Foundational Concepts

The foundational concepts are the elementary building blocks and context setting constraints of all other entries in the BoK. The latter encompass the philosophical and mathematical support for GIScience as well as data models, while the constituent elements include, among others, notions of scale, spatial data quality, and openness. This knowledge area is also the place to look for the origins and future of GIScience.

Topics in this Knowledge Area are listed thematically below. Existing topics are in regular font and linked directly to their original entries (published in 2006; these contain only Learning Objectives). Entries that have been expanded and revised are in bold. Forthcoming, future topics are italicized

Origins Basic Measures
Intro to the GIS&T Body of Knowledge First & Second Laws of Geography
Public Sector Origins Shape
Private Sector Origins Distance Operations
Academic Developments of GIS&T Directional Operations
Cognitive Areal Operations
Perceptions and Cognition of Geographic Phenomena Proximity & Distance Decay
Foundational Ontologies Adjacency and Connectivity
Ontologies for Analysis & Formation of Geospatial Concepts Resolution
Place and Landscape Spatial Autocorrelation
The Power of Maps and Mapping Geometric Primitives and Algorithms
Semantic Information Elicitation Interrogating Geographic Information
Domains of Geographic Information Set Theory
Space Structured Query Language (SQL) and Attribute Queries
Time Spatial Queries
Relationships between Space and Time  
Data Properties Uncertainty
Networks Defined Problems of Scale and Zoning
Events and Processes Thematic Accuracy and Assessment
Neighborhoods Conceptual Models of Error and Uncertainty
Philosophical Perspectives  


FC-22 - Geometric Primitives and Algorithms

Geometric primitives are the representations used and computations performed in a GIS that concern the spatial aspects of the data, data objects described by coordinates. In vector geometry, we distinguish in zero-, one-, two-, and three-dimensional objects, better known as points, linear features, areal or planar features, and volumetric features. A GIS stores and performs computations on all of these. Often, planar features form a collective known as a (spatial) subdivision. Computations on geometric objects show up in data simplification, neighborhood analysis, spatial clustering, spatial interpolation, automated text placement, segmentation of trajectories, map matching, and many other tasks. They should be contrasted with computations on attributes or networks.

There are various kinds of vector data models for subdivisions. The classical ones are known as spaghetti and pizza models, but nowadays it is recognized that topological data models are the representation of choice. We overview these models briefly.

Computations range from simple to highly complex: deciding whether a point lies in a rectangle needs four comparisons, whereas performing map overlay on two subdivisions requires advanced knowledge of algorithm design. We introduce map overlay, Voronoi diagrams, and Delaunay triangulations and mention algorithmic approaches to compute them.

FC-10 - GIS Data Properties

Data properties are characteristics of GIS attribute systems and values whose design and format impacts analytical and computational processing.  Geospatial data are expressed at conceptual, logical, and physical levels of database abstraction intended to represent geographical information. The appropriate design of attribute systems and selection of properties should be logically consistent and support appropriate scales of measurement for representation and analysis. Geospatial concepts such as object-field views and dimensional space for relating objects and qualities form data models based on a geographic matrix and feature geometry. Three GIS approaches and their attribute system design are described: tessellations, vectors, and graphs.

FC-32 - Learning from experience
  • Explain how knowledge of the history of the development of enterprise GIS can aid in an implementation process
  • Evaluate case studies of past GISs to identify factors leading to success and failure
  • Discuss the evolution of isolated GIS projects to enterprise GIS
FC-01 - Metaphysics and ontology
  • Define common theories on what is “real,” such as realism, idealism, relativism, and experiential realism
  • Compare and contrast the ability of different theories to explain various situations
  • Recognize the commonalities of philosophical viewpoints and appreciate differences to enable work with diverse colleagues
  • Evaluate the influences of particular worldviews (including one’s own) on GIS practices
  • Justify the metaphysical theories with which you agree
  • Identify the ontological assumptions underlying the work of colleagues
FC-40 - Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods mean different things in varied contexts like computational geometry, administration and planning, as well as urban geography and other fields. Among the multiple contexts, computational geometry takes the most abstract and data-oriented approach: polygon neighborhoods refer to polygons sharing a boundary or a point, and point neighborhoods are defined by connected Thiessen polygons or other more complicated algorithms. Neighborhoods in some regions can be a practical and clearly delineated administration or planning units. In urban geography and some related social sciences, the terms neighborhood and community have been used interchangeably on many occasions, and neighborhoods can be a fuzzy and general concept with no clear boundaries such that they cannot be easily or consensually defined. Neighborhood effects have a series of unique meanings and several delineation methods are commonly used to define social and environmental effects in health applications.

