation, semantics, and operations apply to spatial analysis, and support a range of novel approaches to the processing of geographic data. New tools may allow the collectors of geographic data, who may know most about the processes forming the social and physical landscapes, to embed operations such as methods of spatial interpolation or change detection with the data they produce. Because data and operations are no longer separated, semantics become much easier to define, interoperability easier to achieve, and data consequently much easier to share. Moreover the channel of communication between field observer and ultimate user is much more efficient, and effective collaboration much more likely to occur.

In the context of this discussion, the requirement that the techniques of spatial analysis be formal can be seen as a major limitation, since it restricts their domain to the simpler geographic concepts, in yet another instance of the gap between human cognition and current technology. In NCGIA's previous research initiative on GIS and spatial analysis (Fotheringham and Rogerson, 1994) and elsewhere, it has been argued that a new paradigm of exploratory spatial data analysis, focusing on informal, visual exploration of data, hypothesis generation rather than hypothesis testing, and interface designs that achieve a better marriage of intuition with technology, offer a possible solution to the problem. Numerous prototypes have demonstrated the merits of this argument.

One of the strongest arguments for exploratory spatial data analysis rests on the power of the eye-brain system to analyze information when it is presented spatially, to find pattern, and to identify outliers and exceptions. Formal methods of spatial analysis can be used to aid the human system by submitting suspected patterns to more rigorous tests, since intuition is also easily misled. The principle that information is more readily understood when presented spatially, using spatial metaphors, now underlies much of the practice of user interface design, and is regularly applied to the organization and presentation of information that is not normally regarded as spatial or geographic (e.g., Chalmers, 1993). Thus our interest in spatialization, as defined earlier, stems from what we see as a natural extension of geographic information technologies and our interests in spatial cognition. Once again, the implementation of the notion of spatialization within digital technologies depends on our ability to formalize, and thus we expect it to become more useful as the set of implemented concepts is extended.

The setting for implementations is to a large degree driven by the architecture of computer systems. Computer architecture has evolved over the last two decades, and each time a new design surfaced, it enabled users to perform new things in an easier and more intuitive setting. The transition from mainframes with batch processing to workstations and desk-top personal computers enabled the use of tools, as in spatial analysis. The advent of client-server architectures enables users to share data more easily, leading to digital archives such as digital libraries (NSF, 1993). In the future, a peer-to-peer paradigm will stress collaboration and enable scientists to perform much of their work in a new, virtual setting or digital world that will complement the traditional research laboratory.

As scientific research becomes increasingly complex and interdisciplinary, scientists see the need to develop "collaboratories," centers without walls in which "the nations' researchers can perform their research without regard to geographical location--interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources, [and] accessing information in digital libraries." (Information Infrastructure Task Force, 1993)

2.3.3. Geographies of the Information Society

In this section we address research concerned with the impacts of geographic information technologies on individuals, groups, and society as a whole. As in the previous two sections, our purpose is to focus the context of geographic information science by outlining a broad area of interest that will provide a domain for the proposed research; specific topics and timetables are discussed later.

The possession of information, and the ownership or control of the means to produce, distribute, and consume it, have become significant sources of power in human society.

Because it reduces the need for raw materials, labor, time, space, capital, and other inputs, knowledge becomes the ultimate substitute--the central resource of an advanced economy. And as this happens, its values soar. (Toffler and Toffler, 1995, p. 40)
Speculation is rife about the nature and meaning of the information society, not only in the pages of Wired and on the Internet and in books such as Toffler's Third Wave (Toffler, 1980), but also in the pronouncements of our political leaders:
development and distribution of information has now become the central productivity and power activity of the human race. From world financial markets to the worldwide, twenty-four-hour-a-day distribution of news via CNN to the breakthroughs of the biological revolution and their impact on health and agricultural production--on virtually every front we see the information revolution changing the fabric, pace, and substance of our lives. (Gingrich, 1995) It's important in discussing the information age that we discuss not merely technology, but communications. Because from communications comes community. Not long ago, when travel was very difficult, communities were small and communication was personal and direct. It was between families, neighbors, business partners. Then the means of travel improved, moving us all away from each other, and making communication more difficult. Until recently, if an immigrant came to the United States, whether from Russia, or China, or England, it meant saying goodbye to one's parents and never having a conversation with them again. But these days, technology has brought us closer together. (Gore, 1993)
The widespread development and adoption of the geographic information technologies is occurring simultaneously, and many debates about geographic information mirror broader debates about information generally, particularly in areas such as ownership of data and invasion of privacy. In what follows, we repeatedly address the question of whether the geographic context is distinct and unique, and focus as far as possible on topics where the answer is at least in part affirmative.

The information society is different from traditional societies, and particularly in its geographic organization. The ability to communicate with few geographic, economic, physical, or other resource constraints empowers the individual, facilitates the emergence of new invisible communities of interest, and undermines traditional sources of power (Cleveland, 1985). In an agrarian world, power derived from the ownership of land; in the industrial world, from the ownership of the means of production. In the information society, it remains to be seen whether power will derive more from the ownership of information, access to the content, or control of the means to communicate.

Geographic information has been produced for decades by a combination of the military, other government agencies, and the private sector. With the end of the cold war and the shrinking of government, the traditional roles of producer, distributor, and consumer must change. The making of paper maps is no longer likely to be the primary role of national mapping agencies, and they are likely to become less involved in the collection and maintenance of spatial data over time. A 1990 report by the Mapping Science Committee of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that

because the demand for geographic data and base data consistency is so vast, the most important function of the USGS/NMD [National Mapping Division] in the future might be not to produce maps or even digital data, but to act as the interdepartmental administrator of the national geographic data infrastructure. (NRC, 1990)
Similar sentiments appear in a later National Research Council report on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) mapping activities (NRC, 1994a). Increased emphasis on infrastructure, standards, and geographic data sharing in distributed networks is likely.

New, more efficient techniques are emerging for collecting and processing spatial data and for communicating geographic knowledge from the field to the consumer, all driven by the changing economics of information creation, dissemination, and use. The use of geographic information technologies is providing to users substantial economic advantages (e.g., Tetzeli, 1993; Crow, 1994; American City and County, 1995), legal advantages (e.g., Welgan and Gelinas, 1992), and political advantages (e.g., Donovan, 1991; Anthes, 1991). Possession of geographic information has also contributed to military power (Smith, 1992) and even to U.S. western expansion and the political power of the colonizer (Harley, 1989). We need to reflect on the potential significance of technological and institutional changes to the widening or lessening of social and economic gaps in society.

