Wisconsin Geospatial News

Final report on Surveying-Parcel Forum available

On March 12, 2015, the Wisconsin State Cartographer’s Office organized and hosted a one-day forum, entitled “Aligning County Surveying and Parcel Mapping Efforts in Wisconsin.” The forum was held in the Dreyfus Center at UW-Stevens Point. Over 100 surveyors, GIS professionals, real property listers, and other members of the community attended the event. A final report on the Forum is now available online.

forum report_front_cover

Purpose of the Forum

The forum was intended to initiate a dialog about county surveying and tax parcel mapping activities in Wisconsin. Recent legislative changes have set the stage for increased public access to statewide parcel data. Act 20, the state’s last biennial budget, instructed the Wisconsin Department of Administration to develop a statewide parcel map online by 2017 by integrating county parcel data. Greater public access to parcel data will result in heightened awareness of errors unless steps are taken to begin to eliminate these errors.

Different viewpoints exist within the community about how to coordinate surveying and parcel mapping efforts, and what activities should be prioritized to enhance parcel map accuracy. On the one hand, there is a clear business need (and statutory mandate) for a statewide parcel map. On the other hand, any parcel map created without a base of up-to-date PLSS (Public Land Survey System) data will ultimately need to be readjusted once the PLSS network is complete.

Forum Structure

The main focus of the forum was on gathering community input into the statewide parcel mapping effort. In addition to a series of short presentations, there were two group discussion sessions at each table. Discussion focused on the following questions:

  • What are our common interests and goals for a statewide parcel map?
  • Why do we care about accuracy and why is accuracy important for the map?
  • What are the top challenges we face contributing to a uniform statewide parcel map?
  • What are the potential solutions to these challenges?

In a final scorecard session, participants were asked to respond to the following question:

  • What is one concrete step we can take to build a statewide parcel map everyone can use?

Participants’ responses were ranked on a scale of 1-5 by five other participants, resulting in a cumulative score between 5 and 25 for each response.


Several common themes run through the responses from the Forum, indicating that the community has a high level of understanding of the complexity of producing and maintaining a digital statewide parcel map.

A major source of concern is PLSS and the need for accurate corner coordinate data to ensure positional accuracy of parcel data. Another concern is temporal accuracy and the need to keep the parcel map current.

Results also show a significant emphasis on data standards—in fact this was the top response for the scorecard analysis. Concern for standards is related in part to the idea that without an efficient way of contributing and integrating parcel data, the statewide map will become out-of-date and unusable.

Respondents also emphasized the need for stable and sufficient funding. Tied to this were concerns about the statewide process adding additional time and effort to counties already strapped for resources.

Several respondents cautioned that counties should continue to be the authoritative data stewards for parcel data, and that the statewide map should not duplicate a service already delivered by the counties.

Concern was expressed over legal issues such as licensing of data, privacy, liability, and disclaimers.

Respondents also emphasized cooperation, coordination, and education—not just to complete the statewide map and keep it current, but also to secure buy-in from decision makers.

Getting buy-in from users was also noted. Several respondents emphasized that users’ needs should be assessed—both to give users what they need and to ensure that data extracts and data quality are aligned to users’ expectations.

Next Steps

We are interested in your thoughts about the results in this report, and your suggestions for next steps to keep momentum going. If you have thoughts or comments please contact us!

Howard Veregin email 608-262-6852

Brenda Hemstead email 608-263-4371

Wisconsin Idea

The forum emphasizesthe Wisconsin Idea by linking UW expertise and resources with issues that impact Wisconsin’s citizens in all corners of the state. Improved parcel data is needed as the state moves forward with its efforts to transition to the next generation of online information and services for citizens. By engaging stakeholders, we can develop a common vision for statewide geospatial data and facilitate the adoption of this vision as a model for the future.


The State Cartographer’s Office would like to acknowledge the assistance of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of University Relations, which provided an Outreach Incentive Grant to offset the cost of the Forum.