Keynote 3: Has GIScience Lost its Interdisciplinary Mojo?

Friday Sep 30   09:00 AM to 10:00 AM (1 hour)
Over the past 25 years, I have experienced an inside track view of two interdisciplinary research fields: Geographical Information Science (GIScience) and Citizen Science. Due to their development trajectories and my personal history, I have better vantage point on citizen science than GIScience, but close enough to draw parallels. Over that period, I was also involved in about 20 multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary projects. As a result, I also found myself evaluating and funding x-disciplinary projects. Many times, projects that started under the interdisciplinary flag (integrating knowledge from multiple areas), ended with mostly multidisciplinary results (each discipline addressing the issue from its own point of view).
On the basis of these experiences, I’d argue that Interdisciplinarity is always hard, risky, require compromises, accommodations, listening, and making mistakes. The excitement from the outputs and outcomes does not always justify the price. Frequently, there is no-follow on project – it’s been too exhausting.  
Considering the project level challenges, viewing interdisciplinary areas of studies emerging is especially interesting. You can notice how concepts are being argued and agreed on. You can see what is inside and what is outside, and where the boundary is drawn. You can see how methodologies, jargon, acceptable behaviour, and modes of operations get accepted or rejected – and from the inside, you can nudge the field and sometimes see the impact of your actions.
GIScience was born as an interdisciplinary field of study, and the period of consolidation that I have seen was supposed to lead to stability and growth. This did not happen. Take any measure that you like: size of conferences, papers – or even the argument if the field deserve a Wikipedia page. Something didn’t work. Consider the Esri UC, with its 15,000 participants who are working with GIS, yet only a handful of them seem to be happy with the identity of a GIScientist.
In contrast, Citizen Science is already attracting to its conferences audience in the many hundreds – the Citizen Science Association include 4000 (free) members, The European Citizen Science Association 180 (paid) – and that is in the first 2 years since they’ve established.
In the talk, I will try to explore the way in which interdisciplinary projects and fields work, highlight the similarities and differences, and suggest the issues that have led to the outcomes that we see today.
University of Colorado
University College London

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