Efforts at the national level to make use of new technologies in improving the way we produce and use geographic information are being coordinated under the banner of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NRC, 1993), and include both the development of new digital data resources, and improvements in the infrastructure for access and sharing. Standards of data format and description are being promoted to make data easier to share (Morrison, 1992, introduces an entire volume on the subject), and to increase interoperability between systems. The world of NSDI, in which everyone can be a producer as well as a consumer, will be very different from the one we are used to, with its linear flow of data from producing agency to consuming public. It will require research to develop measures of fitness for use, based on metrics that take producers' descriptions of data available, and consumers' descriptions of data required, as operands. More profoundly, however, it raises fundamental questions about how information is described between one person and another, and about the processes by which semantic meaning is communicated. Why is the metadata record "Rand McNally Road Atlas" fully adequate to one consumer, and meaningless to another? How can we avoid requiring the elaborate and expensive descriptions that may be essential to one user, and fully superfluous to another?

The ways in which we organize space, and construct communities and geographies, are profoundly influenced by changes in communication technology. Every geography student learns the influence of canals, railroads, and the interstate highway network in the placing of activity on the U.S. landscape. However, if the primary resource of value is information rather than land, labor, or capital, locational choice is driven much more by personal preference. Geographic proximity to traditional resources becomes much less of an issue in locating a site or forming a community. The use of anonymous Internet addresses by certain political groups completes the process by removing even the last clues to geographic location between communicators. "There will be no more `there'--everything will only be `here' " (MCI commercial).

Yet human cognition studies suggest that in order to understand, people need to create organizing "geographies" even when they have been removed by technology. "Cyberspace has a geography, a physics, a nature, and a rule of human law" (Benedikt, 1992, p. 123). Analogies to geographic location must emerge on the net, if only in the minds of its users. How will people conceptualize or spatialize a geography-less net? How significant is the trend to geographically-based Internet addresses (e.g., .us rather than .edu)? What language will emerge to describe virtual location? Will the net provide a unique laboratory for studying human concepts of space removed from geography and traditional distance-based impediments to interaction?

While the amount of digital spatial data collected at the local government level is dramatically increasing, much of it is not entering the public domain (Johnson and Onsrud, 1995). In the U.S., geographic data collected at the federal level has been historically distributed as a public good at the cost of distribution. However, the spatial data collected at local and state government levels increasingly is being burdened by choice with contract, legal, and economic constraints, and there is a tendency by local governments to impose control over subsequent uses of the spatial data. In other countries, even national government data is sold at a price which covers the cost of collection and data management (Rhind, 1992). Is diminution of the spatial information "commons" detrimental or advantageous to the long term economic well-being of the nation? Are small innovative businesses harmed or helped in comparison to large businesses by the practice? Is the trend toward imposition of intellectual property rights in government spatial data detrimental or beneficial to the scientific and teaching communities and to what extent? What are the ramifications in lessening of the "commons" for the sharing of scientific and technical information generally? What are the consequences relative to citizen oversight of government decision making? Observation of the results of the various revenue generation and data distribution approaches currently being used by government agencies in the creation, maintenance, and dissemination of geographic data should provide valuable insights for the sharing of scientific and technical information generally.


3.1. Rationale for a National Research Center

In this section we present both general and particular arguments for the structure within which we propose to conduct this research.

In general, we believe the nature of the proposed research, and the need for related activities in education and outreach, both point logically to the mechanisms available to a research center, rather than to research by individual principal investigators or small groups. First, research that clearly spans the normal boundaries of disciplines requires coordination and mechanisms that foster interaction. Individual PIs are less likely than centers to be willing to invest time and energy in the organization of meetings and other communication mechanisms. Within a center, much of the work associated with such activities can be handled by administrative staff. Second, a center provides focus and visibility to a research enterprise. This may be relatively unimportant to some kinds of research, but in a young multidisciplinary field it can be necessary to ensure coordination; in geographic information science, it is essential if the research community is to communicate effectively with industry and with application communities outside academe. A center can provide stimulus, direction, and leadership, but must be careful at the same time not to stifle or monopolize.

In particular, we propose that this research program be conducted by the three-site consortium of NCGIA. Here we will clearly have to be judged on our track record over the past seven years in making a three-site consortium work as a national center; in providing opportunities to the broader research community; in interacting with industry and application communities; in achieving a balance among the three sites, and a whole that is more than the sum of its three parts; and in providing high leverage and productivity for NSF dollars. We have not documented these at length in this proposal as they are already available in the NCGIA annual reports (NCGIA, 1990 to 1995), but will be happy to do so if requested.

We have considered a range of options, including the deletion of sites. In proposing a continuation of funding to the consortium, we are anxious to reinvent the NCGIA as much as is possible and appropriate, and avoid any sense of continuity for its own sake. We have examined every aspect of the Center's operations, and terminated any that are not absolutely essential to this proposal. The consortium was designed to achieve a degree of balance--regionally, by discipline and field, and in individual strengths--and to maximize leverage of institutional support. This has worked well, and we have concluded that it would make no sense to terminate any site at this time.

We have also given lengthy consideration to the addition of sites. Although many institutions would make attractive new partners, a center with more than three sites could be administratively unwieldy; would increase rather than reduce the fixed costs of running the NCGIA; and might merely duplicate existing strengths. We feel these arguments outweigh any need to fill an identifiable gap in our strengths. Instead, we have helped to sponsor the formation of a University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) over the past three years, as a mechanism for coordinating the national GIS research community. We discuss the relationships between NCGIA and UCGIS at greater length in Section 6.1.

In addition to these arguments, we think it is important to examine the role of centers from an international perspective. A national center provides international visibility to U.S. science in ways that individuals cannot. Since 1988, several countries have created institutions that in one way or another emulate NCGIA. The European Science Foundation's GISDATA program based both its scientific agenda and its mechanisms for achieving progress in part on NCGIA's, and we have recently been asked to help support national research coordination activities in Korea and Italy. From an alternative perspective, in Japan the lack of a critical mass of researchers and the coordination of a national center is particularly apparent as that country continues to lag behind in this field and to lack a significant domestic software industry.

Finally, we believe the relationship between the proposed research program based in a national center and the relevant industrial sector invites comparisons with other center-based activities sponsored by NSF, particularly the Science and Technology Centers.

The centers are useful sources of knowledge and technology because their research focuses on broad industry needs. The pre-competitive research of the centers and accessibility of STC-developed technology to industry creates an accommodating environment for industries to receive knowledge. (NSF, no date)
NCGIA is a hub for scientific research in an area where the U.S. is currently highly competitive, and where a critical mass of fundamental research is needed if that competitiveness is to be sustained.

In summary, we propose to conduct this research within the framework provided by NCGIA. We propose that the Center's mission be to further advance geographic information science and enhance its significance for the information-intensive fields of science, technology, and policy. The objective of the first phase of the Center had been the removal of impediments to the widespread use of GIS; the objective for this second phase is to develop a systematic scientific foundation for the informed, efficient, and socially responsible use of geographic information in an increasingly digital world.

3.2. NCGIA's Research Vehicles

To address specific research questions within the strategic areas identified above, NCGIA will employ several research vehicles as structures for the management and monitoring of research activities. These research vehicles secure the broad involvement of the geographic information science research community in prioritizing research issues and participating in research. The Center has used several of these research vehicles over the past seven years, and they have been refined continuously through peer review.

