Towards a Definition of Information Systems in Planning (*)

Pedro Ferraz de Abreu


May 1993

(*) Proposed to the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) of MIT; approved by DUSP PhD Committee.


The windmill announced the feudal production and social system; the steam machine brought with it manufacturing and corresponding social systems (capitalism and socialism); we are now beginning to realize that the computer - best symbol of the information technologies - is plunging us into the Information Era (Alain Touraine, Daniel Bell started by calling it "the post-industrial period", Manuel Castels calls it "the informational mode of development"). Like in the previous stages of society, new branches of natural and social sciences, as well as engineering, are emerging in response to the new reality. Disciplines as diverse as Economy, Sociology, Mathematics, Psychology, Biology, Electronics, Law, Ethics, Gnoseology, Geography, and Management, are the source of new information-related fields such as Information Economics, Information Ethics, Artificial Intelligence, Human-Computer Interaction Cognition, Computer Engineering, Informational Law, and Informational Planning. As usual, the new fields frequently overlap and support each other.

Informational Planning -- or Information Systems in Planning -- is a discipline whose cognitive object or domain is the study of the information technologies (IT) with relevance to the institutional and planning processes, and the relationships between those IT and these institutions and planning processes.

At MIT, DUSP, our Planning Support Systems (PSS) research cluster has identified 3 broad areas of inquiry and methodological development that impact PSS: Analytical Methods and Urban Models; Knowledge Representation and Information Management; and Organizational and Institutional Implications of Information Technology.

The body of knowledge comprised by Informational Planning is vast and complex, and its boundaries are still in motion, as is characteristic of young fields. No single individual can claim to excel in all its components and facets. My approach is therefore to define a "core" literature that covers the fundamental across the three areas, and then a more focused view, or "cut", that provides the emphasis and depth appropriate to my particular interests and background.

1. Analytical Methods and Urban Models:

This component of Informational Planning provides the foundation for building information processing tools that are used for tackling complex planning questions, experimenting with different assumptions and approaches to open-ended planning problems, often focused in understanding urban phenomena. This area draws contributions from decision analysis, spatial analysis, system dynamics, operational research, mathematical programming, search space analysis, graph theory, game theory, among others. Some of these are well defined domains, like graph theory, or mathematical programming. Others are either not yet so well defined, or recent research is in the process of redesigning the domain. Spatial analysis techniques (aggregation / disaggregation, overlaying, buffering, etc.) provide a qualitative framework for investigating spatial relationships and building computer models based on those relationships; advances in GIS technology expanded the depth and scope potential of this analytical method. System dynamics, introduced by Forrester as a methodology for urban analysis and modeling, fell out of grace because of the shortcomings of the models it generated; but the challenge of representing time-based complex relationships (such as positive and negative feedback's) remains, and so does this research domain. Game theory, introduced by Emile Borel's "La theorie des jeux" (1921) and consecrated with Von Newman's (and Morgenstern's) "Theory of Games and Economic Behavior" (1944), has grown into a serious research domain impacting on urban planning, by providing the framework to represent complex adversarial and collaborative relationships, which are at the base of computer simulations of urban and regional scenarios.

Although my background includes components such as graph theory, mathematical programming and basic queuing theory and operational research, in the past 8 years my research focus has been, and is, on heuristic methodologies (for search space analysis, for instance), rather than deterministic processes; and on trade-off modeling, rather than optimization. My own cut in this area includes therefore components such as theory of heuristic search (breath-first, depth-first, best-first, beam search, A*, etc.); taxonomy of urban models; heuristic multi-weighted population computer models (e.g. Krueckenberg & Silvers model); trade-off housing computer models (e.g. Bertaud model); adversarial strategies (e.g. minmax theorem);decision-making conceptual models. These components provide the framework to research issues such as: heuristic strategies for path optimization (path cost minimization); the relationship between information technology and the conceptualization and development of urban models; the attributes of successful urban and regional models at different aggregation levels; modeling the relationships between information-acquisition, information-supply and decision-making; the choice of search strategies as a function of each type of decision space; the attributes and formalism of trade-off models versus optimization models; etc.

