Home > Public Domain Data > Ethics in Geospatial Decision-Making

Ethics in Geospatial Decision-Making

Our book and this blog frequently focus on the importance of making wise decisions when using geospatial data.  We often discuss the two-edged sword in which we are living with regard to the modern GIS era:  ‘Tis wonderful to have a plethora of geospatial data services at our fingertips, many of which are in real time, many are capable of being visualized in 3-D, and many are updated and curated with regularity.  Coupled with these services are a variety of easy-to-use spatial analysis tools that come coupled with desktop and web-based GIS software platforms.  But with this availability of data and easy-to-use tools brings increasing likelihood that decisions will be made based on them without regard to the data’s sources, scales, update frequency, map projection, completeness of attributes, and other measures of quality.

Decisions are still in large part made by humans, and the human element has always been laden with ethical decisions, whether we realize it or not.  Adding to the ethical element is the fact that geospatial decisions involve land, which has economic but also personal and inherent value, and affects people who live on that land.  Geospatial decisions also affect the very air we breathe and water we drink.

How can we be more purposefully aware of ethical elements in our decisions based on geospatial data?  Some insightful chapters and articles will, I think, be of help.  One is the new chapter on Professional and Practical Ethics of GIS&T in the UCGIS GIS&T Body of Knowledge project by David DiBiase.  Another is a 7-Step guide to ethical decision-making, written in 1999 but still incredibly relevant.  I particularly like the tests that the author describes–the harm test, the publicity test, the defensibility test, the reversibility test, the colleague test, and the organization test.

Another excellent resource is Penn State’s ethics education resource for geospatial professionals, which lists interesting and pertinent case studies, codes of ethics, university course syllabi, and other resources.  In a recent article in Directions Magazine, Dr Diana S. Sinton explores how ethics can be integrated into geospatial education.   She advocates that ethics be threaded throughout even an introductory GIS course rather than be relegated to one lecture, as is often the case.

What are your thoughts regarding ethics in GIS?

jjk_question.PNGGeospatial decisions are ethical decisions as well.

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Categories: Public Domain Data
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