Mid-America GIS Consortium Approaches 20th Anniversary

By Members of MAGIC

_Susan Norton recently contacted Directions Magazine to let us know the Mid-America GIS Consortium (MAGIC) is approaching its 20th anniversary, and in April of 2008 will hold its 11th symposium, with the tag line of "20 years of MAGIC." Norton coordinated these responses to our questions about MAGIC with a team of eight members of the consortium.

Directions Magazine (DM): Why was MAGIC originally formed? Was there a specific need that had to be addressed, or was it more of a general desire to have some regional organization that focused on GIS?

The Mid-America GIS Symposium was formed to provide a forum in the center of the country where people who don't normally get to attend national conferences could go and get exposed to high quality presentations and information. The founders were mostly academics and governmental employees from the six states surrounding Kansas City - Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Consequently, Kansas City became the de-facto hub for the symposium. Most of the founders were already pursuing local conference offerings, and pooling these efforts seemed the logical thing to do. Karl Kappleman, who was organizing conferences and programs at Kansas University, served as the sponsor and principle organizer for the first few symposiums.

Eventually, the symposium migrated to Lincoln, NE and Lake of the Ozarks, MO, but Kansas City remains its primary home. The symposium spawned the Mid-America GIS Consortium which was created to perpetuate the symposium and to promote other activities within the region.

DM: Why create a separate entity, rather than becoming, say, a regional chapter of URISA?

MAGIC and URISA, as well as NSGIC (the National States Geographic Information Council), evolved together throughout the 90's complementing each others' initiatives through coordination and collaboration. MAGIC members have served on the boards and as president of both URISA and NSGIC.

DM: Did that "build once, share often" vision mentioned on the "history" page take hold among the people attending early MAGIC meetings? Why or why not? Was MAGIC an effective mechanism? Are there any examples of successful sharing you can offer from those early days?

The original slogan for the Mid-America GIS Symposium was "Promoting Cooperation in the 1990's." Obviously, that slogan eventually became obsolete, but it was a positive message for a positive decade. "Build once, share often" became not just the motto, but the engrained philosophy of the culture of MAGIC. Having this philosophy adopted so early has enabled people to move more quickly with the sharing of data. The first aerial photography project in Arkansas in 2000, for example, was offered as public information on the state's clearinghouse server. City and county and local governments began to understand that data does not end within a jurisdictional boundary and the best way to complete their own data development projects was to develop according to standards, and share across boundaries. This philosophy followed on the heels of a very messy time in the late 1980's when the biggest job of a GIS technician was to constantly be embroiled in data conversion projects due to the proprietary nature of the software used during that time.

DM: How does MAGIC now interface with local governments or councils of governments to coordinate regional activities to help share data?

MAGIC works through the state coordinating bodies to help facilitate data sharing both within and among states. Successful projects have included backing up state clearinghouses for Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri among each other. Without the relationships MAGIC has built, this would never have been such an obtainable result. Another very specific example in Arkansas is that counties in northwest Arkansas coordinate with Oklahoma and Missouri to maintain road centerline data.

Still another example is Missouri's successful Regional Geospatial Workshops - these workshops received funding through a MAGIC grant. Regional planning commissions host the workshops for 50-60 regional attendees. The workshop agenda is tailored to the needs of each region through a number of planning meetings open to all potential attendees. The attendees actually determine what subject matter their agenda will present, including geospatial presentations from amongst those attending. The workshops also provide a means for Missouri's GIS Advisory Committee to communicate state and federal issues that should interest regional locals, like Missouri's Imagery for the State program to provide cost-free two-foot true-color imagery to the entire state - but allow buy-ups from the locals who request it through the partnership.

DM: How do the state GIS coordinators participate in this group and what is their authority to negotiate partnerships, if any?