2.Knowledge Representation and Information Management:

This is the component of Informational Planning that deals with how you structure, store and manipulate information within a system, from raw data to chunks of knowledge, in order to better serve a planning process (decision-making, policy-making, informing the public, transfer of expertise). This area is concerned with information dimensions such as: accessibility, portability, accuracy, consistency, reliability and sustainability.

Technological advances enabled better informed actions by planners, but also exposed them to information overdose. Good information system design and sound information management techniques can make a difference, but what is good and sound is very much domain-dependent: the best way to represent and manage business-relevant data, for instance, is not necessarily the best way to handle planning-relevant data. At the same time, planners functions (e.g. regulation implementation and enforcement) are faced with the challenge of private agents well equipped and familiarized with the most sophisticated information technologies, a challenge that computer engineers and information management experts are not equipped to answer, because those agents have individually both technical expertise and political, administrative and policy knowledge and acumen. This is why technologically oriented sciences became a mandatory component of informational planning, which in turn is extending and changing these sciences to respond to the planning problematic.

Knowledge representation and information management draws from scientific traditions as diverse as psychology, calculus, logic, artificial intelligence, remote sensing, computer science, and management of information systems (MIS). Knowledge representation itself has emerged recently as a solid sub field of artificial intelligence, but traces of at least one formal representation, formal logic (predicate calculus) can be found as long ago as Aristotle, although the idea of using calculus to represent and manipulate ideas may be attributed to Leibniz. Modern advances in all of these traditions brought more contributions that are relevant to Information Systems in Planning. The relevant subareas include: human-computer interaction cognition; expert systems; metarules; symbolic pattern matching; machine learning; regular grammars; semantic networks; frame-based systems; object-oriented representation; hypermedia and multimedia systems; metadata; data-base management systems; data base design; data flow systems; geographic information systems.

My background comprises elements of all the above mentioned subareas, with emphasis on expert systems, human-computer interface, and data base management systems. In recent years, my research focus within this area has been on computer-human interface (cognitive models of user interfaces, intelligent graphic interfaces), intelligent decision support systems (theory of inference / predicate calculus, expert systems and other knowledge-based systems, geo-referenced multimedia browser systems), and object-oriented representation and programming (object-based data models, encapsulation of procedural knowledge, theory of attribute inheritance). My cut in this area, for the purpose of the general examination, follows my current research focus.

3. Organizational and Institutional Implications of Information Technology:

This vast component of Informational Planning is concerned with how the evolution of information technology impacts on the way planners think, work and interact; on the role and functioning of organizations, from state agencies to NGOs (non-governmental organizations); on the relationships between planning institutions and processes, and the people affected by them; and on the urban growth dynamics and spatial form. Since Planning is a science of social intervention, it follows that this area is also concerned with how to best use information technology (IT) to improve planning processes and institutions, and what kind of IT, and IT development research strategies, best serves planning processes and institutions.

Information technology is far from being simply a tool, that planners can master and use; it is also a powerful driving force transforming our society, that planners must understand and find the means to influence, where and when is possible and convenient. Information was always a source of power; now it is also an increasingly important source of wealth, a commodity with unique attributes, a form of capital with different laws of consumption and reproduction. The Industrial Revolution, brought about by the steam machine era technology, dramatically changed social systems, the mode of production, and the nature of the nation-state, expanding its regulatory power and its means to control resources and territory. The Information Revolution is introducing no less dramatic changes, from the mode and organization of production to the form and function of government, changes whose nature became the object of intense research and debate. This is a complex research domain, since the effects of the impact of IT in society, and therefore on cities and regions, vary according to their interaction with the economic, social, political and cultural processes that shape the way IT is produced and used.

This area draws on fields such as sociology, anthropology, management, organization behavior, political science, political economy, and law. In some cases, like political science (theory of the state), it corresponds to a specialized view within a well defined body of knowledge; in other cases, like law, it gave birth to a new branch (informational law). My research focus within this area is on: aspects of political economic impact of information technology (redefinition of mode of production, mode of development; changes in transaction costs) ; information technology and citizen privacy, within different cultural contexts; Information technology targeting citizen empowerment (use of IT to develop new tools and models of participation to facilitate citizen control over planning processes and institutions); impact of IT in government agencies' practice and structure (organizational and IT needs of government agencies concerned with local or regional planning based on spatially disaggregated land use and demographic data).


