Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Spatial Information Science and Engineering


Harlan J. Onsrud

Second Committee Member

M. Kate Beard-Tisdale

Third Committee Member

Max J. Egenhofer


This dissertation presents three innovations that suggest an alternative approach to structuring information systems: a multidimensional heuristic workspace, a resonance metaphor for information, and a question-centered approach to structuring information relations. Motivated by the need for space to establish a question-centered learning environment, a heuristic workspace has been designed. Both the question-centered approach to information system design and the workspace have been conceived with the resonance metaphor in mind. This research stemmed from a set of questions aimed at learning how spatial concepts and related factors including geography may play a role in information sharing and public information access. In early stages of this work these concepts and relationships were explored through qualitative analysis of interviews centered on local small group and community users of geospatial data. Evaluation of the interviews led to the conclusion that spatial concepts are pervasive in our language, and they apply equally to phenomena that would be considered physical and geographic as they do to cognitive and social domains. Rather than deriving metaphorically from the physical world to the human, spatial concepts are native to all dimensions of human life. This revised view of the metaphors of space was accompanied by a critical evaluation of the prevailing metaphors for information processes, the conduit and pathway metaphors, which led to the emergence of an alternative, resonance metaphor. Whereas the dominant metaphors emphasized information as object and the movement of objects and people through networks and other limitless information spaces, the resonance metaphor suggests the existence of multiple centers in dynamic proximity relationships. This pointed toward the creation of a space for autonomous problem solving that might be related to other spaces through proximity relationships. It is suggested that a spatial approach involving discrete, discontinuous structures may serve as an alternative to approaches involving movement and transportation. The federation of multiple autonomous problem-solving spaces, toward goals such as establishing communities of questioners, has become an objective of this work. Future work will aim at accomplishing this federation, most likely by means of the IS0 Topic Maps standard or similar semantic networking strategies.