The state coordinators in MAGIC states participate like anyone else in MAGIC. No preference or special treatment is given to the state GIOs. Traditionally, each state GIO or geospatial lead has actively participated in both the consortium and the symposium. MAGIC is an informal partnership, so state coordinators have never been asked to formally participate. However, MAGIC has initiated a number of projects, some of which have had funding, and formal agreements have been put in place to address needs and responsibilities. Each project is addressed individually and agreements are put in place as appropriate to the individual state's rules and regulations.

Participation is not limited to state GIS coordinators. However, all MAGIC initiatives such as grants and sponsorships to states are funneled down through the state GIS coordinators.

DM: Are there shared technology initiatives that the group will sponsor such as for metadata management?

MAGIC applied for and was awarded a 2007-2008 Category 1, FGDC Cooperative Agreement Program grant. The grant's target is creating new metadata champions" across the region through workshops to be held in each of the eight member states. These workshops will be hosted by local governments and universities and attended by the ever-increasing number of local government staffers who are now creating and maintaining data. The curriculum will have a regional flavor and will be available via the Web to all. The project is currently in the curriculum design phase. This project is the first in what MAGIC hopes will be further regional activities funded by state and federal initiatives.

DM: What initiatives present challenges for MAGIC today? What is happening with these current initiatives? Examples?

One very challenging initiative is in the area of homeland security where MAGIC is working to foster education for the emergency management community on how GIS can be put to use in real world scenarios. GIS practitioners are being called on more and more to support emergency management activities. However, the divide between the GIS and emergency response community needs to be bridged if we are to truly leverage the power of GIS when supporting these events. The more MAGIC does to help educate both sides, the more GIS will be engrained in emergency response.

Another is the Clearinghouse initiative where MAGIC members discuss and share ways they are distributing GIS data and are investigating ways of expanding the clearinghouse backup project mentioned previously to other states. We are also working on street centerline/addressing issues throughout the region and on improving the communication efforts of MAGIC to provide more information on best practices, standards and templates throughout the region.

DM: What kind of professional pressures are MAGIC members facing now and what role does MAGIC play in helping to address their needs? Any specific examples?

MAGIC members are under the same professional pressures as everyone else. However, MAGIC is focused on applications of GIS and related spatial technologies in the mid-continent region. So in reality, coordination and cooperation take the center stage of the consortium and the needs of the individual are addressed through outreach and educational efforts like the MAGIC Symposium and the many workshops that we hold. MAGIC is also aggressive in helping to fund MAGIC participation in the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) and other professional outreach.

As GIS has moved from back office to front office, people are trying to integrate it into all components of governments. GIS professionals are having to become more politically savvy, to justify budgets and to try to keep staffing needs apace with growing work load. Quality workforce is getting hard to find in the public sector because of the rapid pace of GIS integration into all areas of business.

Key framework datasets are being created on shoestring budgets and maintaining funding continues to be an issue.

DM: MAGIC is an all-volunteer organization. What kind of people volunteer, and what's in it for them? Can you provide a profile of a "typical" volunteer?

The typical volunteer is the sort of person who loves GIS technology and wants to promote it as a means of improving life on this planet. These people keep up on the technology, who's using it and who is in the best position to discuss it in a public forum.


A MAGICian is a volunteer, often sacrificing personal time for the good of the GIS community.
A MAGICian is a catalyst for governmental change, forming new relationships among governments at all levels.
A MAGICian is a visionary, looking for accomplishments to benefit many rather than few.
A MAGICian is a teacher, willing to share knowledge to allow others to learn.
A MAGICian is a communicator, breaking down barriers to build connections to enable learning and sharing.
A MAGICian is a champion, dedicated and outspoken regarding GIS issues.
A MAGICian is a professional, practicing GIS and striving to improve personal skills in an effort to improve the profession.
A MAGICian is a coordinator, bringing together people and groups in order to share knowledge.
A MAGICian is a planner, laying groundwork now to benefit policy, processes and procedures in the future.
Above all, a MAGICian is passionate, devoted to the principles and ideals of MAGIC, to bring positive change through GIS.

Published Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Written by Members of MAGIC

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