1. Analytical Methods and Urban Models:

1.1. Analytical methods:

[Brai 89]. "Integrating Information Systems and Spatial Models". Richard Brail. Rutgers University. International Conference on Computers in Urban Planning and Urban Management". 1989.

[Burr 87]. "Principles of Geographical Informations Systems for Land Resources Assessment". P.A. Burrough. University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. Oxford University Press. 1987.

[Hill 80]. "Introduction to Operations Research". Hillier, F.S and G.J.Lieberman. Holden-Day, San Francisco, chapters 1 through 9. 1980.

[Khin 80]. "Introdução a' Teoria das Probabilidades e a' Estatistica". I. Khintchine and B. Gnedenko. Estudios Cor, Aveiro. 1980.

[Mont 81]. "Automatos Finitos". Luis Monteiro and J. Legateaux Martins. in Linguagens Formais e Automatos, FCT-UNL. 1981.

[Poun 92]. "Prisoner's Dilemma". William Poundstone. Anchor Books, New York. 1992.

[Star 86]. "Probability, Random Processes and Estimation Theory". Henry Stark, John Woods. Prentice-Hall, N.J. 1986.

[Wins 88]. "Finding Paths". Patrick Winston, in "Artificial Intelligence", chapter 4. Addison Wesley 1988.

Several recent articles extending the theory of heuristic search. Example:

[Sale 90]. "Consistent Linear Speedups to a First Solution in Parallel State-Space Search". Vikram Saletory and L. Kale. Proceedings of AAAI - 90, Vol. 1. pp 227-233. 1990.

1.2. Urban models:

[Brai 87]. "Microcomputers in Urban Planning and Management". Richard K. Brail. Rutgers University. Center for Urban Policy Research, New Jersey,1989. 1987.

[Code 89]. "Computerized Development Feasibilty Models in Urban Policy". William Code. University of Western Ontario, Canada. 1989.

[Eche 75]. "Urban Development Models: fifteen years of experience". Marcial Echenique. LUBFS Conference Proceedings, 1975.

[Ferr 93]. Ferraz de Abreu, P. (1993) "The Bertaud Model: A two-way mirror on the evolution of information technology's impact on planning for low-income housing". Biennial International Housing Workshop, Cambridge, USA. November 1993.

[Gree 76]. "Models in the Policy Process -- Public Decision Making in the Computer Era". Chapters...Martin Greenberger, Matthew A. Crenson, Brian L. Crissey. Russell Sage Foundation. 1976.

[Hall 75]. "The Future of Models". Peter Hall. LUBFS Conference Proceedings, 1975.

[Harr 75]. "Model Building and Rationality". Britton Harris, The Construction Press, 1975.

[Harr 89]. "Beyond Geographic Information Systems: Computers and the Planning Professional". Britton Harris. Journal of the American Planning Association, Winter 89. 1989.

[Kruc 74]. "Urban Planning Analysis: Methods and Models". D. Krueckeberg and A. Silvers. Wiley Press, New York. 1974.

[Lina 89]. "Computerized Approach for Conducting Technical Feasibility Studies: Analyses of Alternatives for the Development of the Kemayoran Project ". Carlos Linares, PERUM PERUMNAS. PADCO International, Housing Estate Planning Division, Indonesia. PADCO Doc. for the Housing Estate Planning Division, Jakarta, Indonesia. 18 Aug 1989.

[Mart 75]. "An Evolving environment for urban public policy modeling". Thomas Martin, W. McCains and W. Porter. In Urban Development Models, ed. by Richard Baxter, M. Echenique and J. Owers.1975.

[Port 75]. "A model of Lisbon". Nuno Portas, Pedro Geraldes and F. Pereira. In Urban Development Models, ed. by Richard Baxter, M. Echenique and J. Owers.1975.

[Sawi 85]. "Microcomputer applications in Planning (A spreadsheet way of thinking)". David Sawicki. Journal of the American Planning Association. Vol. 51, No2, Spring 1985.

