Complexities in GIS Construction and Spatial Knowledge Production in Dane County, Wisconsin

Article excerpt


Since its origin in the 1960s, GIS has evolved rapidly over the years, and it is used extensively in diverse fields and disciplines. (1) Ease of visualization and spatial analysis makes it a useful tool for planning and policy formulation, creating a big GIS user community among various government organizations. The introduction and initial use of GIS within planning agencies and government organizations prompted a debate about the merits of GIS implementation, with government organizations being the focus of examination (Obermeyer and Pinto 1994; Pinto and Onsrud 1997; Campbell and Masser 1995; Gilfoyle and Thorpe 2004). Earlier GIS studies tended to share a common view of linear conception where research reflected either technological determinism or a cost-benefit approach (Croswell 1991; Onsrud 1992; Onsrud et al 1996; French and Skiles 1996; Brown 1997; Budic 1998a). Later studies extended beyond the technical and financial aspects and focused on organizational, diffusion, implementation and planning aspects of GIS activities (Budic 1994, 1998a; 1998b; Budic and Pinto 1999; Campbell 1991; 1994, Innes and Simpson 1993; Obermeyer 1995). These studies provided important insights on GIS adoption, implementation, and inter-organizational GIS issues. They approached GIS usage within urban governance based on evaluation criteria and determination of success. In this context, GIS diffusion and implementation occurs in a rational manner where prescriptions for implementation consist of sequential steps and evaluation of success is based on the accomplishment of organizational objectives, data availability, and data accuracy (Danziger 1979; Croswell 1991; Budic 1994; Budic and Pinto 1999). Although the importance of externalities such as society and culture are noted, these studies draw upon Management Information Systems and Information Technology and Information Science approaches that tend to examine mainly internal organizational factors in the usage of GIS in county governance. External socio-political and cultural conditions coupled with internal networks of relationships that affect GIS practices within an organization were not sufficiently explored.

This gulf was bridged by the more recent GIS and Society literature that has aimed to take a more holistic approach, linking the internal contexts with the external contextual environment shaping an organization's GIS practices (Obermeyer 1995; Harvey and Chrisman 1998; Harvey 2000a; 2000b). Informed by social theory, this body of work took a more nuanced view of GIS practices through the notion of social construction of GIS (Sheppard 1995; Harvey 2000a). This notion emphasizes that GIS is a socially embedded technology, strongly shaped by social, political, and institutional influences (e.g., Pickles 1995; Sheppard 1995; Harvey and Chrisman 2004). Influenced by this perspective, studies exploring the social construction of GIS within urban governance have been undertaken (Roche and Humeau 1999; Martin 2000; Harvey 2003; Harvey and Tulloch 2006; Tulloch and Harvey 2007). But there remains a dearth of empirically grounded case studies that explore the complexities of organizational GIS usage and implementation practices in the context of urban governance within the public sector. Studies that have explored organizational GIS practices have mainly focused on issues of data sharing, data integration, and interoperability (Harvey 2003; Harvey and Tulloch, 2006; Schuurman 2005).

This study aims to take an integrated approach that integrates perspectives from literature on GIS implementation and diffusion, with the body of literature on GIS and Society body of literature to explore the internal construction of GIS in Dane County, Wisconsin. A similar approach has been used by Sieber (2000) and Elwood and Ghose (2004). Sieber draws from organization literature and GIS and Society research and explores the GIS implementation process within grassroots organizations. …