Kuhn's 10 Core Concepts of Spatial Information

06-19-2015 12:00 AM
Esri Notable Contributor
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Dr Werner Kuhn from the University of Muenster and the University of California Santa Barbara proposed 10 core concepts of spatial information in the hopes of moving the Geographic Information Science community forward in terms of transdisciplinary research.  The core concepts may enable the community to come to a consensus on what spatial information is and how it can be used, but also help those in other disciplines find connection points to the GIScience community.  The concepts include location, neighborhood, field, object, network, event, granularity, accuracy, meaning, and value. 

I like the way Kuhn thinks of location, not as a property, but as a relation: "Nothing has an intrinsic location, even if it always remains where it is."  "How one locates things depends on the context in which the location information is produced and used."  This can be effectively taught in our discussions with students about relative versus absolute location; even our "absolute" locations are from human-derived constructs such as latitude/longitude or street addresses.  Neighborhoods get at the heart of regions and the relationship of places in time and space.  Fields describe phenomena that have a scalar or vector attribute everywhere in a space of interest, answering the question "What is here?" Objects describe individuals that have an identity as well as spatial, temporal, and thematic properties, answering questions such as "What are the parts of this feature?"  Networks are related to connectivity, shortest path distances, measures of centrality.  Events answer questions about change.  Granularity is all about the size of the units on which we are reporting information.  Accuracy is about correctness; meaning is about making sense of things, and value "answers questions about the roles played by spatial information in society."

I believe that these concepts as a common language can build needed bridges with our colleagues in other disciplines.  I agree with Kuhn that we need to map these concepts across disciplines. Despite the advances made in research and curriculum development, I still worry that we at times are "preaching to the choir" and that our research and other efforts in promoting spatial thinking and learning would be greatly enriched by increased dialogue with other communities.  I also believe that the concepts also provide a good framework to help guide educators on teaching key spatial constructs.  Beyond education, a better awareness of spatial information can help decision makers to better understand environmental and social problems that are increasingly complex, intertwined, and that increasingly affect our everyday lives.  And that awareness can be fostered in part through building research bridges.

How do Kuhn's concepts compare to the list of spatial concepts on TeachSpatial, or Dr Phil Gersmehl's list of spatial concepts, or with my own definition of spatial thinking?  Have you been involved with Geographic Information Systems and Technology research, such as iGuessSPLINT, or other efforts?  I invite you to share below the efforts you are working on.

Spatial Thinking: Kuhn's 10 Core Concepts. Photograph by Joseph Kerski.

About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.