2. Knowledge Representation and Information Management:

2.1. Knowledge representation, hypermedia and intelligent systems:

[Batt 92]. "Urban modeling in computer-graphic and geographic information system environments". M. Batty. in Environment and Planning B, Vol. 19, 1992, pp 663-688. 1992.

[Booc 91]. "Object Oriented Design". Grady Booch. The Benjamin Cummings Publishing Company. 1991.

[Char 89]. "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence". Charniak, 1989.

[Davi 77]. "Meta-Level Knowledge: Overview and Applications". Randall Davis and Bruce Buchanan. Proc. IJCAI-77, Cambridge MA August 1977, 920-927. 1977.

[Glei 90]. "Les Systemes Multi-Experts". Marie-Pierre Gleizes and P. Glize. Herme's, Paris. 1990.

[Han 89]. "Intelligent Urban Information Systems: Review and Prospects". Sang-Yun Han,Tschangho John Kim. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Journal of the American Planning Association, 1989, 55(3): pg. 296-308. 1989.

[Heyl 91]. "Design of a hypermedia interface translating between associative and formal representations". Francis Heylighen. Free University of Brussels, Pleinlaan, Belgium. journal of Man-Machine Studies (1991) 35, pag. 491-515. 1991.

[Schif 92]. "Towards a collaborative planning system". Michael Schiffer. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, Vol.19, pp 709-722, 1992.

[Kim 90]. "Expert Systems: Applications To Urban Planning". T. J. Kim, L. L. Wiggins, J. R. Wright. University of Illinois,MIT, Purdue University. Springer-Verlag. 1990.

[Mins 81]. "A Framework for Representing Knowledge". Marvin Minsky, in Mind Design, 95-128, edited by Haugeland, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press. 1981.

[Mins 86]. "The Society of Mind". Marvin Minsky. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1986.

[Trav 89]. "A Visual Representation for Knowledge Structures". Michael Travers. MIT, Media Lab. Hypertext '89 Conference Proceedings, pp 147-158. 1989.

[Wigg 90]. "Planning with Hypermedia". Lyna Wiggins, M. Shiffer. in APA Journal, Spring 1990, pp 226-235. 1990.

[Wino 75]. "Frame representations and the Declarative/Procedural Controversy". Terry Winograd, in Representing and Understanding: Studies in Cognitive Science 185-210, edited by Bobrow and Collins, New York, Academic Press, 1975.

[Wins 88]. "Artificial Intelligence". Patrick Winston, MIT AI Lab Director. Addison Wesley 1988.

[Wood 75]. "What's in a Link: Foundations for Semantic Networks". William Woods, in Representation and Understanding: Studies in Cognitive Sciences, 35-82, edited by Bobrow and Collins, New York, Academic Press. 1975.

[Wrig 93]. "Expert Systems in Environmental Planning". J. R. Wright, L. L. Wiggins, T. J. Kim. Purdue University,MIT, University of Illinois. Springer-Verlag. 1993.

2.2. Human-Computer interface cognition:

[Bolt 84]. "The Human Interface: Where People and Computers Meet". Richard Bolt. MIT. Lifetime Learning Publications, California. 1984.

[Carr 87]. "Interfacing Thought - cognitive aspects of human-computer interaction". J.M. Carroll. IBM - Thomas J. Watson Research Center. MIT Press. 1987.

[Chen* 92]. "Seeing the Future: Aesthetic Policy Implications of Visualization Technology". Richard Chenoweth. URISA Journal 92, pp 6-13. 1992.

[Cica 84]. "Presentation Based User Interfaces". Eugene Ciccarelli IV. MIT, PhD Thesis, 1984.

[Ferr 89]. Ferraz de Abreu, P. (1989) "Intelligent Graphic Interface: Capturing rules of human-computer interaction in a knowledge base". M.S. Thesis. MIT, Media Lab-VLW, Cambridge, USA. July 1989.

[Ferr 89]. Ferraz de Abreu, P. (1989) "Building knowledge-based graphic interfaces for small Geographic Information Systems". GIS/LIS '89 Conference , Orlando USA. November 1989.

[Norm 83]. "Design Principles for Human-Computer Interaction". Donald Norman. Proceedings of CHI'83, pp 1-10. 1983.

