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Thesis Outline


Working title:

The role of GIS in (cross border) spatial policy making in Europe.

Aims and Objectives, key literature and debates:

In this thesis I would like to adress the way(s) in which GIS can serve as a tool to help (cross border) policy making in Europe. According to Havey and Chrisman (1998) GIS can be seen as a set of boundary objects. Boundary objects inhabit several intersecting social worlds, and satisfy the informational requirements of each of them (Star & Griesemer, 1989). But maybe GIS can also or better be seen as standarized packages, a combination of several boundary objects (Fujimura, 1992)?

GIS is used in many professional fields, one of these fields is the field of spatial policy making. Many different actors are involved in the policy making process, which makes it a suitable field to analyse the ability of GIS to serve as either a set of boundary objects or standarized packages.

The field of Geography itself consists of actors from different backgrounds, which causes an interesting debate within the field on how GIS should be used and looked upon (e.g. Pickles, 1995; Openshaw, 1991, 1992). On one side GIS is seen as an unproblematic powerful tool to analyse complex spatial phenomena. On the other side the influence of GIS on society can be viewed from a more critical perspective (Pickles, 1995).

To make the research more 'European', I would like to place the discussion in a wider context of spacial policy making in Europe. The European Union has identified the need for a European Policy on the handling of Geographical Information in Europe (e.g. European Commision, DGXIII, project GI2000). It would be interesting to link these ideas to the use of GIS. In a European context it is necessary to have a communication tool between actors of the different social groups. By analysing some case studies on the use of GIS in spatial policy making in Europe, the function of GIS as a communication tool can be assessed.

Research questions:

  1. What is GIS and how is it used in spatial policy making?
    • Can GIS technologies be seen as a set of boundary objects or as standarized packages?
    • Is GIS used as an electronic mapping system, or can it be used more interactively?
    • Does the use of GIS technology influence the policy making process and/or outcomes?
  2. Can GIS help (cross border) European spatial policy making?
    • What are the main problems and solutions in cross border policy making?
    • Is GIS used in selected areas that cross borders?
    • What is the policy of the European Union regarding the use of GIS?



    26th, handing in outline


    Finishing literature research, starting case studies, data collection


    Data collection, data-analysis, start writing


    Writing thesis


    27th final draft version


    Last modifications, lay out etc.


    4th handing in thesis


    Suggested structure for final thesis


    1. Introduction

    Introducing STS, GIS, spatial policy making, the European context and their relations.

    Method: Literature research


    2. Theoretical frame

    Social constructivism, focussed on boundary objects. Explaining the theory of boundary objects and standarized packages.

    Method: literature research


    3. Geographical information systems

    What is it? How does it work? Is it more than a database? How does it influence society? Why can it be seen as a set of boundary objects or as standarized packages? Why are their so many different systems? What is the importance of GIS users in the constructioning of the systems?

    Method: Literature research & interviews/questioning experts (researchers, designers, users).


    4. Geographical Information in Europe

    How do the different countries in Europe use GIS? What are the differences and similarities?

    What is the policy of the European Union on GIS and the sharing of Geographical Information? How do neighbouring countries come to cross border policies?

    Method: Literature research, following Internet debates of the EU.


    5. GIS in (cross border) European policy making: Case studies

    Examining different projects in different European countries on spatial policy making. If possible focussed on cross border policy making. For example the MHAL region (Maastricht, Heerlen-Hasselt/Genk, Aachen and Liège) and the Saar-Lor-Lux project concerning the borders of France, Germany and Luxembourg.

    Method: literature reseach, questionaire for experts involved in the process of policy making.


    6. Conclusions

    Does GIS function as a set of boundary objects, as standarized packages or as something else in the case studies? Does it help to cross either technical, cultural and/or national borders in spatial policy making? What is the future of GIS?



    For the background knowledge on GIS, spatial policy and planning and the structure and policy making of the EU I will use literature research. Also for the use of GIS in spatial policy and planning, the EU and spatial policy and planning and the EU and GIS (where the three fields overlap) I will base my thesis on relevant literature. For the more state-of-the-art issues I will use the Internet and interviews or questionaires with professionals in the fields. As for the final part, in which all three fields overlap, I will use some case studies in which European countries are involved in (cross-border) spatial policy making. By means of a questionnaire I will try to gather the necessary data. I will use a questionnaire because I will not be able to visit all the areas of the case studies and because questionnaires give a better structured set of data that is easier to analyse.




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    Cole, J. & Cole, F. (1997) A geography of the European Union. Routledge, London.

    European Commission (1999) Report (draft) of the Consultation Meeting regarding GI2000: Towards a European policy framework for Geographic Information.

    European Commission (1998) Developing a vision for the EGII (European Geographic Information Infrastructure). Report of the meeting of experts, Luxembourg.

    European Commission (1998) Geographic Information in Europe: A Discussion Document. DG XIII/E.

    European Commission (1996) Towards a European Policy framework for Geographic Information: a working document. HTTP://

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