11th Summer Institute on Geographic Information in Science


Catalina Island, California - 2013

April 3 to 7, 2013 

"Synthesizing Population, Health, and Place"


Fiesole (Firenze), Italy - 2013

June 3 to 7, 2013 

"Ontologies and models for integrated assessments of multiple-scale processes"


2013 Flyer:


Week 1: "Synthesizing Population, Health, and Place"

Catalina Island, California, April 3 to 7, 2013



The beautiful Wrigley Marine Science Center and the George and Mary Lou Boone Center for Science and Environmental Leadership on Catalina Island


The 2013 Vespucci Institute on Synthesizing Population, Health, and Place intended to discuss the theoretical and practical aspects that connect population, health and place from a holistic perspective. Traditional notions of space and place offer only a limited view of what is needed in practice, and do not prepare you for applications in the real world. To fill this gap, the week draws on real-life experiences in a global setting, contrasting the approaches used by demographers, health and spatial scientists.

Important trends related to health GIS include: (1) the transformation of health data and its availability through initiatives at Health and Human Services that seek to make data widely available and to encourage innovative use of the data; (2) the development of new technologies for sensing of the environment related directly to health exposures such as miniaturized, wearable sensors; (3) new initiatives fostering development of cutting edge technologies for exploiting new data sources and analytical approaches for improving human health; (4) the emergence of games for health, that seek to encourage salubrious health behaviors through gaming, social networks, and goal-oriented behaviors; and (5) the rapid advances in place-based "omics", that are providing geographically-referenced data on the genetic and biological determinants of human disease.

The confluence of these trends may be viewed through the lens of "genetic GIS", which seeks to increase our understanding of human health as the interactions between genetics ("-omics" writ large); behavior (the mediator of disease-related exposures through the major exposure routes, eating, drinking, breathing and dermal); and the environments through which individuals pass over their life course (e.g. Schaerstrom’s pathogenic paths; daily, weekly and life-long activity spaces).

This institute brought together thought leaders from diverse disciplines revolving around these trends with senior and young scientists to learn, encourage discourse, and to explore new ideas and new approaches for understanding human health and disease. 

Invited participants included:
  • David Balshaw, Emerging Technologies, Bioengineering, and Systems Biology Program, NIEHS
  • Michael Gould, Esri and Universitat Jaume I
  • Daniel Janies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Werner Kuhn, Institute for Geoinformatics - University of Münster
  • Jean Luc Neptune, Health 2.0
  • Todd Park, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Doug Richardson, Association of American Geographers
  • Ben Sawyer, Games for Health




Week 2:  "Ontologies and models for integrated assessments of multiple-scale processes"

Fiesole (Firenze), Italy, June 3 to 7, 2013



Venue: The beautiful Fattoria die Maiano in Fiesole.


One of the grand challenges of our time is to understand and manage the complex relationships between society and the physical environment. To meet this challenge we need a new kind of interdisciplinary science that considers the full ensemble of processes and feedbacks for a wide range of biophysical and social systems. The notion of “land function” is a new concept for cross-sector integration and for representing complex system dynamics. This new approach aims to provide a comprehensive, consistent and harmonised analysis of the impacts and responses of land functions to environmental and socio-economic changes using a detailed, spatially disaggregated bottom-up approach consistent with the Drivers, Pressures, State, Impact, Response framework. Whilst this framework is used in the environmental sciences, a social-science approach suitable to model land function dynamics and interactions from local to global scales is that of simulation based modelling and in particular spatial micro-simulation. The latter is conceptually very relevant to popular computer games such as SimCity and the Sims and involves the merging of census and survey data to simulate a population of individuals within households (for different geographical units), whose characteristics are as close to the real population as it is possible to estimate. Spatial micro-simulation models can then be used to answer questions pertaining to the geographical, as well as the socio-economic impacts of government policies and to generally perform what-if scenario analysis. When attempting to link environmental and social models, key challenges include the degree of tacit knowledge, varying assumptions, and different conceptual and theoretical frameworks that create barriers and misunderstandings in the dialogue. To overcome this, it is crucial to formalize and communicate the description, and the assumptions, of the models used. These descriptions and models must be based upon robust specifications of notions like function, cause, process, pathway, rate of change, or quality, as they apply to entities in physical reality that are (in a certain way) independent of the activity of human agents. Moreover, we need descriptions and models of the interaction of humans with their environments. For example, intentional agents (individually or as groups) act upon the physical environment by causing certain processes that change certain qualities. The Vespucci Institute will therefore explore the theoretical basis, assumptions, concepts, and components of the land function and spatial micro-simulation models, and analyse how we can move towards developing an ontology of land function and land function dynamics and a collection of models that are tentatively consistent with the logical constraints of this ontology.