Wisconsin Geospatial News

Looking Forward – Part Two

In Part One of this series of articles, I looked back and talked about some of my initial experiences as State Cartographer in the early 1990s, commented on the rise of the state’s Land Information Program, various notable leaders of that time, and some national trends in the geospatial arena. With this second and final article, I want to comment on some critical issues I see ahead, and some of the ways to reach those elusive goals.

Craft a strategic plan

Views on the value of strategic plans vary widely. Some people are of the opinion they are a waste of time, only to be published, placed on a shelf and then ignored. Others believe that such plans are valuable, providing direction and aiding decision-making for the future. I think they have value if updated regularly. In 2006, the WI Land Information Association (WLIA), with financial support from a federal grant, went through a fairly comprehensive process of producing a statewide GIS strategic plan.

The plan was officially released more than two years ago (January 2007). Was the effort worth it? I think so, primarily due to the process of producing a plan. Over 100 individuals from around the state participated in discussions identifying important issues. Also, I think the process got people thinking about GIS, and data, and collaboration in new ways, and outside of the Land Information Program that had been the prime focus for so many years. The number one goal in the plan called for creating a GIS council, and that was accomplished last fall with the creation of the WI Geographic Information Coordination Council (WIGICC). Other goals set forth in the plan have not been addressed, but that doesn’t mean they are not important. I think that WIGICC, along with other partners, should in the next year implement another GIS strategic planning process.

Support WIGICC

I mentioned the creation of WIGICC above. The Council is active, but still in its infancy, and is trying to grow up fast. It is attempting to reach out to those with an interest in the issues. This broadly-defined group is the “Network” on which the Council will rely on for advice and support. Council members represent some constituencies that are outside of the established “regulars” in GIS. I believe that is a strength of WIGICC, but ultimately the value of the Council will be its accomplishments. Being an advisory body and formed on an interim basis does limit its influence. The Council will have to work to overcome those limitations. I believe having a statewide council, a forum for ideas and actions, is a good thing. Virtually every other state has a GIS council in some form, some very similar in organization to ours. With your interest and participation we can make the Council and Network useful, valuable, and worth the investment in its creation.

Adopt new standards and guidelines

When the WLIP was established in the early 1990s the program included a number of data and institutional standards. In the data category this included geodetic reference frameworks, mapping accuracy, parcel mapping, wetlands mapping and soils mapping. Later on the Wisconsin Land Information Board (WLIB) adopted the federal metadata standard for reporting on data source, creation date, lineage, etc. Institutional arrangements required the identification of partners, plans for communication, education, and training, and public access.

In the past twenty years standards and guidelines have changed. Others have emerged, particularly at the federal level. Some of these federal standards should be analyzed for use and adoption here in Wisconsin. For example, the Federal Geographic Data Committee has created standards covering cadastral data content, and geospatial positioning. The latter is designed to replace the nearly 70-year old National Map Accuracy Standard that is still used in many mapping contract specifications. In this state we need to review appropriate existing standards and guidelines and adopt them where they make sense and are accepted by the data creator and user community. Up-to-date standards and guidelines will improve data consistency across the state. A reiteration of institution standards could vastly improve consistency and fairness of data access and availability.

Make data available to all

Geospatial data are highly valuable. It shows us and helps us comprehend what is, and what can be. The number and types of potential users of geospatial data is unknown. New and innovative applications happen all the time. Several years ago I heard a speaker at a national conference explain that a study of various national data policies had concluded that the United States was number one in the world in realizing the value of geospatial data. The study concluded that this condition was due to the geospatial data creators and distributors in the U.S. making their data generally easily available, with little or no cost, and lower use restrictions. This policy is very much unlike policies in other countries that place serious restrictions and associated high costs on data access.

I believe we need to understand better the value of data, and be able to demonstrate that value to others including our elected officials. Good, accurate, up-to-date data provides power – the power to innovate, the power to make good decisions on what to protect, and where to expand, and the power to analyze and solve problems associated with emergency response and preparedness, health care, crime, and wise use of natural resources.

One long overdue aspect of data availability is establishing a central location to access commonly needed information. In the early1990s, an extensive study was done to plan for the design and implementation of a system called WILIS (WI Land Information System). For a variety of reasons, WILIS never happened, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t need it then, nor does it mean we don’t need something similar into the future. The state GIO, Curt Pulford, has his staff working on the foundation of building a geospatial data warehouse. This is a good and needed thing. Other states are very well developed in this regard, Wisconsin is not, but we need to catch-up and provide services.

Identify political champions

A decade ago, Bob Welch, a land surveyor and state legislator, was a champion of the WLIP. He was one of the original members of the WLIB. He understood WLIP issues, and was always available as a champion of the WLIA to offer support and explain the needs and benefits of the program to other legislators. Today, we don’t have such a political champion in the state legislature. We need one. We need more than one. We need to work on identifying and educating a potential champion or two. But, we don’t seem to be too good at doing this. Identifying and educating a political champion must be high on the list of statewide strategic priorities.

Thanks for the memories

Well, Bulletin readers that’s it. Over the past 18 years, I’ve written innumerable articles, and I do hope that you have gotten something from some of them. For those of you in Wisconsin, let me say that it has been a pleasure being your State Cartographer. It has been a fantastic experience in the best job possible. I shall miss the experiences and friendship we have developed over the years. Hopefully, in some manner our paths may cross again.