Prepared by Paul Schroeder
March 7, 1996


During the specialists' meeting for NCGIA Initiative 19: GIS and Society, the concept of a "GIS/2" was raised and discussed in many of the working groups and plenary sessions. The concept was given to one of the final workgroups charged with defining research outcomes from the meeting (Virtual Geographies and GIS/2, convened by Helen Couclelis). Following that discussion, another group convened to specifically discuss GIS/2. This working document attempts a synopsis of the concept as discussed throughout the conference.

Participants in the GIS/2 discussion were: Will Craig, Graham Dudley, Daniel Karnes, Harlan Onsrud, Paul Schroeder, Phil Thibodeau, and Andrea Westersund.

The GIS/2 concept emerged during the first session of the conference, though without its generic shorthand name. Michael Curry presented the idea of "spatial data institutions" and posed the question: what could GIS be? GIS tends to equate information with data, but information looks very different to those in the field of communications. John Pickles situated GIS as an object of study within established sets of social practices, and called attention to the limits of representation in current GIS. Critical examination of issues of representation, access, and data creation was suggested. John also raised the question of whether the representations in the system must also resolve the conflicts they represent.

This working document is an attempt to distill the many comments on this theme which were raised during the sessions, and to propose a positive framework within which a GIS/2 might advance beyond current spatial data institutions.


GIS/2: A set of methods and instruments which emphasize process, and which are oriented toward communication about representations as much as toward the representations themselves.

Please note: Reservations were expressed about using the word "tool" to characterize GIS or GIS/2. "Set of methods and instruments" is an attempt to broaden the concept beyond a more encapsulated designation, "tool." The present approach is intended to emphasize that a GIS/2 would not simply be a new technology, but would include an array of processes of which the technology would be one component.

Mike Goodchild summed his vision of GIS/2 in this way [paraphrase]: A GIS/2 would be a knowledge-creation environment, and would involve a move away from the map as basic metaphor.


1. A GIS/2 would increase emphasis on the role of participants in creation and evaluation of data.

2. GIS/2 would accommodate an equitable representation of diverse views, preserving contradiction, inconsistencies and disputes against premature resolution.

3. System outputs would be redefined to reflect the standards and goals of the participants, rather than closeness of fit to standards of measurable accuracy (such as positional accuracy in a Cartesian coordinate system).

4. A GIS/2 would be capable of managing and integrating all data components and participant contributions from one interface. Components would include e- mail, access to data archives, presentation of parallel texts and counter texts in diverse media, real-time data analysis, standard base maps and data sets, sketch map and field note capabilities.

5. The GIS/2 would preserve and represent the history of its own development, and be more capable of handling time components than existing GIS.


Would a GIS/2 build upon existing GIS or scrap it totally, a conceptually new beginning? The present approach builds upon existing GIS, though not upon any specific system or implementation.

Is the World Wide Web a GIS/2? No, it isn't. However, the network and access capabilities demonstrated by the Web would be intrinsic to implementing a GIS/2.

Can the "spatial" component be eliminated from a GIS/2, for instance in emphasizing "place" over relations of "space"? Though the GIS/2 would allow development in this direction, it is still conceived that the situations in which a GIS/2 would be applied will be strongly linked to spatial relations, and that those relations will provide the framework around which other components are developed and organized.

In which direction will the implementation of a GIS/2 as outlined here move us on the utopia / dystopia continuum?


The discussion of a GIS/2 examined two distinct problem types to which the concept might be applied: preservation of clam fisheries with resolution of fishing ground disputes, and monitoring the implementation and uses of a statewide data communications network. The first exhibits issues which are relatively well-defined, and which are in search of recommendations and strategies for solution. The second suggests a framework for observation, communication and discovery, aimed at achieving highest potential for a system whose capabilities are unknown. In each case, the GIS/2 model would seem to imply richer outcomes than application of existing GIS technologies.


Several problem domains were identified without suggesting strategies for solution:


The GIS/2 is distinguished from GIS in that it is not primarily a technology, but is integrative and oriented toward process and communication. The concept involves redefinition of input participants and types, of how data is handled, and of system outputs, moving away from standard measures of completeness and control. In search of an appropriate name, GIS/2 might also be called "integrative geographical representation" or even more broadly a "dialogical machine."

Among the position papers submitted to the I-19 specialists' meeting, particular reference might be made to the contribution of Emanuel Schmitt and Kurt Brassels, From GIS for Control to GIS for Creative Exploration . Many of the questions and shifts in perspective suggested by them may be taken as points of reference in the conceptual growth implied by GIS/2.

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