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Benefits arising from the application of geographic information systems to complex regional environmental planning problems

Richard Paul Taupier, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The proposition of this research is that the use of geographic information systems (GIS) is capable of generating significant social benefits and that benefit-cost analysis methods including measures of willingness-to-pay can be an effective approach to the valuation of those benefits. It is based on the assertion that measurement of benefits from the use of GIS, especially those that are non-market based, is not only important and difficult, but highly useful and informative as well. The issues considered include the defining of the economic characteristics of spatial data, an examination of economic methods that have proven to be useful in similar circumstances, the selection of cases that will allow for the results of this study to apply to other cases, and an analysis of the characteristics of environmental applications. This research studies a subset of the full range of GIS applications, those that have to do with the environment. The focus on this sub-set of GIS applications is for two reasons; the nature of complex environmental problems and the range of the benefits that are likely to arise from the use of GIS for environmental planning and management problems. This research has involved the use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods. In each effort at measuring the benefits of GIS detailed information is needed to understand the manner in which the information products are used and to construct a valid approach to measurement. The case study approach offers some desirable features. Its more informal nature offers the potential to gather information that may be useful when seeking to measure non-market benefits. It offers the potential for a series of sequential steps base on information gathered during an initial round of interviews and the ability look at each case in greater detail than might otherwise be possible. The particular approach used in this research involved three levels of interviews. Four key conclusions from this research follow: (1) Methods that rely on measures of willingness-to-pay are useful tools. (2) Efficiency benefits in some cases are not as significant as effectiveness benefits. (3) Measuring only some of the benefits of using GIS is sufficient in many cases. (4) Benefits may occur several organizations or years removed from the original GIS use. In summary this research has resulted in improving methods with which we can study the benefits of using GIS to help resolve complex environmental problems. The case study approach produced results that should be replicable in other studies. It also succeeded to the extent that it was possible to look through this approach and make some observations about broader issues and to generate a number of interesting propositions that could form the basis of other research efforts.

Subject Area

Urban planning|Area planning & development|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Taupier, Richard Paul, "Benefits arising from the application of geographic information systems to complex regional environmental planning problems" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9909226.