Conceptualizing a national geospatial software institute to unleash the power of geospatial data and sciences

Shaowen Wang (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)
November 27, 2018

(reposted from GSI blog)

Numerous fields are increasingly dependent on geospatial software that is defined to transform geospatial data (i.e. data with geo and/or spatial references) into geospatial information, knowledge, and intelligence. The growing benefits and importance of geospatial software to science and engineering is driven by tremendous needs in these fields such as agriculture, ecology, emergency management, environmental engineering and sciences, geography and spatial sciences, geosciences, national security, public health, and social sciences, to name just a few, and is reflected by a massive digital geospatial industry. Critical and urgent efforts are also needed to prepare the next-generation workforce for computation- and/or data-intensive geospatial research and education, technological innovation, and real-world problem solving and decision making.

During the past decade or so, pioneered by research responding to such needs, cyberGIS (that is, geospatial information science and systems (GIS) based on advanced computing and cyberinfrastructure) has emerged as new-generation GIS, leading to widespread research advances and broad societal impacts (Wang 2010; Wright and Wang 2011). CyberGIS has provided a solid foundation for breakthroughs in diverse science, technology and application domains, and contributed to the innovation of cyberinfrastructure overall (Anselin and Rey 2012; Wang 2017). CyberGIS has grown into a vibrant interdisciplinary field as evidenced through impactful publications and number of hardware and software capabilities, collaborative projects, meetings, conferences, and workshops (Wang and Goodchild 2018). While much progress has been made on cyberGIS and related scientific advances, significant scientific and engineering challenges remain unsolved for advancing geospatial software and related sciences, particularly related to 1) harnessing geospatial big data, 2) assuring computational reproducibility, and 3) achieving adaptability to advanced cyberinfrastructure.

To address these challenges, the U.S. National Science Foundation has recently funded a project to conceptualize a national geospatial software institute (GSI) for understanding how to advance geospatial software and related sciences to serve diverse science communities and users while empowering them to make important contributions to innovation and sustainability of advanced cyberinfrastructure, including future geospatial software. The project aims to assess education, outreach, and workforce development needs, as geospatial software tools often provide intuitive representations and visualizations that are very attractive to students. Through multiple workshops and surveys, the communities being engaged by the project represent diverse academic, governmental, and industrial institutions as well as international partners. Two workshops and one community survey have been conducted, and the third workshop will take place in January 2019 while the second community survey will be released in spring 2019. The project is expected to identify extensive social and technical barriers to diverse communities accessing geospatial software and big data by taking advantage of progress made on advanced cyberGIS and cyberinfrastructure approaches. The project website: includes detailed information about various community activities. We invite you to browse this website and greatly appreciate your feedback to help make the conceptualization process as inclusive and productive as possible. You can leave your feedback in the comment section below.


Anselin, L. and Rey, S. J. (2012) Spatial Econometrics in an Age of CyberGIScience. International Journal of Geographical Information Science (IJGIS), 26(12): 2211-2226

Wang, S. (2010) A CyberGIS Framework for the Synthesis of Cyberinfrastructure, GIS, and Spatial Analysis. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 100(3): 535-557

Wang, S. (2017) CyberGIS. The International Encyclopedia of Geography. Edited by Douglas Richardson, Noel Castree, Michael F. Goodchild, Audrey Kobayashi, Weidong Liu, and Richard A. Marston. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. DOI: 10.1002/9781118786352.wbieg0931

Wang, S., Anselin, L., Bhaduri, B., Crosby, C., Goodchild, M. F., Liu, Y., and Nyerges, T. L. (2013) CyberGIS Software: A Synthetic Review and Integration Roadmap. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 27(11): 2122-2145

Wang, S. and Goodchild, M. F. (2018) CyberGIS for Geospatial Innovation and Discovery. Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, DOI: 10.1007/978-94-024-1531-5

Wright, D. J. and Wang, S. (2011) The Emergence of Spatial Cyberinfrastructure. PNAS, 108(14): 5488-5491