Sean Murphy

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Forest Resources


Steven A. Sader

Second Committee Member

Kate Beard-Tisdale

Third Committee Member

David Field


Land conservation is frequently cited as the most effective means of limiting the detrimental effects of anthropogenic forces on natural resources. Because governmental entities can be hampered by fiscal and political concerns, land trusts are increasing relied on to protect habitat. However, these groups often lack the analysis and research tools necessary to meet their mission. Geographic Information System (GIs) technologies such as Spatial Decision Support Systems (SDSS) offer the promise of allowing decision makers to explore their decision space at a landscape level of analysis. But critics have charged that research in this arena is largely anecdotal in nature. This research explores the validity of this contention and presents two applied empirical studies of user satisfaction with an SDSS. In order to assess the overall maturity of the GIs discipline, articles in four journals from 1996 to 2001 were analyzed based on the scientific rigor of the research strategies employed. The results showed that, while there was an increase in the breadth of methodologies employed, the majority of studies employed qualitative ("hypothesis generating") rather than empirical ("hypothesis testing") designs. The findings showed need for scientifically rigorous studies in applied settings. An operational SDSS was designed that identified and prioritized suitable land parcels for protection given multiple criteria and user values. The SDSS was customized for a single land trust in Maine and four theories of user acceptance of technology were tested using a modification of the traditional case study methodology. The Relative Advantage theory provided the best explanation for user acceptance of the technology. The research design also overcame the hurdles to conducting case study research in an empirical manner. In the next stage of research, the SDSS was distributed to eighty-one land trusts for testing. An analysis of the twenty-four returned surveys indicated strong support for the User Competence theory. To the author's knowledge, these two studies represented the first experimental SDSS research in an applied rather than laboratory setting.