To open, Birkin gave us an introduction to GIS (Geographic Information Systems) which display data sets as map graphics. He demonstrated some of the applications of this type of system, which have spawned quite a large industry, with 20,000 people in the US who claim to use GIS each day in their work.
So they have this transformational technology in geography, which enables one to manage and integrate spatial and attribute data and has widespread applications for demographics, climate research, land-use, health, business, crime etc. Birkin admitted that his first reaction when introduced to these maps was: “So what?! What can we do with these systems to make decisions or provide insights into the kind of phenomena we are studying?”
He used the examples of how intelligence can be added to the GIS data through spatial analysis, helping to automatically identify burglary hotspots, which has been used to inform policing decisions, mathematical models drawn from GIS, simulation and dynamic simulation.
Birkin went on to give us more detail about how he is trying to create a social simulation of the city of Leeds by combining data sources, and how this can inform policy makers. This includes creating “synthetic individuals” to create a complete model.
As a researcher looking to create simulations and analyse issues using geographical information, there are loads of data sources. You would download this information and go away and create the simulations independently. The point of the NeISS project is to create a framework for sharing the value adding-work of creating the simulations from the different data sets. They started in the spring by building portals to bring together technologies to help create an infrastructure with the capabilities to help add value to all the data that is available.