[Riss 84]. "Ingredients of Intelligent User Intefaces". Edwina Rissland, in International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 21: 377-388. 1984.

[Schn 86]. "Direct Manipulation Interfaces". Ben Schneiderman, E. Hutchins and J. Holland. in Norman and Draper eds, User Centered Design: New Perspectives on Human-Computer Interaction, Hillsdale, pp 118-123. 1986.

2.3. Database management systems:

[Chen 89]. "The Entity-Relantionship Approach". Chen P.P. BYTE, pp. 230-235. 1989.

[Codd 79]. "Extending the Database Relational Model to Capture More Meaning". E.F. Codd. ACM Transactions on Database Systems, Vol. 4 #4, Dec 1979. pp 397-432. 1979.

[Date 82]. "An Introduction to Database Systems" . C.J. Date.Volume I, Addison Wesley Publishing Company, Reading Massachusetts. 1982.

[Ferr 90]. "Database Management Tools for Planning". Ferreira, J.Jr. Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 56, No.1. 1990.

[Kort 86]. "The Entity-Relationship Model". Korth H.F. and A. Silberschatz, in Database System Concepts, ch. 2, pp. 21-43. McGraw-Hill. 1986.

[Kort 86]. "The Relational Model". Korth H.F. and A. Silberschatz, in Database System Concepts, ch. 3 pp. 45-104. McGraw-Hill. 1986.

2.4. Computer Technology:

Collection of articles from computer magazines and journals,

such as Byte Publications, InfoWorld, ComputerWorld, which

deal with a range of topics varying from the basics to the

latest advances in computer technology. Examples:

Heywood, S.A. "The 8086 - An Architecture for the

Future: Introduction and Glossary," BYTE Publications,

June 1983.

MIT Information Systems, "The Memory Maze: Sorting Out

The Various Types of PC Memory," Reprint of the Cobb

Group's Inside, DOS Journal, October 1990.

Apple Computer, "Inside Macintosh: Macintosh Toolbox

Essentials". Addison Wesley. October 1992.

Scientific American, Special issue on computing,

September 1991.

3. Organizational and Institutional Implications of Information Technology:

3.1. Political economic implications of IT:

[Cast 89]. "The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic Restructuring and the Urban-Regional Process". Manuel Castells. Chapters 1,2 . Basil Blackwell. 1989.

[Dert 91]. "Building the Information Marketplace". M.L. Dertouzos, Technology Review, January 1991, pp. 29-40. 1991.

[Duga 38]. "Le Materialisme Dialectique et le Materialisme Historique". Joseph Vissarianovitch Dugatchevili. Editions en Langues Etrangeres. Moscou, 1951. 1938.

[Enge 85]. "Anti-Dühring". Friedrich Engels. Afrodite, 1964. 1885.

[Free 82]. "Capitalism and Freedom". Milton Friedman. Chapters 1-4.The University of Chicago Press. 1982.

[Schu 73] "Small is beautiful - economics as if people mattered", E.F.Scumacher, 1973.

[Wris 92]. "The Twilight of Sovereignty". Walter B. Wriston. MacMillan, Scribners. 1992.

3.2. Impact of IT on citizens (privacy and empowerment):

[Chom 87]. "The manufacture of consent". Noam Chomsky, in The Chomsky Reader, Pantheon Books, New York. 1987.

[Dang 88]. "Who is designing geographic information systems for the public?", Jack Dangermond, Environmental Systems Research Institute. URISA, vol III, pag 37-45, 1988.

[Marx 88]. "The New Surveillance". Gary Marx, in Undercover: Police Surveillance in America, Twentieth Century Fund, University of California Press. 1988.

[Marx 90] "Privacy and Technology", Gary T. Marx, MIT. The World & I - Currents in modern thought - privacy, 1990.

[Rubi 89]. "Private rights, Public Wrongs". Rubin. Chapter 8 "The fourth wave: Lawmaking to protect privacy in the computer age". 1989.

Several articles in public debate; example:

[Marx 89] "For sale: Personal information about you.", Gary T. Marx, MIT. The Washington Post, December 11, 1989.