Several of these research vehicles would be difficult to employ without a center. A center enables a range of research vehicles to be used to address the diverse and multidisciplinary nature of geographic information science. In this section, we describe the main research vehicles that we intend to use during the period covered by this proposal.

3.2.1. Research Initiatives

Research initiatives are multi-year, multi-investigator research projects. In 1988, the NCGIA proposed this as a novel way to maximize research impact and productivity under the constraint of limited resources. Seven years later, this model is well established as a successful way to manage and coordinate research in geographic information science, and aspects of it have been copied by, for example, the GISDATA project of the European Science Foundation. Research initiatives will continue to be the primary research vehicle of the NCGIA.

Each research initiative follows a standard framework. New initiatives arise both from NCGIA personnel and from researchers outside the Center. Brief proposals are examined by NCGIA leaders and members of the NCGIA Board of Directors. If they receive approval in principle, then a more detailed proposal is written and reviewed more rigorously. Approval in detail may follow. Approval initiates a planning phase, after which the research initiative conducts a Specialist Meeting. At this meeting, some 25-45 researchers meet for about three days to identify and prioritize a research agenda for the initiative's topic. Participants normally include U.S.-based academics, plus researchers from U.S. industry and from government agencies. Normally, a few foreign researchers also are included. The agenda developed at the specialist meeting is intended to focus portions of the research community on important yet tractable problems. Researchers from outside NCGIA normally find their own resources in order to conduct some of this research, but may also become Visiting Scholars at NCGIA (see Section 3.2.4). NCGIA researchers, including graduate students, are funded to conduct aspects of the research, and to report results at professional meetings. Research initiatives may conduct in-progress seminars, and organize special sessions at meetings. During the planning and active phases of a research initiative, the leader or leaders of the initiative regularly report activities, plans, and intellectual progress to the NCGIA Board of Directors and the Executive. After 1-2 years of research, the active phase of the initiative is closed, normally by a special national or international conference or by sessions at larger existing conferences. A closing report, including reference to all of the products of the research initiative, is compiled and submitted to the NCGIA Board of Directors. After receiving their approval, the closing report is published by NCGIA in a special publication series. Research almost inevitably leads to the identification of new topics, and outgrowth research may continue long after the closing report has been accepted, continuing in the form of doctoral dissertations, other funded research projects, or in some instances, in proposals for new research initiatives.

3.2.2. Conferences and Workshops

NCGIA organizes conferences and workshops to facilitate discussion of topics that fall outside its active research initiatives. Such meetings fill a variety of roles. In some cases, meetings are held to bring together researchers from previously isolated areas to stimulate collaboration; in others, to explore topics that are speculative or ill-defined but appear to have potential as possible future research initiatives. An NCGIA-sponsored workshop on "Geographic Information and Society", held at Friday Harbor, Washington, late in 1993 led eventually to adoption of NCGIA's Research Initiative 19 (GIS and Society: The Social Implications of How People, Space, and Environment are Represented in GIS). Conferences and workshops also are used to explore research priorities and to inform scientists and engineers from other fields about techniques and theories developed in geographic information science. The conference on "Spatial and Contextual Models of Political Behavior" is an example of this type of activity. Conferences and workshops of this type blur the line between research and outreach activities of the Center, a difference which at times is simply a matter of perspective.

3.2.3. Research Partnerships

Research partnerships represent a new research vehicle for NCGIA. Research partnerships are strategic alliances with other research organizations for specific multi-year research projects. These partnerships are formed to foster collaboration with other organizations leading to research activities that are related to NCGIA's overall mission. They are organized as formal research vehicles in order that the NCGIA Executive and Board will be fully informed of activities being carried out by the Center within these partnerships. While such research activities will normally be funded completely by new grants obtained in collaboration with the partners, the infrastructure of the NCGIA may be used to support both grant development and project management. Research partnerships are not intended to include alliances that provide only infrastructure support such as software or hardware donations.

This vehicle is already being used as the NCGIA cooperates in digital libraries research under Project Alexandria (, and in ecological research through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis ( We are especially interested in mechanisms to foster collaboration with other national centers for research in related areas.

3.2.4. Visiting Scholars Program

The Visiting Scholars Program is intended to extend opportunities for participation in NCGIA research to members of other institutions in the U.S. Visiting scholars spend blocks of time at one or more of the NCGIA sites, and often receive support for their travel and living expenses as well as for the costs of conducting research. They enrich the strength and diversity of the research teams that the Center brings to bear on its research plan, and benefit from their contact with Center researchers and facilities. Their visits may also lead to long term involvement with Center research, or to collaboration that is separately funded.

In 1992, NCGIA formalized its visiting scholars program to provide support for U.S. based researchers, normally from academic institutions. Ideally, visits range from two weeks to a year, and involve the visitors in research on current research initiatives or other research vehicles. The majority of the visiting scholars budget is used to support individuals who have had little or no prior involvement with Center research.

3.3. Management Plan

Our management plan is based on the existing structure of NCGIA, but consciously adopts only those aspects that have been proven to work well and to be absolutely essential, and deletes all other aspects. The existing structure has the benefit of seven years' experience, and has been reviewed and rethought frequently in response both to internal concerns and external assessments.

The Board of Directors has responsibility for general oversight. It meets twice yearly, in December in Santa Barbara and in June alternately in Buffalo and Orono. Meetings last two days, and include a complete review of all aspects of the Center's operations, as well as presentations and demonstrations of locally-based NCGIA research. Board meetings are comparatively expensive, and we have reviewed less costly alternatives, but have decided that the independent review role of the Board is ample justification for the expense; under pessimistic budget scenarios, we would reduce the size of the Board rather than delete it or reduce the frequency of its meetings.

The Board must approve the continuation of each active initiative at each meeting, and gives approval to new initiatives, first in principle and subsequently in detail based on external peer review. Although members of the Board are selected by the Center, they elect their own Chair, and determine their own review procedures. All major issues affecting the Center are referred to the Board for approval. The membership of the Board is drawn from the academic community, private industry, and government agencies, and we propose also to make the President of UCGIS an ex officio member to ensure coordination of activities between the two institutions, in accordance with the discussion in Section 6.1.

The Executive Committee consists of the Director, responsible for overall direction of the Center, Associate Directors responsible for direction at each site, and the Chair of the Science Policy Committee. It meets at least once per month, normally by conference call, and has the primary responsibility for coordination of activities between the three sites. The Executive also makes decisions concerning allocation of funds between sites.

