The Learner's Guide to Geospatial Analysis



Why this publication?

The WMD Commission concluded that, “the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction” (Iraq Survey Group Final Report: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), September 30, 2004). This failure to appreciate the human-geographic implications of operations in Afghanistan, and to understand the impact of New Orlean's human geography on Katrina rescue efforts raises serious questions about our preparation of those carrying out geospatial analysis or, at least, to inform our leaders of our analysis. As educators, we share in these failures since we educated the failed analyst.

The ultimate goal of this publication is to help the geospatial analyst produce accurate intelligence which saves lives, improves government, serves law enforcement, and helps business. Good geospatial intelligence separates the important from the unimportant and conceptualized a spatial order out of apparent disorder. Such analysis is not innate, and the analysis is subject to many uniquely spatial fallacies, biases, and confusion between cause and effect, technical necessities, group-think, and analyst failings. Even the most experienced geospatial analyst will sometimes fall into one of these pitfalls. The truly good geospatial analyst knows what the pitfalls are and works toward objective and accurate analysis.. Geospatial analysts should be aware of their spatial reasoning processes. Quoting Richards Heuer (p. 31), "they should think about how they make judgments and reach conclusions, not just about the judgments and conclusions themselves."

Academia almost exclusively teaches the scientific method as a method to create knowledge. But, it seems the scientific method is seldom used in geospatial intelligence work. What method or approach is used? The intuitive method seems to be the primary method for producing geospatial intelligence which:

  • has the well known tendency to permit biases to influence the analytic result;
  • is difficult for other analysts to reproduce; and
  • is difficult to teach since the results are based on intuition which comes with experience.

Using the scientific method has it's limitations since the scientific method starts with a single hypothesis. As such, some suggest it is not appropriate for developing intelligence (Heuer, 2009). As Don L. Jewett (2007) points out, the problem with starting with a single hypothesis is the emotional attachment to the hypothesis and the temptation to use the results that contradict a less desired desired hypothesis. Other methodologies exist that provide analytic means to arrive at an accurate analytic result. This is not an attempt to diminish the importance of intuition and experience. Rather it suggested an appropriate mixture of science and intuition as a means to produce good geospatial intelligence.