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Fall 2006
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"Crossing Borders"
A column by Doug Richardson,
Executive Director, Association of American Geographers

The GIS&T Body of Knowledge: A Valuable New Resource

Doug RichardsonA landmark new reference book, the Geographic Information Science & Technology Body of Knowledge, has established a systematic foundation for future educational and career development programs in the geographic information science and technology (GIS&T) fields for decades to come. Published by the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in collaboration with the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), GIS&T Body of Knowledge is the first comprehensive approach to understanding the basic skills and knowledge relevant to the rapidly growing GIScience and technology fields.

Former National Science Foundation (NSF) director Rita Colwell pointed out in her article, "The New Landscape of Science: A Geographic Portal" (Colwell 2004—see More Information at end of article), that our revolutionary new geographic technologies are "well poised at this watershed juncture to help shape the new landscape of science." The GIS&T Body of Knowledge marks an important step in that process. Geographic information science and technology have today become critical components of the global cyberinfrastructure, both in the university and in society. The integrative capabilities of these and related technologies have extended research frontiers across many fields, in areas ranging from ecology to epidemiology to transportation. Technologies such as GIS also have increasingly become the common ground for sharing data across disciplines, or the "glue" that connects large-scale interdisciplinary research, including much that is funded by NSF and other federal agencies.

Geographic Information Science & Technology Body of Knowledge will have application and impact far beyond geography. The technical expertise and theoretical insights that have been developed over the recent decades within the GIS&T infrastructure constitute a body of knowledge increasingly necessary to advancing research agendas across university campuses in programs ranging from statistics to biology, from engineering to law, and from sociology to computer science. As Harvard president Lawrence Summers noted on May 5, 2006, at the launch of Harvard's new Center for Geographic Analysis, "By embracing the new geography, I think Harvard is taking an important step today. This is an opportunity to explore vast intellectual territory . . . intellectual territory that can now be approached with new perspectives, new tools, and in newly important ways" (Richardson 2006).

The GIS&T cyberinfrastructure also plays a central role in the larger society. A transformational feature on the GIS&T landscape, and a significant opportunity for our society, for example, will be the widespread continued development and implementation over the next several decades of real-time interactive Geographic Management Systems (GMSs) as core daily operations management networks within most governmental and business organizations (Richardson 2001, Abler and Richardson 2003). Currently evolving examples of GMSs range from simple applications, such as real-time management of vehicle fleets or delivery companies, to the continuous interactive management across space and time of the extensive fixed and mobile assets and workforces of complex operations, such as those of electric utility companies, most modern military organizations, governmental emergency response agencies, national park agencies, automated transportation and logistics systems, and international disaster and humanitarian relief operations. GMSs' dynamic space- and time-interactive core capabilities create a powerful platform for integrating many other technologies and applications, including wireless communications, environmental sensors, work order processing, remote sensing and imagery, software agents, econometric modeling, and others.

This book will be an important reference and guide for those working with these existing and future GIS&T infrastructures in science, in society, and in education. Significant credit for the development of GIS&T Body of Knowledge goes to Duane Marble, who both advocated for and pioneered the development of this body of knowledge throughout the 1990s. Without Duane Marble's early efforts in this arena, this book would not exist. More recently, the work begun by Marble has been continued by many, including the UCGIS education committee, which is ably chaired by David DiBiase. In addition to DiBiase, one of the Body of Knowledge's multiple editors includes Esri higher education solutions manager, Ann Johnson.

The needs to build the capacity of the GIS&T cyberinfrastructure within the academic and scientific workforce, and in the larger societal GIS&T workforce, are critical. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor has designated geotechnology as "one of the three most important emerging and evolving fields, along with nanotechnology and biotechnology" (Gewin 2004). Employment opportunities and workforce development needs are growing worldwide as geographic technologies become pervasive in ever more areas of research and the economy.

This publication will also be a critical resource in the toolbox of GIS certification and accreditation bodies; job seekers; students; teachers; guidance counselors; curriculum planners; and GIS professionals in government, industry, and academia.

Finally, for those of us who have long been engaged in the research and development of the GIS&T infrastructure, it is gratifying to see this effort to codify the results of this exciting and dynamic field of inquiry into a systematized body of knowledge that will support education and continued development of GIS&T in the future. I commend the editors for this important beginning and look forward to working together with the entire GIS&T community to evolve and update this body of knowledge in the years ahead.

Doug Richardson

More Information

For additional information on the book and also references cited above or to order copies of GIS&T Body of Knowledge ($20 U.S. each, plus $5 U.S. shipping per order), please visit Editors are Michael DeMers, David DiBiase, Ann Johnson, Karen Kemp, Ann Taylor Luck, Brandon Plewe, and Elizabeth Wentz.

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