FC-19 - Networks Defined

A network is a widely used term with different definitions and methodologies depending on the applications. In GIS, a network refers to an arrangement of elements (i.e., nodes, links) and information on their connections and interactions. There are two types of networks: physical and logical. While a physical network has tangible objects (e.g., road segments), a logical network represents logical connections among nodes and links. A network can be represented with a mathematical notion called graph theory. Different network components are utilized to describe characteristics of a network including loops, walks, paths, circuits, and parallel edges. Network data are commonly organized in a vector format with network topology, specifically connectivity among nodes and links, whereas raster data can be also utilized for a least-cost problem over continuous space. Network data is utilized in a wide range of network analyses, including the classic shortest path problem.

FC-35 - Openness

The philosophy of Openness and its use in diverse areas is attracting increasing attention from users, developers, businesses, governments, educators, and researchers around the world. The technological, socio-cultural, economic, legal, institutional, and philosophical issues related to its principles, applications, benefits, and barriers for its use are growing areas of research. The word “Open” is commonly used to denote adherence to the principles of Openness. Several fields are incorporating the use of Openness in their activities, some of them are of particular relevance to GIS&T (Geographic Information Science and Technology) such as: Open Data, Free and Open Source Software; and Open Standards for geospatial data, information, and technologies. This entry presents a definition of Openness, its importance in the area of GISc&T is introduced through a list of its benefits in the fields of Open Data, Open Source Software, and Open Standards. Then some of the barriers, myths, or inhibitors to Openness are presented using the case of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and FOSS for Geospatial Applications (FOSS4G).

FC-34 - Organizational models for coordinating GISs and/or program participants and stakeholders
  • Compare and contrast centralized, federated, and distributed models for managing information infrastructures
  • Describe the roles and relationships of GIS&T support staff
  • Exemplify how to make GIS&T relevant to top management
  • Describe different organizational models for coordinating GIS&T participants and stakeholders
  • Describe the stages of two different models of implementing a GIS within an organization
FC-04 - Perception and cognition of geographic phenomena
  • Describe the differences between real phenomena, conceptual models, and GIS data representations thereof
  • Explain the role of metaphors and image schema in our understanding of geographic phenomena and geographic tasks
  • Compare and contrast the symbolic and connectionist theories of human cognition and memory and their ability to model various cases
  • Compare and contrast theories of spatial knowledge acquisition (e.g., Marr on vision, Piaget on childhood, Golledge on wayfinding)
  • Explore the contribution of linguistics to the study of spatial cognition and the role of natural language in the conceptualization of geographic phenomena
FC-03 - Philosophical Perspectives

This entry follows in the footsteps of Anselin’s famous 1989 NCGIA working paper entitled “What is special about spatial?” (a report that is very timely again in an age when non-spatial data scientists are ignorant of the special characteristics of spatial data), where he outlines three unrelated but fundamental characteristics of spatial data. In a similar vein, I am going to discuss some philosophical perspectives that are internally unrelated to each other and could warrant individual entries in this Body of Knowledge. The first one is the notions of space and time and how they have evolved in philosophical discourse over the past three millennia. Related to these are aspects of absolute versus relative conceptions of these two fundamental constructs. The second is a brief introduction to key philosophical approaches and how they impact geospatial science and technology use today. The third is a discussion of which of the promises of the Quantitative Revolution in Geography and neighboring disciplines have been fulfilled by GIScience (and what is still missing). The fourth and final one is an introduction to the role that GIScience may play in what has recently been formalized as theory-guided data science.