For five days in late September, Madison was host to GIS leaders from the across the country. The event that brought nearly 350 geospatial professionals to our Capital City was the 17th annual conference of the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC). The conference attracted GIS professionals representing nearly every state, numerous federal agencies, and more than 35 corporate sponsors. More than twenty professionals from Wisconsin attended, primarily from the Madison area. Yours truly was conference chair supported by a cast of twenty others.
Advocacy agenda adopted
NSGIC is primarily an organization focusing on geographic information issues important to states, and those conference representatives from states include state GIS managers, coordinators and Geographic Information Officers.
During the conference, NSGIC membership approved a three-point advocacy agenda for the coming year. The number one priority is seeking authorization and funding from Congress for The Imagery for the Nation initiative. Priority number two involves advocating for federal legislation to develop and enhance the cadastral (parcel) infrastructure nationally. And the third priority is to work on increasing funding for the Federal Geographic Data Committee’s (FGDC) Cooperative Agreements Grant Program (CAP) which supports building and improving existing spatial data infrastructure, particularly at the state and local levels.
Strategic Initiatives Reinforced
At this conference NSGIC continued to promote, in conjunction with the FGDC, the Fifty States Initiative which is a program offering guidance and funding in the form of CAP grants to states who wish to create a state GIS coordination council, or who want to take steps to strengthen or restructure an existing council. Wisconsin has received several grants under the Fifty States umbrella to support the ongoing work over the past year to create the Wisconsin Geographic Information Coordination Council (WIGICC).
NSGIC also continues to promote the adoption and use of Ramona, an on-line survey tool designed to collect information on existing and planned GIS data. Ramona is the basis of the recently-released customized Wisconsin GIS/Land Records Inventory. Over the next year, NSGIC will be receiving funding support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to further enhance the functionality of Ramona. The intent is to make Ramona flexible and useful for data-producing organizations nationwide.
Daily highlights are numerous
Following NSGIC tradition, the first full day of the meeting (Monday) included the “Roll Call of States” which was in reality, a brief oral activities report from each state, and each of the 35 corporate sponsors. During the roll call, each speaker is limited to two minutes maximum strictly enforced with a prominent buzzing timer, which fosters rapid talk and abrupt endings. From the reports, it was apparent that a number of states, like Wisconsin, are working on statewide GIS strategic plans and making their GIS councils more effective.
The first day also featured one of the conference’s two keynote speakers, Mark Meyers, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Meyers is an alumnus of UW-Madison with undergraduate and graduate degrees in Geology. Meyers talk focused on the need to integrate a variety of knowledge and data into a framework for doing science-based decision making. Within this context, the Director pointed out the Survey’s desire to get back to producing up-to-date and useful topographic maps. He characterized these map products as accurate with lots of data properly integrated, but as he pointed out, not so “pretty” in the sense that they would not look like the finely turned cartographic pieces of decades past.
The second day (Tuesday) included a presentation by Al Lulloff, floodplain engineer and project manager with the Association of State Floodplain Managers. ASFPM is headquartered in Madison, and is an advocate on behalf of state and local programs for using quality data and best practices for improved flood hazard mapping nationwide. The second day also provided a number of states the opportunity to profile their implementation of strategic shared services plans as a way to better align with well-defined business goals in a state enterprise environment. In this session speakers from the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and North Carolina detailed their activities.
In the “Unique State Activities” session on Tuesday, Jason Grueneberg, President of the Wisconsin Land information Association, reported on benefits realized through the Wiconsin’s land information program. Jason outlined the overall structure and intent of the program using his county (Wood) as an illustration. He focused on the program’s positive impact on achieving needed improvements in the modernization of land records and in the adoption of new GIS technologies. This session also included notable presentations about unique activities in Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Day three kicked off with another keynote offering, this one was a three-person panel presentation/question and answer session. The panel consisted of former Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer of ESRI, representing the private sector; Ivan DeLoatch, Director of the Federal Geographic Data Committee, representing a federal view, and Cy Smith (Oregon), incoming NSGIC President, representing the states’ view. The topic of this hour-plus session was “What will the National Spatial Data Infrastructure look like in three years, and how do we get there?” In this lively session, presentations were limited to 10 minutes each. The Q & A following could have gone on for an hour or more.
Day three also contained one of the conference’s most well received sessions – GIS in Healthcare. Two speakers covered this emerging application area: Michael Byrne with the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, and the afore-mentioned Gov. Jim Geringer who spoke about the role of GIS as a decision support tool in administering state health care programs.
The final day included a morning filled with informative presentations and an afternoon of interacting at the organization’s business meeting and the second round of a state-member-only caucus – a time to identify pressing state issues. The morning presentations were highlighted with a panel of federal agency representatives detailing existing federal agency-private sector contracts that are open for use by state and local governments. Many who spoke on this issue believe that these contracts provide a cost effective and easy-to-use contracting mechanism. The second presentation of note this day was another panel presentation led by private sector companies on ways to build better public/private partnerships through crafting better requests for proposals (RFPs).
Madison provided stately welcome
As always, no conference is complete without a few social events and the NSGIC conference was no exception to this rule. The nightly hospitality suite was hosted within the confines of Madison’s new and classy Overture Center for the Arts on State Street. Tuesday evening included a buffet dinner, live music and an extended performance of the NSGIC Band at the Pyle Center on the UW-Madison campus. And on Wednesday evening, nearly half the conference’s attendees split into small groups and were guided by a local host to one of a dozen of Madison’s many outstanding downtown-dining establishments. We dubbed this event, new to the NSGIC crowd, “Taste of the Town.”