The Science Policy Committee has general responsibility for the scientific direction of the Center. It meets immediately before and after each Board meeting, where it reviews research activities, outreach and education programs, and proposals for visiting scholars, and considers proposals for new initiatives and other Center activities. Its Chair is an ex officio member of the Executive. In the past, membership of the SPC has been based on representation from the three sites. We propose to change this, to strengthen the SPC's ability to review current Center research and to reinforce the commitment of the leaders of Center initiatives to the broader context of Center research. In the proposed phase of Center existence, the SPC's members will be the members of the Executive, and up to two leaders or co-leaders from each of the active Center research initiatives, irrespective of their home institution and whether that institution is a member of the consortium. We see this change achieving several objectives: closer ties between individual investigators and Center scientific direction; better mechanisms to initiate follow-on activities; and healthier competition between the sites for a role in scientific direction.

We have reexamined every aspect of Center administration, and the roles of each staff member, and have deleted several positions that are no longer relevant to the proposed activities. These are reflected in the budget justification.


In this section, we present specific research plans for the 3-year period covered by the current request. The research plan is organized under the research vehicles discussed in the previous section of this proposal.

4.1. NCGIA Research Initiatives, 1997-1999

4.1.1. Research Initiatives: High Priority

Based on recent experience and the requested level of funding, we anticipate beginning two new research initiatives per year. We believe the following five topics are the most appropriate to move our general research strategy forward in a balanced and effective manner, and make the best possible use of the human and financial resources available. Lists of possible non-NCGIA key participants are tentative and many of these people have not yet been contacted regarding their possible participation, nor have they been shown this proposal. They are identified here to demonstrate the kinds of people and disciplines we would involve. Such individuals would be invited to become members of a steering committee, to participate in the specialist meeting and/or to collaborate on Center research. Each proposed initiative will be submitted to the Board for peer review and approval following the procedures described in Section 3.2.1. In addition, if this proposal is funded we will issue an open call for further initiative topics in accordance with the established procedures also outlined in 3.2.1. Access to Spatial Data in Networked Environments

Leaders: Harlan Onsrud (Maine), Jack Estes (UCSB), Hugh Calkins (Buffalo). Other Key Participants: Prue Adler (Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC), Mike Goodchild (UCSB), Terry Smith (UCSB), Gio Wiederhold (Computer Science, Stanford).

To date, research efforts for making spatial data accessible in networked information environments have concentrated primarily on technical problems. With the advent of digital libraries and similar technologies, and their capabilities to account for transactions, there appears to be a predisposition to move away from the "public library model" towards a "bookstore model" as the primary institutional and functional framework. Mechanisms for funding infrastructure and content are critical, and it is important to explore a variety of approaches (e.g., subsidize free access to some or all resources in the public interest, apply cost of dissemination principles to some digital resources such as technical and scientific information produced by government, impose cost recovery limitations on some resources, fund through subscription, etc.). Should an analog to the traditional public library model be retained in our digital future whereby any person (child, scientist, business person, etc.) may browse, study, and borrow resources from the library at no direct cost? What are the ramifications of following this approach versus the alternatives?

The traditional public library model has a number of existing barriers to access such as literacy, transportation, and facility availability. The access barriers of digital worlds will be different and, if not considered early in system design, could be much greater. For example, a digital library may eliminate transportation access barriers of the traditional library by offering 24-hour on-line access. However, it may add new barriers in terms of requiring computer literacy in addition to general literacy, the acquisition of computer hardware and connectivity, and the payment of direct access fees.

This initiative would investigate policy issues related to the creation, use, and dissemination of spatial data in network-based digital worlds. Its objectives would be 1) to advance scientific understanding of public and information policy within digital spatial library and infrastructure environment; 2) to raise the quality and content of the spatial data policy debate by identifying issues in concrete terms with a high degree of specificity; 3) to observe spatial data policies in action in order to explore their effects on public, commercial and government access to spatial data and their ability to allow users to put spatial resources to effective us; 4) to identify emerging problems and conflicts among spatial data policies, information infrastructure policies, and digital library policies in order to address those problems prospectively; 5) to contribute knowledge useful in the improvement of spatial information policy and the formulation of law. This initiative lies at the core of the strategic research areas identified in Section 2.3.3, Geographies of the Information Society. Change Detection - Extension of Geographic Concepts Through Time

Leaders: Dar Roberts (UCSB), Peggy Agouris (Maine), Frank Davis (UCSB). Other Key Participants: Nick Chrisman (Geography, Washington), Jerry Dobson (Oak Ridge), Ron Eastman (Geography, Clark University), Jack Estes (UCSB), Alan Gillespie (Geological Sciences, Washington), Ramakant Nevatia (Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, USC), Anthony Stefanidis (ETH, Zurich), John Townshend (Geography, Maryland).

Simple tools and methodologies for the analysis and interpretation of spatially-referenced time-series data do not currently exist. Questions arise concerning how to compile temporal data, georeference them, integrate them with ancillary information, test their validity, and analyze them. Key scientific questions include how to scale up process-based models, visualize time-series data in a spatial domain, and incorporate contextual information. Strategic and related issues include the examination of a generalized approach to the detection and identification of changes in the human and physical landscapes, smart process models, coherence in space and time, and cognitive issues. Example methodologies include mixed pixels as models of process, trajectories of change, temporal scale variance analysis, and automatic and semi-automatic information-constrained/information-guided feature extraction.

The existence of an extensive historical record of remotely sensed data, and the degree to which these data represent an invaluable record of both natural and anthropogenic change, provide incentives for incorporating temporal analysis into GIS. Through past initiatives the NCGIA has studied related topics, including large spatial databases (5), spatio-temporal reasoning in GIS (10), integration of remote sensing and GIS (12) and multiple roles for GIS in U.S. Global Change Research (15). In this initiative we propose to address directly the problem of how to integrate the temporal dimension into the interpretation and analysis of geographic data and how to develop tools that will facilitate spatial and temporal analysis and visualization within the context of detecting change. A significant effort would be made to relate change to process-based models of social and physical phenomena, thus providing a link to other disciplines in which a knowledge of "why" can be as important as knowing "where" or "what" has changed. To achieve our objectives, we have assembled a group of researchers with diverse backgrounds who are experts in the field of change detection. The initiative's research lies at the core of Section 2.3.2 of our strategic research plan. Spatialization: the Spatial Representation of Non-Spatial Information

Leaders: Helen Couclelis (UCSB), David Mark (Buffalo), Scott Overmyer (Maine). Other Key Participants: Kate Beard (Maine), Babs Buttenfield (Geography, Colorado), Max Egenhofer (Maine), Mike Folk (Supercomputing Center, Illinois), Reg Golledge (UCSB), David Lantrip (Human Factors, PNL), Jack Loomis (UCSB), Dan Montello (UCSB), Kelly Pennock (Computer Science, PNL), researchers from Digital Libraries projects, researchers from MIT Media Lab.

