GeoWorld August 2012

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Real-Time Geography Informs Decision Making DYNAMIC DECISION POINTS F BY ERIK SHEPARD rom its earliest days, the field of geography has focused on the world around us. The earliest explorers were geographers in their own right, and the Royal Geographic Society was the pre-eminent scientific society of Europe in the 1800s. Geography has driven many advances throughout history, but today, geography has a new role to play. The decision-support systems built during the last 40 years provide data on business activities, profit and loss, schedules, and constraints. Within project management, risk management attempts—in some cases grossly—to determine what potential impacts there might be to a project based on factors beyond control; for large infrastructure projects, these often can be environmental factors. Evolving GIS GISs have provided the chief mechanism for incorpo- rating in situ information that might affect a project. GIS has moved from being a niche application hosted by the engineering department to a mainstream, enterprise application that's mission critical. The vintage of data in a GIS, however, can affect the decision-making process. Asset updates aren't always made in a timely manner, and asset condition may only be collected yearly or less frequently. Environmental data may be generalized over a year (e.g., through remotely sensed satellite imagery) and may not reflect the seasonal variations that can affect a project or business. Such generalized information is what leads to coarse risk management and decisions. Reflecting on the roots of geography as the Erik Shepard is principal of Waterbridge Consulting; e-mail: erik@ 30 discipline focused on measuring the world, the new opportunity is to step into this role of managing measurement information. A multitude of domains already have seen transformational changes in the granularity of collected data as well as the types of decisions that can be informed by finer data resolu- tion. Geography can inform the types of analyses that may be made with such data and serve as a backdrop for understanding and visualizing patterns in space and time. GEO W ORLD / AUGUST 2O12 Real-time geography can truly inform the decision-making process in a way in which we never could before. Growing through Time But there's a broader issue: understanding the role that real-time geography plays, and developing a theoretical basis for real-time measurements and analysis. Spatial analysis has a strong theoreti- cal foundation, and active research into the role of spatial autocorrelation or modifiable areal units continues, based on the strong analytical-geography traditions of the 1960s. There's a similar need to understand the theoreti- cal basis for temporal geography and the temporal autocorrelation that exists when measuring the same phenomenon at discrete or continuous intervals. Some investigation already is underway, but more work is needed if we're to understand the assump- tions that inform the results. This column grew out of my "Where It's About Time" column, which focused primarily on spatiotemporal data management across a variety of approaches. In some ways, the management of spatiotemporal data now is reasonably well understood. Database and GIS platforms now routinely offer spatiotemporal representation. The investigative focus today is on specialized problems such as tracking change with moving objects; in short, dynamic data. Continuing forward as "Dynamic Decision Points," this column will shift focus from spatiotemporal data management into the broader issue of real-time geography and the pedagogical development underway in the field to understand these assumptions. The ultimate goal, of course, is to leverage geography in a bold new way—to continue on as the discipline charged with measuring the field, but to understand what we're measuring, when we're measuring and what it means. Understanding assumptions is key to good decision making. The decisions we've been making have been driven by coarse geography, measured at discrete points in time months or years apart, and have dictated coarse results—from financial analysis to risk management. But real-time geography can truly inform the decision-making process in a way in which we never could before.

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