While I only stayed at the NSGIC Mid-Year in Annapolis,
MD for a day and a half, I had a grasp on the theme midway through day
one: communication. On the second day, NSGIC President Learon Dalby
provided further evidence when he reframed his "Issues Briefing" as an
"Opportunities Briefing." The central theme there, I'd argue, was
communication. Before recapping some of his points, let me share some
of the communication issues/challenges that I saw during the meeting.
Discussions of "Imagery/Transportation/Parcels/Elevation
for the Nation" (NSGIC's vision for national level, multipurpose
datasets) had to include the caveat that in reality only the first two
are "real" in the sense of their being NSGIC documents (in very
different states). The others have lives of their own. A national
cadastre has been in discussion for many years, so it's easy to hang a
"for the nation" on it. "Elevation for the Nation" was apparently built
on the idea of NSGIC's "Imagery for the Nation" by the National
Research Council. Now, branding is good, but letting branding get out
of control can be detrimental. Communication is not only about telling
the story but also about owning the brand and maintaining faith in it.
It's as much about sharing, and about retaining meaning for the brand.
(More on this challenge below.)
this quote from ESRI's Marten Hogeweg: "[To get stimulus money] call
your database a databank, and data production facility a factory." I
could paraphrase that with a quote from a friend who did a stint in
advertising: "You need to talk like they listen." We are still working
at that, both in how we sell GIS within our community and most recently
how we sell it to the federal government. I had the same conversation
at both breakfast and lunch one day that came back to this general
sentiment: "It's 2009 and we still can't hold up good numbers about
what's spent on GIS/geodata and its ROI." Both of the parties stated
that such arguments are the language of business. With those in hand,
maybe, my discussants suggested, geospatial would have gotten more play
in the stimulus bill.
No one I spoke with at NSGIC had heard of the Agricultural
Geospatial Coalition before it was introduced on the first day,
including those more attuned to aerial remote sensing than I am. That
suggests to me that the group may have wanted to stay under the radar
at launch. There may be very good reasons for that. On the other hand,
here's a subgroup of geospatial players coming together around a single
program. The National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) keeps them in
business and the formation of this coalition allows them to speak their
minds on Capitol Hill. I think that's great. Clearly, the members
didn't feel their needs were being met or their voices heard, and they
acted. By doing so, they can communicate with two important
constituencies: the geospatial community and Congress, who pays a good
deal of their paychecks.
There's quite a lot of "overselling without overselling" in the
geospatial world. Many who know about the behind-the-scenes worlds of
data collection and integration laugh when non-geo folks talk about
Google's imagery being real-time. Google never said it was, but from
movies and TV and science fiction, many people not familiar with geo
assumed, and still assume, it is at least near real-time. It's not
Google's fault. People think this way and frankly, the conclusion
certainly makes sense to those who put forward the contention. By the
same token, the Governor
of Montana assumes since he has a full parcel database for his
state online, all other states do, too. He's in the same boat as the
folks who assume the imagery is real-time. I'm not sure how we reign in
these "ahead of reality" situations, but I'm confident communication is
a good start.
Now back to Dalby's "Opportunities Briefing." He highlighted several
places where clear communication can help move NSGIC's agenda forward.
For one, NSGIC did not author a stimulus proposal, but it did endorse
the ones in line with its policy agenda. Another: the many LiDAR
specifications, including a new draft one from USGS, could benefit from
more communication. Communication could help unite these efforts or at
least gather input from different stakeholders. What about the
potential confusion on the state of each of the "for the nation"
efforts? NSGIC already has a document
defining specific criteria for the "for the nation" efforts. Within it
are stages of the life cycle of these efforts: concept (proposal),
development (initiative) and implementation (program). There'll be a
"scorecard" to keep track of where each effort is in the process.
Finally, he posed a theoretical (or perhaps not?) idea: What if NSGIC
focused its energy on a single, well researched effort, rather than
spreading its policy energy on many projects? What if that project was
Imagery for the Nation? What if it was funded and tested out and then
adopted to be the framework for other "for the nation" efforts?
There are definitely many opportunities, even in these trying times,
for both NSGIC and the geospatial technology community to move their
agendas forward. Communication, especially with all of the new tools of
social media, is a key part of future success...or failure.