The problems of dealing effectively with massive amounts of information will become increasingly critical as we move deeper into the digital age. Data visualization techniques have proved in practice the power of the human visual-cognitive system to process complex information efficiently and quickly. However, current approaches to the visualization of non-spatial data are limited by a lack of both a systematic theoretical perspective and a rich and coherent set of techniques for the analysis of such information. Geographic information science, as it advances our understanding of basic geographic concepts and their digital representations, and expands the available arsenal of spatial analysis techniques, could provide both these missing dimensions.

The theoretical components of this initiative would address cognitive and linguistic distinctions between geographic and more generally spatial concepts; appropriateness of specific geographic concepts for the representation of non-spatial information; differences in the visual representation of geographic, textual, and numeric information; and dynamics of spatialized information vs. representations of geographic change. The technical components would address the applicability of cartographic principles and techniques to spatialized information; data models and structures; integration of non-spatial and spatial information representations; application to browsing interfaces for digital libraries and Internet front ends; and human subject interpretation of alternative spatializations. The topic is closely related to all three of our strategic areas (geographic concepts, formalization, and information geographies) as well as to the theme of digital worlds. Interpolation in Space and Time

Leaders: Kate Beard (Maine), Cort Wilmott (Geography, Delaware), Joel Michaelsen (UCSB), Ling Bian (Buffalo). Other Key Participants: Noel Cressie (Statistics, Iowa State), Mike Hutchinson (Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University), Helena Mitasova (U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories), Lubos Mitos (National Center for Super Computing Applications, Illinois), Waldo Tobler (UCSB), Grace Wahba (Statistics, Wisconsin).

Information is frequently collected at sample point locations (or profiles) and later converted to representations of complete surfaces or possibly volumes. Many interpolation methods exist for accomplishing this conversion, but the quality of their predictions is uneven and often unsatisfactory. Most incorporate a very simple view of space and little if any notion of spatial processes and their interactions. Many assume space to be uniform and make no adjustments for spatial dependencies. More sophisticated and perhaps domain-specific models of the behavior of phenomena in space and time are needed to generate better approximations. "Intelligent" interpolation must address correlations and autocorrelations in space and time. This initiative would take a fresh look at the theory, implementation, and application of spatial interpolation methods from a perspective of geographic information technology. Issues to be addressed include the generation of probabilistic or stochastic interpolations; interpolations which generate reliability measures as an outcome of the process, and the impact of such measures on geographic analysis and decision-making; interpolations which use correlation structures with other variables as the basis for prediction; interpolation which accommodates sample observations with heterogeneous quality; robust interpolation for spherical and spheroidal surfaces; interpolations which can accommodate discontinuities; interpolation in space and time; generation of localized updates in surfaces; and the integration of dynamic process models with interpolation. One of our subsidiary objectives in proposing this initiative is to achieve a greater degree of cross-fertilization between the GIS, geostatistics, and spatial statistics communities. The initiative addresses issues raised in Section 2.3.2 of our strategic research agenda. Spatial Constraints

Leaders: Dimitris Papadias (Maine), Rick Church (UCSB), Rajan Batta (Buffalo), Max Egenhofer (Maine). Other Key Participants: Alexander Brodsky (Computer Science, George Mason), Andrew Frank (Geoinformation, TU Vienna), Janice Glasgow (Computer Science, Queen's University), Daniel Hernández (Computer Science, Munich), Stephen Hirtle (Information Science, Pittsburgh), Paris Kanellakis (Computer Science, Brown University), David Mark (Buffalo), Christos Papadimitriou (Computer Science, UC Berkeley), Barbara Tversky (Psychology, Stanford), Victor Vianu (Computer Science, UC San Diego).

The qualitative representation and processing of spatial knowledge using constraints is becoming very important for GIS, Spatial, Image, and Multimedia Databases as an alternative to traditional, map-based approaches to computational geography. So far the work on spatial constraints has followed two mostly independent directions. On the one hand, the GIS community has focused on representation and cognitive issues. As a result a number of formalisms for spatial relations have been proposed to capture human performance on spatial reasoning. On the other side, the Computer Science community has concentrated on the computational complexity of spatial constraint satisfaction algorithms and the expressibility of spatial query languages. In the application domain, where such methods are designed to solve problems ranging from spatial search for facility locations to site suitability analyses, the dominant paradigm stresses optimization over constrained solution spaces. The objective of this initiative is to bridge the gap between these groups of researchers and research paradigms, within the context of GIS. The interaction between the experts in the application domain (Geographers, Cognitive Scientists, etc.), and the tool experts is expected to lead to powerful spatial models that capture domain requirements, efficient algorithms that detect inconsistencies and infer implicit spatial information, and expressive query languages that correspond to user intuitions. Given the amount of work in temporal constraints and the extensive application of the theoretical results to temporal databases, we believe that research results on spatial constraints will find new application domains ranging from GIS to Robot Navigation, and from Multimedia Databases to Computer Vision. Specific objectives of the initiative are 1) to identify formal sets of spatial relations that are cognitively plausible and suitable for efficient reasoning; 2) to investigate tractable subclasses of spatial relation algebras; 3) integration of spatial constraints into spatial query languages, GIS architectures, and design of DBMS; and 4) to study the complexity of spatial constraint-satisfaction problems. With its stress on formalization of geographic concepts, the proposed agenda falls within the subject matter of Section 2.3.2.

4.1.2. Research Initiatives: Lower Priority

Besides the five proposed initiatives described in Section 4.1.2, we have developed initial ideas for several more. Depending on research progress over the next few years, it is possible that one or more of these will be merged with or replace one or more of the five, or that new ideas will be developed and submitted for approval. At this time, we have outline plans for initiatives on: Formal Concepts of Geographic Detail

Leaders: R. Golledge (UCSB), Terry Smith (UCSB), Dan Montello (UCSB). Other Key Participants: Mark Armstrong (Geography, Iowa), Jim Blaut (Chicago Circle, Illinois), Barbara Buttenfield (Geography, Colorado), Lawrence Carstensen Jr. (Geography, VPI), Max Egenhofer (Maine), Art Getis (Geography, SDSU), John C. Hudson (Geography Program, Northwestern), Mark Kumler (Geography, Colorado), David Mark (Buffalo), Robert McMaster (Geography, Minnesota), Barbara Tversky (Psychology, Stanford), Waldo Tobler (Geography, UCSB).

Degree of geographic detail is one of the poorest understood and most confusing of the fundamental geographic concepts that underlie our proposed research. "Scale", although often used ambiguously and poorly defined, is nevertheless an important component of naive geography, which assumes that "scale matters". If this is so, do certain spatial processes suddenly come into existence at some specific scale? Are they not present at micro-levels (larger scales)? Do all spatial processes have an emergence threshold, or are spatial and geographic processes really scale invariant but ignored as larger and larger scales (i.e. smaller and smaller areas) are examined? How do we rationalize the different uses of the term (e.g., in cartography versus natural language)? Is scale more important in the physical domain than in the human? Are spatial cognitive processes scale dependent? What scales of representation lend themselves most to visualization, and to other forms of representation? How does a scale change influence granularity or clarity of data? Does a change in scale involve loss of original structure and emergence of "artificial" structure or patterns? To what extent is scale at the crux of traditional geographic arguments of form versus process?

