Although the trend in many developed nations is to decentralize government planning and management, centralized planning is continuing to increase in importance in developing nations (Todaro, 1994; Gillis, et al., 1992). In particular, many third world governments plan a larger relative share of their economies than do governments in developed countries (Todaro, 1994; Gillis, et al., 1992). Unfortunately, centralized government development activities are hampered by two factors identified by Todaro, the lack of adequate data and of trained decision makers (1994, Ch. 16). In particular, spatial and attribute data describing the geographic distribution of economic resources, populations, and other factors affecting development present significant problems for government planners and leaders. Geographic information systems (GIS) are a type of data management and decision support system that have been shown to be useful in supporting decision makers in public planning and administration (Brudney & Brown, 1992; Drummond, 1995; Grupe, 1992; Worrall, 1994). GIS enable the collection of conventional (attribute) data and geographic (i.e., spatial) data. Because many planning decisions include geographic concepts, these systems can be useful in helping to organize public and private resources and make policy decisions. Although GIS have the potential to assist governments in managing development, the spatial data that drives these systems present a host of collection and management problems. This paper discusses several of the problems related to using GIS in the third world and offers potential solutions for addressing these problems.
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