Social Power and GIS Technology: A Review and Assessment of Approaches for Natural Resource Management

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Volume 99, Issue 2 April 2009 , pages 254 – 272

Dawn J. Wright; Sally L. Duncan; and Denise Lach

“Geographic information system (GIS) technology fundamentally changes how information is viewed, literally, for its maps and databases contain uncertainty, assumptions, privileged knowledge, and story-making power, along with unintended social consequences. This article hypothesizes that the introduction of GIS into the public participation process in natural resource management blurs the boundaries between science and nonscience, requiring a revision of the way we think about, learn from, and use maps for environmental decision-making. This may lend a degree of “social power” to nonscientists in the form of providing improved access to data and maps, and along with it the resulting expression of community needs, priorities, and goals, with perhaps the “power” to influence policy and management decisions. A case study from western Oregon forest management provides context and practical examples. We consider, through a broad conceptual discussion, how GIS technology might contribute to, or detract from, confrontational environmental policy discussions, in particular the process of designing and structuring decision problems. In natural resource management this has tended to be a largely science-driven exercise at the expense of input from nonscientific stakeholders. Our case study findings suggest that using GIS can, with time, open the door to making environmental assessments more collaborative, story-making processes, with implications for natural resource management of many kinds. Although epistemological and power differences between scientists and lay audiences remain, they can be offset through various kinds of collaboration. Such efforts could contribute to a new phase in technology diffusion that we call development of faith.”

Richard Saul Wurman to Keynote ESRI International User Conference

Wurman, Who Coined the Term “Information Architect,” Will Discuss 19.20.21 and GIS Technology

When Richard Saul Wurman published his first book in 1962 at age 26, he began the singular passion of his life: making difficult information easily understandable. Wurman, now a prolific author and creator of the TED (technology/entertainment/design) conferences, will speak at the 2010 ESRI International User Conference (ESRI UC) in July. He will discuss his latest project, called 19.20.21, and how geographic information system (GIS) technology plays a part in it.

Wurman’s 19.20.21 project is an attempt to understand comparative data on 19 cities that will have 20 million or more inhabitants in the twenty-first century. With the majority of the earth’s population now living in cities, Wurman saw there was a need to address an information gap about the urban supercenters driving modern culture.

“It’s a unique calling to be able to elucidate the world’s more complicated subject matter,” said ESRI president Jack Dangermond. “We are extremely honored to have Richard Saul Wurman join us as a keynote speaker at the ESRI UC this year, and we look forward to hearing what he has to say about GIS and 19.20.21.”

Wurman likes to say that all his work springs from the same place—his ignorance. Starting with his first book, which features models of 50 cities on a uniform scale, each of Wurman’s 82 books focuses on a topic he’d had difficulty understanding. With driving curiosity, Wurman seeks ways to make the complex clear. He has written about subjects and ideas ranging from football to health care.

Wurman’s achievements over the last half-century include his best-selling book Information Anxiety and his award-winning ACCESS city guides. Described by Fortune magazine as an “intellectual hedonist with a hummingbird mind,” Wurman also launched the first TED conference in 1984; he brought together America’s clearest thinkers in technology, entertainment, and design to enlist others in educating the public.

In addition to Wurman’s address during the ESRI UC Plenary Session, the 19.20.21 project will be featured in the conference’s special displays. The ESRI UC is the world’s largest GIS event. The thirtieth annual conference will return to the San Diego Convention Center in California July 12–16. The gathering draws thousands of professionals from across the globe who want to learn, collaborate, and explore the latest developments in GIS. The theme this year is Geography—Opening the World to Everyone. To learn more about the ESRI UC and to register, visit

[Source: ESRI press release]