As society makes the transition to digital worlds, associated metaphors for geographic detail are likely to change also. Metric scale or representative fraction, the measure of geographic detail dominant in the cartographic world, has no well-defined meaning in a digital world of seamless perspectives on geography in which the user is free to zoom and pan at will. Other metaphors, such as the view from space, may replace metric scale with less familiar dimensions such as the distance of the viewpoint from Earth, as they do in Microsoft's new Encarta Atlas. This suggests two fundamental objectives for this initiative, in addition to those identified earlier: 1) can we identify the fundamental, invariant dimensions of the concept of geographic detail that survive the transition from analog to digital, and 2) can we identify the mapping between these dimensions and the terms and metaphors commonly used in naive geography? Accuracy Analysis and Validation of Spatial Data

Leaders: Jack Estes (UCSB), Alan Strahler (Geography, Boston), Michael Goodchild (UCSB). Other Key Participants: Alan Belward (JRC, Ispra), Greg Biging (UC Berkeley), Robert Chen (CIESIN), Peter Fisher (Geography, Leicester, UK), Thomas Loveland (EDC, USGS), William Rossow (NASA), John Townshend (Geography, Maryland), Howard Veregin (Geography, Minnesota).

The widespread and rapidly increasing use of the Internet and associated tools to share and exchange data is leading quickly to a situation in which anyone with access to the net is a potential publisher of data, and traditional mechanisms that have assured quality are no longer effective. We need to think clearly and deeply about this crisis of authentication, and the appropriate techniques, institutions, and arrangements that can address it. Nowhere is this more important than in exchange of global environmental data for purposes of research and policy development.

The motivation for this proposed initiative derives in part from the extensive demand for geographic data in support of global ecological and chemical cycle modeling, which in turn allow us to measure, monitor, and predict critical physical and biological processes and environmental changes in the Earth's environmental system. In the past these data have been spatially and temporally incomplete, inadequate and inaccurate. To overcome these shortcomings, efforts are ongoing among international scientific organizations to provide timely, comprehensive, and accurate global scale land cover and vegetation datasets. The most important of these are derived from satellite imaging systems, including meteorological sensors such as AVHRR.

In this new initiative, we propose to build on previous research, which has focused on the development of error models and visualization of uncertainty, within the new context of electronic data sharing and exchange. Specific issues to be addressed include development of measures of accuracy that are appropriate for each major class of geographic information, readily and economically assessed, easily represented and communicated, and meaningful to potential users; evaluation of new institutional arrangements that can provide quality assurance mechanisms in emerging digital worlds; and development of methods for data registration, fusion, and conflation that allow information to be merged successfully.

4.1.3. On-going Research Initiatives

At time of writing (November, 1995) NCGIA had five research initiatives under way. Although the research agenda we propose here for 1997-99 is radically different from NCGIA's current agenda, there are almost inevitably areas of overlap. Thus for scientific reasons, and also in the interests of continuity, we propose to continue two of these beyond December 31, 1996, and to allocate funds to them from this new request. In addition, we propose to proceed with two new initiatives that have already received approval in principle from the NCGIA Board of Directors, and strongly reflect our new research agenda. The four ongoing initiatives are: Initiative 17: Collaborative Spatial Decision-Making.

This initiative held its specialist meeting in Santa Barbara, CA, September 16-19, 1995. It is being led by Paul Densham (Buffalo, and University of London), Marc Armstrong (University of Iowa), and Karen Kemp (UCSB). It will be one of our active initiatives in the first year of the period covered by this request, and will likely be closed in late 1997 or 1998. Its major objectives are to 1) examine the body of theory on the design, implementation, and use of computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) environments, and evaluate their utility for GIS/GIA; 2) identify impediments to the development of highly interactive, group- based spatial modeling and decision- making environments; 3) develop methods for eliciting, capturing and manipulating knowledge bases that support individual and collective development of alternative solutions to spatial problems; 4) develop methods for supporting collaborative spatial decision- making (CSDM), including methods for managing spatial models; 5) extend capabilities for supporting multicriteria decision- making in interactive, CSDM environments; and 6) characterize CSDM processes to understand how CSDM technology is and potentially can be used in various CSDM subject domains. While the concerns of this initiative are not central to our new research agenda, they overlap with some of the issues raised in Section 2.3.3, where the impact of digital worlds on the process of geographic decision-making is of interest." Initiative 19: The Social Implications of How People, Space, and Environment are Represented in GIS

This initiative was approved in 1995 and will hold its specialist meeting in early 1996 in Minnesota. It represents a departure from past practice as it is the first NCGIA initiative led entirely from outside the three Center institutions. It will likely require funding through 1997 and possibly into 1998. The co-leaders of the Initiative are Trevor Harris and Dan Weiner, both of West Virginia University. They are joined on the core planning group by Helen Couclelis (UCSB), Michael Curry (UCLA), David Mark (Buffalo), Bob McMaster (Minnesota), John Pickles (Kentucky), and Eric Sheppard (Minnesota). Its major goals are 1) to examine how data availability and visualization techniques influence the ways in which natural resources and society are represented in GIS; 2) to examine what limits to representation may be intrinsic to the logic of GIS; 3) to determine how the representations of environment and society in GIS influence the questions posed, and solutions proposed in practical applications; 4) to determine whether and how the knowledge, views, and needs of those affected by the application of GIS can be represented adequately in conflictual social situations where GIS is used as a decision- making tool; 5) to examine to what degree new functionalities of GIS may allow limits of current representations to be extended; 6) to investigate the degree to which the application of GIS can be democratized by placing the technology in the hands of a broader spectrum of society; 7) to investigate (drawing on Initiative 16: Law, Information Policy, and Spatial Databases) the ethical and legal implications of pursuing objectives 1- 6; concentrating specifically on issues of ethics, democratization, social differentiation, local empowerment or disempowerment, and the potentially conflictual nature of GIS in decision- making, so as not to duplicate the efforts of I- 16. With its focus on the implications of GIS representations, this initiative speaks directly to the issues raised in our proposed research agenda in Sections 2.3.2 and 2.3.3. Interoperating GISs

