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Theme 4 – Observation and modelling of change

The theme Observation and modelling of change responds to a double objective: first of all, using Prodig’s areas of methodological expertise (GIS, remote sensing, cartography, modelling) to monitor technological developments and update methods for the collection, processing and representation of geographic data; secondly, creating synergies with the analyses of territorial shifts and evolutions to develop new observation and modelling methods, in order to analyse change according to varying timescales.

This theme aims to bring conceptual answers to the questions raised by change analysis. For instance, the notions of constraint, permanency and retroaction can help us articulate such seemingly incompatible timescales as those attached to climate change, to the construction of political territories and to populations’ everyday practices (Brunet and Dollfus, 1990 [1].). Similarly, the sciences of complexity can provide us with tools and concepts to analyse the functioning of territories as the result of multiple interactions between interlocked social and environmental factors, each of which evolves according to their own rules and whose evolution is often unpredictable (Moine, 2007 [2]). Periods of change affecting territories (transformations, mutations, ruptures) are very revealing, as they reflect the studied objects’ characteristics, mutual relations and relations with their environment (Janelle, 2008 [3].). We therefore need to develop new methods to describe and model change, in order to account for our systems’ operating rules.

The objective of our research is to go beyond discrete diachronic representations, which would consist in a series of static snapshots. On the contrary, we need to form new models using statistics (trajectories typology), mathematics (time-varying differential equations) and computer science (multi-agent modelling). This formalising work will be combined with the development of new cartographic representation methods through animated semiology. These multiple objectives support, enrich and extend the reflections carried out under this theme and the others.

Our analysis of spatialised systems with their changes and processes comprises of three stages:
- Observation: an indispensable stage in field research (network-based measurements, institutional observation systems, surveys, remote sensing…).
- Modellisation: organising our knowledge of spatialised systems to produce new forms of knowledge (co-constructed models and knowledge, which can then be validated and appropriated by local stakeholders, multi-agent simulations, dynamic models of stock and flows…).
- Reflective analysis on geomatic methodologies (GIS, theme-based cartography, geographic imagery, geovisualisation): the aim is to assess the reciprocity between theories on the functioning of territories and observation and analysis methods. The reflection also covers the integration of our models into decision-making processes.


[1] Brunet R., Dollfus O., 1990, Mondes nouveaux, Paris, Hachette-Reclus [Géographie Universelle, tome 1

[2] Moine A., 2007, Le territoire : comment observer un système complexe, Paris, Éditions L’Harmattan. 176 p.

[3] Janelle D.G., 2008, « Spatial Reorganization : A Model and Concept. » In S. Hanson and M.-P. Kwan, eds. Transport : Critical Essays in Human Geography”, Aldershot : Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Reprinted from 1969, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 59, p. 348-364