Geography is the science of our world. Coupled with GIS, geography is helping us to better understand the earth and apply geographic knowledge to a host of human activities. The outcome is the emergence of The Geographic Approach—a new way of thinking and problem solving that integrates geographic information into how we understand and manage our planet. This approach allows us to create geographic knowledge by measuring the earth, organizing this data, and analyzing and modeling various processes and their relationships. The Geographic Approach also allows us to apply this knowledge to the way we design, plan, and change our world.
Approaching a problem geographically involves framing the question from a location-based perspective. What is the problem you are trying to solve or analyze, and where is it located? Being as specific as possible about the question you're trying to answer will help you with the later stages of The Geographic Approach, when you're faced with deciding how to structure the analysis, which analytic methods to use, and how to present the results to the target audience.
After clearly defining the problem, it is necessary to determine the data needed to complete your analysis and ascertain where that data can be found or generated. The type of data and the geographic scope of your project will help direct your methods of collecting data and conducting the analysis. If the method of analysis requires detailed and/or high-level information, it may be necessary to create or calculate the new data. Creating new data may simply mean calculating new values in the data table or obtaining new map layers or attributes but may also require geoprocessing.
You will not know for certain whether the data you have acquired is appropriate for your study until you thoroughly examine it. This includes visual inspection, as well as investigating how the data is organized (its schema), how well the data corresponds to other datasets and the rules of the physical world (its topology), and the story of where the data came from (its metadata).
The data is processed and analyzed based on the method of examination or analysis you choose, which is dependent on the results you hope to achieve. Do not underestimate the power of "eyeballing" the data. Looking at the results can help you decide whether the information is valid or useful, or whether you should rerun the analysis using different parameters or even a different method. GIS modeling tools make it relatively easy to make these changes and create new output.
The results and presentation of the analysis are important parts of The Geographic Approach. The results can be shared through reports, maps, tables, and charts and delivered in printed form or digitally over a network or on the Web. You need to decide on the best means for presenting your analysis. You can compare the results from different analyses and see which method presents the information most accurately. And you can tailor the results for different audiences. For example, one audience might require a conventional report that summarizes the analyses and conveys recommendations or comparable alternatives. Another audience may need an interactive format that allows them to ask what-if questions or pursue additional analysis.