Approval in principle was given by the NCGIA Board of Directors in June, 1995 for a new initiative in the area of GIS interoperability, and a full request for approval in detail will be submitted in December 1995. If approved, we intend to start this effort in 1996 and to continue it through 1998. It will be led by Max Egenhofer (Maine) and Michael Goodchild (UCSB), and will focus on the basic research needed to achieve interoperability between GISs, and thus improve access to software and data. It will be closely coordinated with the "Open GIS" activities, and the development of the Open Geodata Interoperability Specification. A preliminary workshop was held in Portland, Maine in August 1995 in connection with the Symposium on Spatial Databases, SSD 95. The objectives of the initiative are 1) to compare different alternatives to current GIS architectures that would allow for open, distributed access to geographic information; 2) to develop new methodologies (in addition to conventional data exchange standards, metadata, and data dictionaries) that will better capture the semantics and linguistic/cultural particulars of geographic information; 3) to design abstract, high-level spatial data models and process models, suitable for an open architecture, using selected geographic data types; 4) to study the properties of operations on geographic data and evaluate their performance through cost models in a distributed/modular environment; 5) to examine how an open GIS architecture will make the use of GIS easier for scientists. Although this initiative was initiated before this proposal was written, its agenda addresses directly many of the issues raised in Section 2.3.2, and we therefore feel it is appropriate to give it high priority in the period covered by this request. Formal Models of the Common-Sense Geographic World

This Research Initiative, led by David Mark (Buffalo) and Max Egenhofer (Maine), was approved in principle by the NCGIA Board of Directors in June, 1995, and is being submitted for approval in detail in December, 1995. Its specialist meeting is scheduled for late 1996, and therefore it will require funding as an active research initiative during the period covered by this proposal. Its preliminary objectives are 1) to identify basic elements of common-sense conceptualizations of geographic space, entities, and processes, and develop an integrating framework; and 2) to investigate GIS users' reactions to intuitive geographic inferences, and compare inferences with the results obtained with current GIS technology. These two objectives will be mutually supportive only if they are closely integrated to ensure that mathematically sound models are tested, and that results from tests are brought back to refine the models. The goal is two-fold: (1) to get a better understanding of how people handle their environments, and (2) to incorporate naive geographic knowledge and reasoning into GISs. If GISs can achieve geographic reasoning in a manner similar to a human expert, these systems will be much more valuable tools for a large range of users, such as family members planning their upcoming vacation trip, scientists analyzing their data collections, or business people investigating how their organizations have performed in various geographic markets. The broader context of this initiative was established in Section 2.3.1.

4.1.4. Initiative Timetable

The precise timetable of initiatives is difficult to establish at this time, as it depends on the process of peer review and approval by the NCGIA Board, as well as on the availability of resources. The previous sections described a total of 11 possible initiatives, of which two are already under way and two have received outline approval. A reasonable expectation would be that a further five or six might be started in the period covered by this request.

4.2. NCGIA Research Partnerships, 1997-1999

In examining how NCGIA might best move its research agenda forward, we have seen increasing opportunities in recent years for a new type of research vehicle that accommodates and manages collaboration between NCGIA and similar major research projects and centers. We term such collaborations research partnerships, and propose to give increasing emphasis to them in the period covered by this request. Two such partnerships are already in place, and we describe them in the following sections, along with speculation about other partnerships that may materialize in the next few years.

4.2.1. The Alexandria Digital Library

In October 1994 UCSB was awarded one of six projects funded under the Digital Libraries Initiative of NSF, ARPA, and NASA. The project, known as the Alexandria Digital Library (ADL;, is undertaking the necessary basic research and developing prototype technology for a digital library for spatial and spatially referenced objects, including maps, images, and atlases, but also any object in a library collection with a defined geographic footprint. A first standalone "rapid prototype" was developed by March, 1995, and is being distributed on CD. A second prototype implementation on WWW is due for release in November, 1995. The two primary objectives of ADL are to achieve a dramatic improvement in the accessibility and ease of use of spatially referenced materials by building a digital library facility that allows information to be accessed and retrieved over the net; and to exploit the potential of geography as an indexing and access mechanism that is potentially as powerful as the traditional subject, author, and title.

The project is centered in the Map and Imagery Laboratory of the UCSB Library, and includes many faculty from the departments of Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Geography. All three of the NCGIA sites are participating. The partnership between NCGIA and ADL includes collaboration in research initiatives, such as the currently active I16 on law and spatial information policy and the proposed research initiatives on access and accuracy assessment.

4.2.2. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

The establishment of a National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara ( was announced by NSF in June, 1995, as a focal point for collaboration between the nation's ecologists. The successful proposal emphasized the potential for collaboration with NCGIA, in which ecology would provide a large and well-defined domain for the development and application of geographic information and analysis; and in which NCGIA would support the use of geographic information technologies at NCEAS through mechanisms such as training programs and jointly sponsored workshops. We see NCEAS as a model for other partnerships with domain-specific research groups, reflecting the increasing interest within the GIS community in the issues raised by adoption and application in specialized domains.

4.2.3. Other Examples

In the near future, we will be exploring the potential for similar research partnerships in the area of human capital research, and with newly established NSF research centers in environmental decision-making and in human dimensions of global change. Many other opportunities exist, but there is clearly a limit to the number of such partnerships that can be effectively serviced by NCGIA given its limited resources.

4.3. NCGIA Conferences and Workshops, 1997-1999

Conferences and workshops provide another vehicle for advancing our research agenda, particularly in cases where it is important to bring apparently isolated research communities together, or to explore risky but potentially productive new topics. The following sections outline preliminary plans for conferences that we would propose to the NCGIA Board of Directors to be held during the period covered by this request.

4.3.1 Geographic Information and the Geographies of the Information Society

All around the world, urban and regional structures are changing faster and perhaps more fundamentally than ever before under the combined effects of new transportation, communication, and information technologies, and the profound economic and societal transformations these bring in their wake. While physical distance has lost much of its explanatory power on the "shrinking globe", other aspects of geography have become more prominent as even small and temporary local advantages can now be quickly exploited by the flexible socioeconomic structures enabled by these new technologies. In the words of P L Knox, "the urban system is becoming a continuously variable geometry of capital, management, production, and consumption".

Geographic information systems are a small but potentially important part of the complex of technologies responsible for these developments. At the same time, geographic information science, in its ability to combine the locally and temporally particular with rigorous general geographic principles, has a definite advantage over more traditional approaches and techniques as an analysis and planning tool for dealing with these changes. This conference will explore the ways in which geographic information may both contribute to, and help understand and plan for, the new geographies emerging from the information society. More specifically, it will address the following broad questions: (a) In what ways will the wide availability and use of GIS affect spatial patterns of service consumption and delivery, and business structure and location? and (b), What new models, data gathering and dissemination practices, and organizational structures will maximize the potential of geographic information science to understand and serve tomorrow's geographies of the information society?