State-dependent Bayesian Foraging on Spatially Autocorrelated Food Distributions

Oikos, Volume 119, Issue 2, Date: February 2010, Pages: 237-244

Jan A. van Gils

“When prey are cryptic and are distributed in discrete clumps (patches), Bayesian foragers revise their prior expectation about a patch’s prey density by using their foraging success in the patch as a source of information. Prey densities are often spatially autocorrelated, meaning that rich patches are often surrounded by other rich patches, while poor patches are often in the midst of other poor patches. In that case, foraging success is informative about prey densities in the current patch and in the surrounding patches. In a spatially explicit environment where prey are cryptic and their densities autocorrelated, I modelled two types of Bayesian foragers that aim to maximize their survival rate: (1) the spatially ignorant forager which does not take account of the spatial structure in its food supply and (2) the spatially informed forager which does take this into account. Not surprisingly, the spatially informed forager has a higher survivorship than the spatially ignorant forager, simply because it is able to obtain more reliable prey density estimates than the spatially ignorant forager. Surprisingly though, the emerging policy used by the spatially informed forager is to leave patches at a lower (expected) giving-up density (GUD) the further away from its latest prey capture. This is because this forager is willing to wait for good news: a prey capture far from the latest prey capture drastically changes the forager’s expectations about prey densities in the patches that it will exploit in the near future, whereas a prey capture near its latest prey capture hardly affects these expectations. Thus, by sacrificing current intake rate for information gain, the spatially informed forager ultimately maximizes its long-term pay-off. Finally, as the value of food is less the more energy is stored, both types make state-dependent giving-up decisions: the higher their energy store levels, the higher their GUDs.”

Access to World’s Geological Data Improved with ArcGIS Server Technology

ESRI’s GIS Software Grant Advances OneGeology Data-Sharing Aspirations

OneGeology, a global initiative to improve the accessibility of geological map data, will be increasing its capabilities by expanding the use of geographic information system (GIS) technology from ESRI. The 116 nations that participate in the program will benefit from the latest ArcGIS Server Geoportal extension technology (formerly GIS Portal Toolkit) because more of their data will become available on the OneGeology geospatial portal.

OneGeology is a distributed Web service that uses national geological data servers around the world. The data is interoperable, and clients can easily access the data layers for free and pull them into their own projects. The program is a voluntary collaboration that is absolutely dependent on data and support from around the world.

ESRI is now fully supporting this collaborative endeavor by providing a GIS technology and support grant that will improve the Web mapping service capabilities of the participating geological survey organizations. Participants and users will find a richer GIS experience for publishing and using the data.

“It is vital for countries to have an infrastructure to easily share their geological information,” says Jack Dangermond, ESRI president. “ESRI supports the OneGeology program, and we are encouraged to see the high level of participation by geological survey organizations. The availability of shared geological data and maps will open new opportunities for countries to work together more closely, whether it is for science, disaster management, or natural resource development.”

Initiated in 2006 and launched in 2008, the OneGeology program is coordinated by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the portal infrastructure is provided by the French Geological Survey (BRGM). Nearly every country in the world has a geological survey, some of which are among the oldest scientific organizations in existence. Until recently, this vast amount of data has often been hard to manage, locate, and share. OneGeology now makes geological data from across the globe available at a scale of 1:1 million, and in some countries, data at scales of 1:50,000 is becoming accessible.

“ESRI’s OneGeology grant will make it easier for countries that have been limited by their resources and current GIS infrastructure to have the technology to develop their own Web mapping services that can contribute to our portal,” notes Ian Jackson, BSG operations director and OneGeology coordinator. “The grant will move us toward having a genuinely dynamic and comprehensive portal. It will provide up-to-date information that can be accessed and consumed by a host of sectors in the international community.”

Geological survey organizations that are interested in participating in the grant program should contact their local ESRI distributor. To find an ESRI distributor go to

[Source: ESRI press release]

Confidence Maps: a Tool to Evaluate Archaeological Data’s Relevance in Spatial Analysis

Layers of Perception, Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Berlin, Germany, April 2–6, 2007

Krištof Oštir, Žiga Kokalj, Laure Saligny, Florian Tolle, and Laure Nuninger, with the collaboration of Françoise Pennors and Klemen Zakšek

“Inventory data used in archaeology is often incomplete and heterogeneous. In the framework of the ArchaeDyn program, a method has been proposed to evaluate heterogeneity in archaeological inventories. The purpose of this work is to create a validation tool to interpret the results. This tool is called a “confidence map” and is produced by combining representation and reliability maps. The first step consists of generating representation maps to describe the clustering of archaeological items. The second step is based on reliability maps. Data providers are asked to define and outline the level of reliability of their data. Then the representation and reliability layers are combined using map algebra. The resulting maps allow for the comparison and analysis of data confidence.”

