Wisconsin Geospatial News

Two studies released on local GIS use

User surveys are a common method for assessing the costs, primary applications and barriers to implementing a GIS. In Wisconsin, the Land Information Board sponsors an annual survey of counties to assess the progress being made in the state’s Land Information Program. Completing a survey is an pre-condition for participation in the Program’s grant activities.

Two recent surveys, one national and the other regional, offer views into the "whys and wherefores" of GIS use in local government. The national survey was sponsored by the Geospatial One Stop (GOS) a federal government initiative to provide improved access to geospatial information. Geospatial One Stop is one 24 e-government initiatives sponsored by the Federal Office of Management and Budget. The GOS survey was actually conducted by a private firm, Public Technology, Inc. in partnership with the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, and the U.S. Dept. of Interior.

Findings highlighted
Being a nationwide effort, over 10,000 local governments were invited to respond to the survey which was conducted this past summer. Slightly over 10% (1,156) responded, and their answers were analyzed to form the survey results. About 40 local governments in Wisconsin participated including 15 counties, 17 cities, seven villages, and one town.

From the responses, PTI identified a number of findings. Among them the most notable are.

  • Many barriers exist for using GIS, chief among many are lack of funding, and finding employees with technical expertise.
  • Local government is evolving GIS to new applications including public safety, health, public works, revenue collection, and economic development.
  • Many of the most successful programs are based on cooperative development, and broad education and training support for staff.
  • Data sharing is evolving. There is a trend toward sharing costs for the development and maintenance of the technology, and with this comes the desire to maintain control of the data, at least when it involves data provided to non-government entities.

Included in the 22-page report are several notable examples of GIS in local government. The survey results may be viewed on the PTI website.

Western survey focuses on rural counties
The regional GIS survey, conducted in 2002 by the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University, was much more narrowly targeted. It focused on county planning departments in rural areas of 12 western states. The survey objectives were to determine primary uses of GIS and major barriers.

The survey’s authors assert that the most interesting finding is the high level of GIS use in the counties, at nearly 85%. The dominant GIS uses cited in the survey are maintaining land ownership records (60.3%), maintaining tax parcel information (57.3%), road planning and maintenance (53.4%), and a tie between tracking municipal boundary changes and comprehensive planning (48.9%).

As with the GOS national survey, this regional survey reported the major barriers to GIS adoption as the cost to acquire hardware and software, and the cost and availability of GIS training for employees.