4.3.2 Information Technologies for Next-Generation GISs

New information technologies are being developed at a very fast pace, and by now we have become used to the release of a new generation of faster and more powerful computer hardware every twelve to eighteen months. For the design of GIS software, it becomes increasingly important to predict what technological changes may happen in the future in order to anticipate how these changes will affect the design of the next generation of GI systems. Current GISs were designed for workstations with direct-manipulation desktops, a technology that is 15 years old, but the constraints these technologies put onto GISs differ considerably from what we may see in the near future. The critical changes will not be in quantitative improvements of processor speed and storage size, but in qualitative aspects, those which give GIS users--scientists as well as lay persons--opportunities to perform their work in ways they had not considered before. It is quite conceivable that in the future all portable computers will be equipped with a GPS receiver and a cellular phone, giving rise to tremendous opportunities for innovative and enabling applications. Other new information technologies at the horizon are wireless computing networks with transfer rates of 2 gigabits per second or more which will enable mobile GISs with permanent network connectivity; very large screens ("Digital Walls") which will empower planners to a new style of interaction and collaboration; innovative multi-modal interaction styles and virtual worlds which may replace in many cases the users' needs for physical presence in order to make a realistic on-site analysis; and main-memory GISs with gigabytes of RAM which will provide the necessary performance for access to massive geographic data sets.

We propose to bring GIS researchers and designers together with leading researchers from MIT's Media Lab, the telecommunication providers (AT&T and MCI), Bellcore, and innovating computer companies (Xerox, Apple) to explore technological opportunities for GIS-like applications and to assess their influence on the design of GIS software. The conference on Information Technologies for Next-Generation GISs will investigate how GIS design changes under such new settings. Specifically, we will focus on truly mobile GISs, and multi-modal (voice, graphic, gesture) interactions with GISs on large-scale screens. It is critical at this stage of the development of new information technologies to make this assessment in order to open investigations of those scientific questions that are relevant to such new technologies.

4.3.3 Object Models and GIS Applications

We commonly encounter GIS applications that are strongly motivated by the need for rapid decisions; fall into the general area of environmental science; involve multiple, poorly-defined and not easily characterized environmental processes operating at multiple scales; and for which the supplies of data are very uneven. Since we cannot expect science to provide a complete set of well-defined process models for such problems, their solution could benefit from an alternative approach. This workshop will investigate the appropriateness of geographic information science as a paradigm for solution of such problems.

Specifically, we propose to bring together a small group of application custodians, together with specialists in geographic data modeling and object-oriented modeling systems, to explore the development of semi-formal techniques for addressing a series of fundamental questions relevant to these applications: 1) what methods exist or can be devised for characterizing appropriate primitive spatial objects and spatial discretizations; 2) what methods are appropriate for capturing knowledge and speculation about processes of interaction among objects; 3) how can the results of such approaches be validated? We believe answers to these questions can provide a useful set of guidelines and frameworks for these problems. We see this as a suitable subject for a workshop rather than a research initiative because of its comparative risk, although the results could be very stimulating. Key participants in organizing the workshop will be Hugo Loaiciga and Terry Smith (UCSB).


We propose several educational activities, each related to the ability of a center to extend beyond the actual conduct of research to the transfer of its results to the broader community, and to enhance the investment in the development of human resources at all levels. Education and training are significant components in the research partnerships discussed above, and of NCGIA-sponsored conferences. Much of the core NCGIA funding goes to graduate student support, and we emphasize graduate student participation in conferences and workshops. We are particularly interested in the potential of digital worlds for increasing diversity.

We propose to conduct a series of annual Summer Institutes for Young Scholars. NCGIA initiated this series in 1994 in Santa Barbara, offering an intensive one-week institute that combined presentations of NCGIA and other recent research with demonstrations, presentations by participants on their own areas of interest, and open discussions. A similar format was used for the 1995 institute offered jointly with the European Science Foundation's GISDATA program, with participation by equal groups of young scholars from the U.S. and Europe, and with supplementary funding from NSF. The 1995 institute was held in Wolfe's Neck, Maine, and will be repeated with new participants in Berlin in 1996. With the end of the GISDATA joint program we propose to continue the series, with emphasis on building the human resource base of young scholars in geographic information science, at a variety of U.S. locations, and with limited international participation by both young scholars and experts.

We propose also to sponsor summer workshops for K-12 teachers which are designed to explore roles for geographic information science in the curriculum. We have held such workshops and supported related activities for K-12 teachers and students at all three NCGIA sites and published supporting materials. In this program we will continue to collaborate with relevant groups such as the state Geographic Alliances, the National Council for Geographic Education, and state and local education agencies.

We propose also to offer workshops and general presentations on appropriate topics at a variety of conferences. These help to draw attention to the Center's activities, to focus attention in the broader community to the importance of research and of recent research results and developments, and to provide useful feedback from a broadly based community defined by its interest in geographic information technologies and their applications. In most cases these require no use of Center resources other than the time of the individuals involved.

As a focus for GIS research in the U.S., the Center now has the opportunity to support a number of related educational activities initiated independently from the NCGIA, but which will benefit from our intellectual input. We have been asked to feed our basic research results into the education program being developed by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. At Santa Barbara, Prof. Leal Mertes is collaborating with colleagues at the University of Paris to develop a multi-media course on "Computational Methods for Watershed Analysis" which will involve a large element of GIS and remote sensing theory. NCGIA will provide consultative support to this multiyear project. Many similar projects and opportunities for collaboration on educational activities exist.

In summary, we propose to support several activities directed to the development of human resources, and believe that such activities are a valuable contribution for a center. However, many are self-funding, and we are not proposing any new activities with significant demand on the resources requested in this proposal.


In addition to involving the broader academic community in the research activities detailed above and in the management of the Center as outlined in the next section, we will expand several current means of communication with the general research community and add others. NCGIA will continue to publish its technical report series and the semi-annual newsletter but will move these to a new electronic format in addition to their current paper and electronic forms.

Over the past two years the NCGIA has strongly supported and promoted the creation of a national coalition that would foster greater involvement of increased numbers of researchers in advancing geographic information science. The University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) has now been created and has started to take a leadership role in promoting the interests of the academic and research communities.

Membership in UCGIS is open to academic and research organizations and institutions with programs and missions consistent with the purposes of the organizations' goals and may include colleges and universities, federally funded research and development centers, membership organizations, and other nonprofit organizations. The mission of UCGIS is to 1) serve as a unified and effective voice for the geographic information science research community; 2) foster multidisciplinary research and education in geographic information science; and 3) promote the informed and responsible use of geographic information systems and geographic analysis for the benefit of society. The goals of UCGIS are to 1) provide ongoing research priorities for advancing theories and methods in geographic information science; 2) assess the current and potential contributions of GIS to national scientific and public policy issues; 3) expand and strengthen geographic information science education at all levels; 4) promote the ethical use of and access to geographic information; 5) provide an organizational infrastructure to foster collaborative interdisciplinary research in geographic information science; and 6) foster geographic information and analysis in support of national needs.

All three NCGIA universities are now members of UCGIS and we see the goals and missions of UCGIS and the NCGIA to be highly complementary. To enhance communications among UCGIS and NCGIA, the elected president of UCGIS will be asked to sit as an ex-officio member of the NCGIA Board and attend the semi-annual board meetings.

To top of this file
Back to Table of Contents
Back to Main Page

Last updated March 7, 2001
Comments? Please contact: