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Francis Harvey


My interests emanate from an insatiable curiosity with geography and technology. It took me a long time to recognize this, but, with hindsight, I realize it is the common thread through all sorts of studies and work in my lifetime. Professional, scholarly, and personal interests intertwine in various ways that have led me to engage topics ranging from cultural influences on county GIS implementation to enhanced overlay algorithms. At present, my research focus is on the use and development of geographic information systems (GIS) by local governments in the United States. I don't just see this as a question of technology and administration. Fundamental to the theoretical framework I draw on is the understanding of the political dimensions of all government activities. While studies of technologies and government administrations provide insights, the political dimension is crucial to understanding the paths people choose when developing GIS. In previous work I identified trust as a key component of their interaction. "Trust," however, is a notoriously malleable term that provides a solid footing for analytical levers to exhume and help dissect technology and administration, but at the cost of tying the analysis to ideological positions that easily obscure more imporant relationships out of levers reach. The dilemma I face is that trust is a most useful term, but what it actually means ranges froma near-religious faith to a pragmatic give-and-take. Although my current research is mainly interested in articulating what works best for local governments developing geographic information (GI) sharing and coordination, I believe that a discussion on those topics will help me better understand what trust means in particular.

Trust and best practices for sharing and coordinating geographic information activities are helpful inroads for my studies of semantic interoperability. Not that research in these areas provides "answers," but I do think it helps immensely to understand the practical dimensions of people's work with GI. With this understanding, concepts such as ontology can be brought to bear on the real problems people face. In the framework of discursive artificial intelligence and logic, I think it's quite plausible to provide substantial help in resolving trenchant differences in meaning between different uses of the same terms for GI.

If the first example of my research engages practical interests, the latter example points to theoretical interests. These come together in my work on implementation. Here I try to advance approaches that combine formal approaches in knowledge representation with participatory design techniques. In another way, my work on overlay algorithms and generalization also stresses the importance of merging theoretical approaches (here geometric analysis) with practical means of user involvement in the process of amalgamating features. People familiar with GIS overlay recognize the limitations and constrained control they have over the operation.

More recently my work has focused on a study of the complexities of developing cadastres. Research supported by the National Science Foundation allows me to take a look at the interactions between various levels of government and rural dwellers in Poland. First results suggest that even 16 years have the concluding chapters of socialism a great deal of elasticity persists between the formal cadastre and informal land tenure regimes. This research will continue over the next two years.

To all of this, I would be remiss if I failed to mention my interest in the roots of the concepts we draw on. My dissertation focused on geographic information overlay and traced its history through the twentieth century. This work uncovered the analytical roots of overlay and its assumptions, particularly the notion that categories of observations made at the same place are always related. Obviously, but so much work with GIS simply assumes similarity when there is none or very little. This work leads into some work on quality and metadata, another example of my fascination with geography and technologies (of representation, I want to add).


  • Central and Eastern Europe
  • local governments
  • Geographic Information Science (GIS)
  • history of geographic thought
  • society and technology


  • Integrating Geodata Infrastructures from the Ground Up. Harvey, Francis, B.P.Buttenfield and S. Carson-Lambert, Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 65, pp. 1287-92.
  • Public Safety and GIS: What should certification accomplish?. Harvey, Francis, URISA Journal, 2003.
  • Developing geographic information infrastructures for local government: The role of trust. Harvey, Francis, Canadian Geographer, 2003.
  • Boundary objects and the social construction of GIS technology. Harvey, Francis, Chrisman, Nicholas R., Environment and Planning A, 1998.

Research Activities

  • Local Government Geographic Information Sharing: Examine issues impeding and improving information sharing among US local governments, ongoing
  • Developing the Polish Cadastral Infrastructure: Study of cadastral related government activities in Poland with an emphasis on post-socialist transitional and EU accession issues, ongoing
  • Collaborative Research: Graduate Ethics Education for Future Geospatial Technology Professionals: Research and teaching on issues related to GI professional ethics, NSF $46,661, 1Oct2007 - 30Sep2008

Creative Activities

  • Assistant Professor: GIS courses and GIS and society research, August 1998 - May 2001
  • Assistant Professor: GIS courses and GIS and society research, August 2001

Professional Activities

  • Editorial Board Member: URISA Journal
  • Editorial Board Member: International Journal of Geographic Information Science
  • GeoJournal: Editorial Board Member , 4/07
  • Cartographica: Editorial Board Member , 5/04 - now

Outreach Activities

  • Swedish Map Days: Invited Speaker, March 2004
  • Elasticity between the Cadastre and Land Tenure: Balancing Civil and Political Society Interests: Invited Lecture, 4Jan2006

Courses Taught

  • Geog 5563 - Advanced Geographic Information Science
  • Geog 8291 - GIS, Society, and Technology
  • Geog 1502 - Maps, Visualization, and Geographical Reasoning
  • Geog 3521 - Digital Planet
  • Geog 3523 - Digital Mapping
Alternative Output Formats Alternative Output Formats