3.3. Social and political impact of IT on Institutions and Processes:

[Buil 92]. "Technology Propels European Political Change". Carl Builder and Steven Bankes. IEEE Technology and Society, Vol. 11, #3, Fall 1992.

[Chen 91] "Impact of expert systems; the technique dimension", Zhengxin Chen, Univ. of Nebraska, IEEE 1991.

[Enna 91]. "Artificial Intelligence and Human Institutions". Richard Ennals. School of Operations Management and Quantitative Methods, Kingston, UK. Springer-Verlag. 1991.

[Hask 91]. "Empowering local land use planning officials through use of land information system technology". Brenda R. Haskins, Lucy A. Buchan, Peter G. Thum , Stephen J. Ventura. Land Information and Computer Graphics Facility, University of Wisconsin Madison. URISA 1991 proceedings, pag. 79-89 vol. I. 1991.

[Luss 82]. "Le Defi Informatique". Bruno Lussato. Dom Quixote. 1982.

[Kindl 88] "Planning Support Systems for the 1990's: Local government Information processing challenges and opportunities", Charles P. Kindleberger, Director of Planning, St. Louis Community Development Agency. URISA, vol III pag 1-21, 1988.

[Marx 86] "The iron fist and the velvet glove: totalitarian potentials within democratic structures", Gary T. Marx, MIT, in "The social fabric: Dimensions and issues", edited by James Short, 1986.

[Nais 84]. "Megatrends". John Naisbitt. Warner Books. 1984.

[Puis 88] "Does charging for public information eradicate the defense of sovereign immunity", Alma Puissegur. URISA, vol IV, pag. 358-370, 1988.

Several relevant articles within this research community. Examples:

[Niem 87] "Better information for better decisions: no question about it", Ben Niemann, Australasian Urban and Regional Information Systems Association. URPIS 15, 1987.

[Poiz 88] "Microcomputer mapping: The latest in software Technology is a boon for Government and public agency planners", Sthephen L. Poizner, President of Strategic Locations Planning. URISA, vol III, pag. 154-164, 1988.

[Zwart 88] "Some observations on the real impact of integrated land information systems upon public decision making in Australia", Peter Zwart, School of Surveying, University of Tasmania. URISA, vol I, pag. 68-79, 1988.

3.4. Organizational impact of IT on Institutions and Processes:

[Ferr* 86]. "Planning an integrated Geographic Information System for Portugal". (In Portuguese). Pedro Ferraz de Abreu. Symposium OTAC-86, pag. 124-141. June 1986.

Ferraz de Abreu, P. (1986) "Contribuição para o Plano de Implementação de um Sistema Integrado de Informação Geografico/Ambiental em Portugal" . Simposium OTAC - Ordenamento do Território Assistido por Computador, Portugal, Junho 1986. OTAC-86, pp. 124-141.

[Hech 88]. "Introducing Information Technology in Thirld World Cities: The Tunisian Experience". Joy Eliza Hecht. PhD Thesis, MIT, DUSP. 1988.

[Huxh 91]. "An Introduction to Urban Geographic Information Systems". William E.Huxhold. Oxford University Press, Inc., 1991.

[Keen 78]. "Decision Support Systems: An Organizational Perspective". P.G.W. Keen and M.S. Morton, Reading Massachusetts, 1978.

[Kram 86]. "Computing and Public Organizations". K. L. Kramer and J. L. King. Public Administration Review, Special Issue on information systems in the public sector, pp. 486-496, November 1986.

[Malo 87] "Computer Support for Organizations: Towards an organizational science", Thomas Malone, MIT 1987.

[Vial 91] "A User's Needs Assessment in Computer Technology for the National Capital Planning Commission", Enrique Vial, Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the National Capital Planning Commission, Washington DC. April 91.

[Wigg 90] "Research philosophy and agenda for the Planning Support Systems Cluster", Lyna Wiggins and Joseph Ferreira, Dept. of Urban Study and Planning, MIT, 1990.

[Zubo 88]. "In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power," Shoshana Zuboff. Basic Books, New York, 1988.

[Zubo 91] "Informate the enterprise: an agenda for the 21 century", Shoshana Zuboff. National Forum, 1991.