NE URISA: Trends in Making Integrated Information More Accessible

Yesterday, to start off Geography Awareness Week, the New England chapter of URISA held a one-day, focussed conference on integrating data (website). I did the keynote and I think the key takeaways included:

- Authoritative data is in the eye of the beholder: it’s people’s perception of the quality of the data, not its actual quality, that seems to matter.
- The traditional GIS user pyramind (Doer, User, Viewer) is going on a diet; it’s “middle” (the user/typical desktop user segment) is getting smaller as more users migrate up or down. The reason? Changes in IT rather than changes in geospatial technology.
- That change in shape of the pyramid means a realigment for software providers, users and educators.
- The “GIS driver’s license” (knowing how to run the software) is not necessarily enough in these times to get a job. “More” in terms of IT, database or discipline knowledge separates one from the “dime a dozen” who can run the software

The session on CityStat and 311 (non-emergency city information lines) included speakers from Hartford, CT, Boston and Springfield, MA. All three cities have successful implementations, thought city workers don’t seem to like the accountability CityStats force upon them. Of note to me:

- The decision to makes CityStat and/or 311 data available to the public varies from city to city. The City of Boston offers such data, but has found little use of it by constituent and public interest groups. They hope it will be used more as the city begins to offer the data via services.
- One big plus of 311 is that the call centers can handle a huge percentage of calls that otherwise would go to the departments - especially tax and document questions (how much do I owe? When is it due? How do I get a birth certificate).
- Simply collecting all the data leads to action. In Boston a correlation was found between street light outages and car break ins. Hence, if a light is out, residents shouldn’t park under it! Another lesson residents may learn: report the outage to the city via 311!

A session on permitting and document management was a bit over my head, but I did note:

- It’s not uncommon for GIS staff to be excluded in exploring and choosing a permitting system, which causes integration challenges later.
- In one town automating permitting did not actually speed up the time for permits to be approved - mostly because the processing in the department that handled them stayed the same.

The final session of the day, A Taxonomy of Web Mapping Applications, gave a great state of the art in Web mapping and Web GIS. Of note:

- The Massachusetts Historical Commission’s apps, based on Google Maps for data collection and Maptitude for the Web for browsing the database illustrated how easy to use tools and the ability to tap into data served by others could get workable solutions up and running quickly and relatively easily. The key limitation? No control over data from those outside services.
- The discussion of the beta of MIT’s Whereis? highlighted how to integrate ArcGIS Server with Google Maps. Of note: the Google data was not “good enough” so MIT simply “blocks it out” for the areas of MIT. The beta site gets up to 2000 hits per hour. (Hammered!). It takes just 30 minutes to recreate the MIT tile cache, so those behind it can do clever things - like color the maps for holidays, as they did for Halloween.

About 100 people attended the low cost event in Sturbridge, MA. I continue to advocate for small focussed events. This one was certainly a success.

Published Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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