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GIS Research Methods: A non-technical overview of the science and tools behind geographic information systems and geographic information science for researchers, practitioners, students and academics who may not have an extensive GIS or Geography background.

Author:  Nick Bearman, PhD, GIS trainer and consultant  at Geospatial Training Solutions, and data services manager at the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC), University College London (UCL) Geography.

Available via: Amazon US and UK, in hardback, paperback, and e-book, or directly from Bloomsbury.  ISBN: 9781350129559 – 1st edition, 2020.

If you have ever had the good fortune of attending one of Dr. Bearman’s online classes, or watched any of his instructional videos, his engaging teaching style translates well in this book.

Research! So Say We All

Using GIS data and tools, at nearly any level is essentially research. That is why GIS was developed. The end-user constituencies for GIS data and tools have grown to the point where it touches nearly every aspect of our lives—directly, indirectly, upstream, and downstream.

Long past are the days when subject matter experts would either need to become GIS experts as well or have supporting “GIS Departments” or hire practitioner consultants. While there is still a need for specialists in GIS tools and data, it is now more direct hands on. From data scientists to one-off users, the rich environment of ready data access, commercial and open-source tools, libraries of scripts, online tutorials and courses, have put a lot of power in the hands of many…

At this point in time, and with the advent of GIS-for-all, if I was to recommend a book, for the beginner/intermediate user seeking to learn more about how GIS can be used in research (from academic to simple project level), GIS Research Methods” by Dr. Nick Bearman, would be it. From Bloomsbury Academic, as part of their Research Methods series, Bearman provides a brief primer on the history, evolution, and present state of GIS, before examining the key ways GIS is used in spatial analysis and cartography.

GIS research is practical for so many more people now; tools, data libraries, scripts, and training resources enable this. As the author notes; you do no need to have a Masters in GIS to be able to do meaningful research for your end-use applications.

Examples and Tips

While his examples are from social sciences, it is not hard for any end user to see where different methods could be used for their own applications. For example, the booming infrastructure and AEC sectors, now going full tilt towards digitalization of design, construction, and operations is a hungry consumer of geospatial data. We see such trends coalescing under popular terms like “geodesign”. Geospatial research is now, always part of, and essential to the success of such endeavors.

Bearman notes that if you are already a deep-in GIS professional, this book is not for you—it is for the rest of us. It is a good read and moves along in a consistent manner.

Without going into a deep review of specific products, Bearman examines the current state of GIS software and types of data resources. There are suggestions for file naming structures, and a look at popular (read: becoming essential) scripting and coding tools (e.g. R, and Python).   He cautions new users to never underestimate the amount of processing that may be involved, to keep in mind ethics and privacy considerations, and notes that there are instances where your GIS research may not, or even need to, produce a “map”. But if you do decide to map, proper research can bring them to life in ways we never could, even a few short decades ago.

You can read the first chapter on Bearman’s website.

Images courtesy of Nick Bearman, Geospatial Training Solutions.

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