Spatial Data Science in an Age of Scientific Disruption

Date and Time
UCSB Geog Department

December 8-9, 2023

Under the auspices of The Center for Spatial Studies and Data Science and the Department of Geography at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Scientific disruptions, which shake up a field and push scientific inquiry in new directions, serve as a catalyst for innovation and make it possible for humans to tackle the tremendous global challenges. In GIScience and across the sciences, changes in technology and society are driving major disruptions, notably changing the way in which problems are approached. Data-intensive scientific discovery has shifted not only the practice of science, but the set of scientific products we prioritize and pursue. Expansion of the cyberinfrastructure ecosystem and algorithmic advances in AI have created new modes of discovery that challenge long standing practices and open the possibility of widespread social reorganization. At the same time, climate change and ongoing advances in communication continue to alter the physical and human geography of the planet, shifting the theoretical and empirical rocks many of our disciplines stand on.

However, these disruptions show no signs of slowing anytime soon. Predictive, generative, and causal AI have reached different levels of maturity, but each needs further development, particularly with respect to spatial data. New forms of spatial data continue to become available in a variety of contexts, resolutions, and veracity, while the industry remains the leading authority to control access. The effects of climate change and communication platforms are apparent, but attribution science and social media research continue to change as the impacts of both phenomena evolve. At the same time, these disruptions raise ethical questions about science practises and bring into focus structural barriers to equity and participation in science that require revisions to how research and education are conducted.

It is an opportune time to consider how GIScience should lead in a time of scientific disruptions. GIScientists and spatial data scientists have expertise in areas AI development is hindered by, including the creation of comprehensive high quality spatial data that is representative of processes that differ between locations. At home with the intersection of theory and practice, experts in spatial data and spatial analysis can solve problems while advancing fundamental understanding of the world. Work in the field is by its nature interdisciplinary and convergent, which places GIScientists and spatial data scientists in a unique position to embrace disruption and build frameworks that link solutions and knowledge. Whether these solutions are technical advances such as digital twin, geoAI, and CyberGIS, or conceptual breakthroughs in Geoethics, epistemology, and spatial theory, GIScience and spatial data science have a leading role to play in an age of scientific disruption.  

We invite colleagues working at the forefront of GIScience research and education to join us for a two day, in person meeting during which we intend to discuss these issues and collaboratively co-author two agenda setting papers on GIScience and spatial data science in an age of science disruption. Papers will focus on 1) the development of a forward-looking research agenda and 2) a curriculum attuned to the challenges of scientific disruption.

Format of the Meeting

The workshop will be held December 8-9, 2023. The Specialist Meeting sessions are scheduled for Friday, December 8th and Saturday, December 9th. Participants are invited to join a workshop dinner on Saturday evening and a closing lunch on Sunday. The afternoon of December 9th will include opportunities for further networking during a hike near Santa Barbara.

The objective of this Specialist Meeting is to discuss GIScience leadership and response to science disruptions and to develop two collaboratively authored manuscripts on the research and teaching directions of the field. Papers will be submitted to a peer review journal. We will begin with a keynote on science disruptions, with a focus on AI. This will be followed by lightning talks (2-4 mins) to spark discussions. Most of the time will be spent collaboratively discussing and debating issues and co-writing manuscript sections. Workshop activities will include group breakout sessions for writing as well as opportunities to share insights and progress with the entire team. The intent is that all participants will be co-authors on both papers, reflecting the collaborative orientation of the workshop.

We invite colleagues at all career stages, disciplinary backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities to apply. All applicants are asked to fill out an Application Form that includes a set of prompting questions about your vision for the future of GIScience before October 10, 2023. Responses will form the basis for participant selection. We expect to be able to support approximately 25 attendees. Written responses to the prompts will also be used to identify a subset of participants to give lightning talks, ensuring a variety of topics, expertises, and career stages are reflected in these presentations.

Further information about the specialist workshop will be posted on the website for the Center for Spatial Studies and Data Science. The organizing committee includes: Somayeh Dodge, Amy Frazier, Micheal Goodchild, Peter Kedron, Alan Murray, and Trisalyn Nelson. Questions can be directed to Trisalyn Nelson (

We gratefully acknowledge support for this workshop from Esri and UCSB.