This quote about how 80% of all data has a spatial component has been bandied around everywhere. Introduction to GIS classes, product descriptions, talks, etc. Would anybody know who first said it? Or A link to original article would be nice.

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    That reminds me of this famous quote: “The trouble with quotes on the internet is that it’s difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine.” ― Abraham Lincoln Jan 15, 2012 at 4:03
  • 3
    More to the point would be to consider whether the quotation in this question has any meaning at all. Obviously it is not universal in scope: nobody could possibly assess "all data" ever created in the world. This needs a clear definition of "data" and of "spatial" and it begs us to provide some useful criterion of just what universe of data we are talking about. Quotations like this are more likely to reveal more about the cupidity of the speaker and gullibility of the listener than they do about GIS.
    – whuber
    Jan 16, 2012 at 17:30
  • It's just that it has been so ubiquitous. It may well be one of those made-up statistics used to sell something. Will leave this question open for a couple of days in case somebody has another answer.
    – R.K.
    Jan 17, 2012 at 2:36

5 Answers 5


I just searched for "80% of data has a spatial component, says who?" and it returned this un-authoritative quote:

UPDATE: a couple of my ex-MapInfo colleagues contacted me to inform that the stat was used at MapInfo before sneeze was at the company. Further, one of them attributes the origins to MapInfo founders Laszlo Bardos and Sean O’Sullivan with Pixie later referencing it in MapMarker's marketing materials.

But a more reliable reference points to here:

The reference is: Franklin, Carl and Paula Hane, “An introduction to GIS: linking maps to databases,” Database. 15 (2) April, 1992, 17-22.

  • 2
    Whoa, thanks man. Saw this on the comments though > UPDATE: I just received a copy of the original from Steve Romalewski, and turns out the quote references a 1990 report from the Ohio Geographically Referenced Information Program (OGRIP) [ogrip.oit.ohio.gov]. I’m busy tracking that down, and will report my findings.
    – R.K.
    Jan 15, 2012 at 13:26
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    Great! Thinking about it a a little more it seems like 100% of data has a spatial component; it's just that <100% is meaningful to explore.
    – djq
    Jan 15, 2012 at 18:22

William Huxhold’s 1991 book ‘An Introduction to Urban Geographic Information Systems’ pages 22-23: ‘A 1986 brochure (Municipality of Burnaby) published by the Municipality of Burnaby, British Columbia, reported the results of a needs analysis for an urban geographic information system (GIS) in that municipality: eighty to ninety percent of all the information collected and used was related to geography.’

On page 236, the following statement can be found:

‘Chapter 1 reported that 80-90 percent of all the information used by local government is related to geography.’



A recent article from GISLounge sheds some light on the topic. It would seem that a certain Robert E. Williams wrote a paper in 1987 entitled "Selling a geographical information system to government policy makers." He was the Director of the Alachua County Regional Information Center at that time. The article was published in "Papers from the 1987 Annual Conference of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association" by URISA. Here's the offending paragraph:

Automated mapping is probably an easier sell because, again, the policymakers are cognizant of the need for improved mapping capabilities. It has been estimated that approximately 80% of the informational needs of a local government policymaker is related to a geographical location. This information is usually supplied by a map rendering, e.g., maps showing the location of a parcel of land being considered for a rezoning petition.

He doesn't lists any sources or supporting references to his claim though.


I used to quote the 80-90% spatial data wisdom to my classes at UMBC in the early 1990s. Then I changed pedagogy and challenged the students to identify non-spatial data. Not easy.

In last year's International Journal for Digital Earth article (Foresman and Luscombe, 2017) on the Second Law of Geography, we raised the issue of this urban myth figure. Good luck with citations of unimpeachable value, I would gladly give Huxhold's citation, albeit, I know for a fact that we were granting various credits to others in the 1980s while studying at UCSB with Jack Estes. But the financial and utilitarian return on investment for spatially enabled data has been highlighted in the Foresman& Luscombe paper.


Working in a local government... the 80% rule is generally true.

Of course, if your business is manufacturing or retail, this percentage is non-applicable.

In a local government, we do use the term NeoGeoData for data gathered and recorded with an address or location component, not being a GIS dataset on purpose. This data becomes GeoData when you put this information in relation to other (Neo-)GeoData sets. (for instance "addresses of kids < 3 Years" versus "location of playgrounds") ("income" versus "age" versus "location of social housing")

So yes, I think the statement

It has been estimated that approximately 80% of the informational needs of a local government policymaker is related to a geographical location

is quite correct.

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