Thoughts from the North Carolina GIS Conference

NCGIS2009.png

Last week I attended and presented at the North Carolina GIS Conference in Raleigh, NC. It was a different conference from the ones I typically attend. It is a much more regional and GIS-focused conference than Where2.0, State of the Map, or Location Intelligence. The attendees are primarily county, regional, or state GIS coordinators, users, managers and some federal GIS experts from Fish & Wildlife or USGS.

Last week I attended and presented at the North Carolina GIS Conference in Raleigh, NC. It was a different conference from the ones I typically attend. It is a much more regional and GIS-focused conference than Where2.0, State of the Map, or Location Intelligence. The attendees are primarily county, regional, or state GIS coordinators, users, managers and some federal GIS experts from Fish & Wildlife or USGS.

What's interesting for me was the perspective of very local government users that are working on the street and block level. They are working under constrained budgets and with varying levels of mandates coming down from above. The DC GIS department is a great model to follow but doesn't have the same levels of management above it that a county-GIS department would in western North Carolina. It's this hierarchy that is both onerous as well as potentially empowering.

Individual GIS departments are seeing an increase in repeated data requests, often for the same data from the same receiving organizations. One way to address this is to easily offer the data through web site or services - however this often goes against the grain of politics and feelings of ownership in an organization that choose to require manual approval of data requests.

In fact, this was notable during presentations and discussions that GIS departments referred to their users as "data producers" and "data requestors". The concept of a simple "data consumer" was not understood or welcomed, despite the fact that the data is public and free of license.

One solution is the development several state level initiatives that are seeking to provide central repositories of data, tools, or collaboration. Through these state portals, regional offices are encouraged (or mandated) to upload their information on a regular basis. Then, subsequent data requests go through this clearinghouse. One example is NC Street Map. However, you'll quickly realize (after following that link) that these portals are not nearly as encouraging as the name would imply, despite sounding like the increasingly beloved OpenStreetMap.

In order to get an account, you still must still fill out a 'request', and then request data. This may make it easier for government agents to more easily identify data sources, but not necessarily, or easily, get it or use it.

Open Initiatives

Attending the conference were 4 authors of what is known as "NSDI Proposal #2", or as they jokingly call it opeNSDI. The objective being to open up these, and other, data clearinghouses. Focus on sharing data and interoperability instead of merely vendor specific solutions or tools.

There are varying viewpoints on how federal money, say via a Stimulus package, should be requested and parceled out across the state. County GIS employees are limited, or non-existant, in many departments. Therefore, there are no resources to provide building out a local infrastructure to share and manipulate data. The first request is to pledge to fund a new employee in each county.

The response to this is that this new employee would quickly be repurposed and pulled off of something as inconsequential as data sharing. In addition, hoping for long-term funding rarely works out, and if this job was created would probably be removed in the first round of cutbacks. Instead the idea is to receive a one-time funding to each county to implement a data sharing system that serves local needs as well as can be aggregated up to the state and federal levels.

Either way, it's not an easy solution, but fortunately there are some really innovate and ingenious pioneers that are forging the path and providing best practices. Counties such as Mecklenburg have built an entirely open-stack portal (read about it on Tobin's Fuzzy Tolerance blog). This effort was definitely the outcome of very hard work and foresight, but fortunately it's being recognized as such (including winning the award at the conference for best GIS website in the state) and hopefully encourages others to follow along.

River roots

One of the most exciting applications of modern tools and local efforts was from Wansoo Im, famous for his public toilets mashup with and GIS4Kids.

He's been working with RiverKeepers, a non-profit organization that monitors for river pollution, in collaborative mapping. IMRivers . Beyond simple placemarking sites, each of these individual instances is then aggregated to the national River Network. Unfortunately, none of the sites syndicate their data via a feed or API. So the information is effectively locked into these portals.

Other interesting talks included Michael Waltuch, an ESRI veteran, on Books as an Paradigm for User Interface Design and Rob Trickel from the Division of Forest Resources on Digital Aerial Sketchmapping. There are still plenty of issues facing the application and utility of geospatial tools. Especially for small organizations and how to face increasing consumption of public data, decreasing budgets, and incredibly advancing technology. Overall, the conference was a well put together and provided valuable insights into local and regional GIS issues and future paths.

GEOPRESS_LOCATION(Raleigh, NC)

About this article

written on
posted in ConferenceNeogeography Back to Top

About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.