Event Detection from Flickr Data through Wavelet-based Spatial Analysis

Proceeding of the 18th ACM conference on Information and Knowledge Management

Ling Chen and Abhishek Roy

“Detecting events from web resources has attracted increasing research interests in recent years. Our focus in this paper is to detect events from photos on Flickr, an Internet image community website. The results can be used to facilitate user searching and browsing photos by events. The problem is challenging considering: (1) Flickr data is noisy, because there are photos unrelated to real-world events; (2) It is not easy to capture the content of photos. This paper presents our effort in detecting events from Flickr photos by exploiting the tags supplied by users to annotate photos. In particular, the temporal and locational distributions of tag usage are analyzed in the first place, where a wavelet transform is employed to suppress noise. Then, we identify tags related with events, and further distinguish between tags of aperiodic events and those of periodic events. Afterwards, event-related tags are clustered such that each cluster, representing an event, consists of tags with similar temporal and locational distribution patterns as well as with similar associated photos. Finally, for each tag cluster, photos corresponding to the represented event are extracted. We evaluate the performance of our approach using a set of real data collected from Flickr. The experimental results demonstrate that our approach is effective in detecting events from the Flickr photo collection.”

Nominations for Global Citizen Award of the GSDI Association

The GSDI Association desires to receive nominations to recognize globally an individual who has provided exemplary thought leadership and substantive worldwide contributions in (1) promoting informed and responsible use of geographic information and geospatial technologies for the benefit of society and/or (2) fostering spatial data infrastructure developments that support sustainable social, economic, and environmental systems integrated from local to global scales.

Eligibility: The candidate pool includes all persons meeting the criteria and nominations may come from any source.

Process: Nominations are accepted prior to each major global conference of the GSDI Association. The nominations letter should describe explicitly and in detail how the nominee meets the criteria. No specified format is required. Please send your letters of nomination on or before 21 May 2010 to Harlan J. Onsrud, Executive Director, GSDI Association at with a copy to Abbas Rajabifard, President, GSDI Association at Expect a confirmation of receipt within two days.

Selection: The sole recipient, if any, is selected by past recipients of the award and the GSDI Association executive committee which consists of the past president, president, and president-elect. The goal is to honor persons who contribute laudably as citizens of the world both for their profession and society.

Award: A plaque is awarded at the global GSDI conference, the recipient is invited to present a vision speech to the plenary audience, the recipient is permanently recognized on the Association’s Global Citizen Award web site, and the recipient receives a lifetime membership in the International Geospatial Society. The recipient must be present at the ceremony to accept the award or no award shall be presented.

Automatic Generation of the Axial Lines of Urban Environments to Capture What We Perceive

International Journal of Geographical Information Science, Volume 24, Issue 4 April 2010 , pages 545 – 558

Bin Jiang; Xintao Liu

“Based on the concepts of isovists and medial axes, we developed a set of algorithms that can automatically generate axial lines for representing individual linearly stretched parts of open space of an urban environment. Open space is the space between buildings where people can freely move around. The generation of the axial lines has been a key aspect of space syntax research, conventionally relying on hand-drawn axial lines of an urban environment, often called axial map, for urban morphological analysis. Although various attempts have been made towards an automatic solution, few of them can produce the axial map that consists of the least number of longest visibility lines, and none of them really works for different urban environments. Our algorithms provide a better solution than existing ones. Throughout this article, we have also argued and demonstrated that the axial lines constitute a true skeleton, superior to medial axes, in capturing what we perceive about the urban environment.”

Geostatistical Smoothing of Areal Data: Mapping Employment Density with Factorial Kriging

Geographical Analysis, Volume 42 Issue 1  (January 2010) p 99-117

Nicholas N. Nagle

“This article summarizes area-to-point (ATP) factorial kriging that allows the smoothing of aggregate, areal data into a continuous spatial surface. Unlike some other smoothing methods, ATP factorial kriging does not suppose that all of the data within an area are located at a centroid or other arbitrary point. Also, unlike some other smoothing methods, factorial kriging allows the user to utilize an autocovariance function to control the smoothness of the output. This is beneficial because the covariance function is a physically meaningful statement of spatial relationship, which is not the case when other spatial kernel functions are used for smoothing. Given a known covariance function, factorial kriging gives the smooth surface that is best in terms of minimizing the expected mean squared prediction error. I present an application of the factorial kriging methodology for visualizing the structure of employment density in the Denver metropolitan area.”