Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Understanding the development of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a professional field
by Mott, Tara L., Ph.D., The University of Oklahoma, 2012, 194; 3552129
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is based on an exploratory study of GIS as it has evolved as a professional field. This study is relevant because it provides a fundamentally different approach to study professionals within a particular sector where technology has significantly influenced not only processes, but the individuals comprising the professional field. The study aimed to describe and expose thoughts and perspectives directly from GIS professionals from different sectors, but predominantly the government sector. This research took a critical look at the crucial milestones in the development of GIS as a professional field, the primary actors and organizations involved, and the barriers GIS has overcome in its evolution. This research observed GIS as a professional field in a temporal context and identified milestones, key actors, collaboration factors, perceived barriers and thoughts on "informational power" involved in the evolution. A survey was developed from exploratory interviews and administered to a broader context of GIS users to tie the actual timeline and introduce the context of the professionals' perceptions within the GIS field. The approach was mixed methods with initially an exploratory design including process tracing for the historical context, both exploratory and confirmatory semi-structured interviews, and an online survey.

Since GIS naturally spans boundaries within organizations, the research also considered the best organizational structure for fostering the GIS function, and whether the typical bureaucratic government structure has inhibited leveraging GIS effectively. Factors contributing to collaboration, both internally and externally, like geospatial data standards, enhanced network communication systems, and online communication were also explored. GIS's impact on "informational power" and Emerson's General Dependency Postulate (1962) were also discovered. This research intended to discover whether there are specific qualities in a GIS professional that distinguish them from other professional association aligned experts or whether group behaviors, like Gouldner's (1957) locals and cosmopolitans or social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), could be applied and help categorize GIS professionals internally. With the movement to Web GIS, the role of technology on GIS evolution with communication networks, innovation theory, and change management were also investigated. The ultimate goal of this study was to provide recommendations on how to promote the technology of GIS as the environment evolves and moves forward.

There is something unique about the individuals and their love for this profession that make them a little different, and this study describes those differences and how they contribute to the growth and development of GIS as a professional field. Jack Dangermond, Esri's founder, is undoubtedly recognized by most GIS professionals as the single most significant individual contributor to the field, and though much of the development of the information systems that GIS resides on was conducted by the U.S. Government, most of the applications have been enhanced by the private sector. These technological enhancements are now an expectation and are somewhat taken for granted. The world is getting smaller with technology, and GIS demonstrates just how small it really is.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Franklin, Aimee, Williams, T. H. Lee
Commitee: Kloesel, Kevin, Kramer, Eric, Kramer, Michael
School: The University of Oklahoma
Department: Department of Political Science
School Location: United States -- Oklahoma
Source: DAI-A 74/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Geographic information science, Organizational behavior
Keywords: DOD, Geographic information systems (GIS), Leadership, Management, Organization, Professionalization
Publication Number: 3552129
ISBN: 9781267903945
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