Your own GIS is simply your view into the larger system. It’s a two-way street. You consume information that you need from others, and in turn, you feed your information back into the larger ecosystem.
Modern GIS is about participation, sharing, and collaboration. As a Web GIS user, you require helpful, ready-to-use information that can be put to work quickly and easily. The GIS user community fulfills that need—that’s the big idea. GIS was actually about open data long before the term gained fashion because the people who were doing it were always looking for ways to deepen and broaden their own GIS data holdings. No one agency, team, or individual user could possibly hope to compile all the themes and geographic extents of data required, so people networked about this to get what they needed.
Since the early days in GIS, people realized that to be successful they would need data from other sources beyond their immediate workgroups. People quickly recognized the need for data sharing. Open GIS and data sharing gained traction quite rapidly across the GIS community, and continue to be a critical aspect in GIS implementation.
With cloud computing and the mobile/app revolution, the GIS community is expanding to include almost anyone on the planet. The data in every GIS is being brought together virtually to create a comprehensive GIS of the world, and nearly everyone can take GIS with them everywhere they go on their tablets and smartphones. Geography and maps enable all kinds of conversations and working relationships both inside and outside your organization.
First and foremost, your GIS can be used by people throughout your organization. In Web GIS, maps are purpose-driven and their intended audience may include your executives, managers, decision makers, operations staff, field crews, and constituents. ArcGIS Online enables you to extend your reach to these users.
GIS users collaborate across communities. These communities may be based on relationships fostered by living in the same geography (a city, region, state, or country) or by working in the same industry or subject matter (conservation, utilities, government, land management, agriculture, epidemiology, business, etc.). In these communities, users share critical data layers as well as map designs, best practices, and GIS methods.
People everywhere are starting to engage with GIS. They have been using maps as consumers, and now they are interested in applying them at work and in their community relationships. Often this involves communicating with the public by telling stories using maps. More and more, members of the public are providing input and collecting their own data for GIS organizations and the public good. This makes for better civic engagement at multiple levels.
It is vital to recognize the phenomenal growth of GIS in people’s lives and how its effect extends beyond its economic and fiscal impacts. You are—or can be—an active participant in a truly amazing field. Every day, millions of people are using GIS in government, industry, and academia. Even smaller organizations are hiring dedicated GIS professionals to improve the quality and accuracy of work being accomplished, and the benefits are measurable. GIS helps people make better decisions, reduce costs, work more efficiently, communicate better, and gain key insights.
Globally, GIS and the related geospatial economy is valued at more than $250 billion per year. The geospatial segment is one of the fastest growing in the tech field overall. That’s saying something because everyone knows how fast tech is growing. This segment is considered by the US Department of Labor to be one of the three technology areas that will create the greatest number of new jobs over the next decade. It’s growing at 35% overall, and some of the sectors like business GIS are growing at a 100% clip.
This worldwide community is busy every workday implementing GIS: They are growing their expertise and extending their reach throughout organizations and communities all over the planet. The work these people do is impossible to pigeonhole because it is so broad, yet it does tend to focus its attention on critical resource issues, environmental collapse, climate change, and other daunting problems. The most hardcore users of GIS tend to be passionate and interested in the world, and dedicated to making a difference. To them, and maybe to you, its important to feel like the work you do means something.
For a lot of the reasons described in this book, GIS is a collegial profession with a strong networking aspect. Organizations like URISA, American Association of Geographers (AAG), and others have long held well-attended conferences. From the beginning, Esri has encouraged face-to-face networking of its user community through regional user groups, industry user groups, its Developer Summit, and its annual Esri International User Conference. With more than 16,000 in attendance, this event is the largest GIS gathering annually. To sit in the audience during the plenary session is to feel part of something truly larger than yourself.
GIS has a critical role to play in your organization. ArcGIS is a geography platform enabling you to create, organize, and share geographic information in the form of maps and apps with workers throughout your organization. These run virtually anywhere—on your local network or hosted in the ArcGIS Online cloud. The maps and apps that you share are accessible from desktops, web browsers, smartphones, and tablets.
Professional GIS provides the foundation for GIS use across your organization. It all starts with the work you do on your professional GIS desktops. You compile and manage geographic data, work with advanced maps, perform spatial analysis, and conduct GIS projects. Your resulting GIS content can be put to use by others in countless ways. Your work is shared as online maps and apps that bring GIS to life for users within your organization and beyond.
A key component in your organizational GIS is your information catalog or Portal. This catalog contains all the items that are created, and ultimately shared, by your group’s users.
Every item is referenced in your organization’s information catalog—your Portal. Each contains an item description (often referred to as metadata) and any item can be shared with selected users within as well as outside your organization.
ArcGIS provides intelligent online content management that enables you to create and share useful maps and apps with your users. You can engage ArcGIS to organize and distribute your geographic information and tools. With a portal, certain users will have access to apps that support their specific work tasks, like apps configured for collecting data in the field. Some maps will be shared with the entire organization, like the basemaps that provide the foundation for all the work performed across your organization. Some users will create their own maps by mashing up their data layers. And some items, like story maps about your organization’s work, might be shared with everyone including the public.
GIS is about the people in your organization and the purpose-driven maps and apps they apply to do their work. Every user is given an ArcGIS account (i.e., a login) and assigned a role for using ArcGIS. For example:
“Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”
– Herbert Simon, political scientist (1916-2001)
Geodesign provides a planning methodology and approach to project design and decision-making, and it is best practiced by a community of collaborators. A technical design approach is also involved. Once objectives for a project are articulated, professionals survey and characterize a landscape. They identify its special resources and the opportunities to support a project as well as the constraints that limit what might be possible or practical. GIS is often used in this phase to perform suitability/capability analysis. These results are used to generate the landscape of opportunities and constraints. Subsequently, design alternatives are sketched onto the landscape, and further GIS analysis is used to evaluate, compare, and analyze the various design alternatives.
The practice of geodesign requires collaboration among project participants. The most important aspect is the feedback and ideas that are generated by the participants—including local citizens and stakeholders who may be affected. Most geodesign activities are about this kind of community engagement and consideration. GIS provides a useful tool for others to participate in the evaluation by providing the ability to consider the issues of other stakeholders.
Many problems in the world are usually not well defined, not easily analyzed, and not easily solved. What we do know is that the issues are very important and require thoughtful consideration. They are beyond the scope and knowledge of any one person, discipline, or method. People must begin to understand the complexities, and then figure out ways to collaborate. Collaboration is a common thread, and social benefits are the central objective.
Geodesign, as an idea, has the potential to enable more effective collaboration between the geographically oriented sciences and the multiple design professions. It is clear that for serious societal and environmental issues, designing for change cannot be a solitary activity. Inevitably, it is a social endeavor.
— Adapted from A Framework for Geodesign: Changing Geography by Design by Carl Steinitz
It’s no secret that modern GIS is participatory. All of us need access to other people’s data to do our jobs and to do them well. And we’ve all worked for years on building communities that share information. Millions of users around the world have already built their data layers in hundreds of thousands of organizations. They continue to build them for their areas of interest, for their geographies, and for their key themes of information. The GIS community is building these layers at all levels of geography, from the community level to the regional level, at state and country levels, and even at global levels.
And what’s interesting about geographic data is that it’s all about layers. So there’s this global collection of information that’s been assembled and continues to be kept current and further built out by the GIS user community—all in a series of layers that reference onto the Earth, which makes it very easy to integrate that information.
Meanwhile, GIS is moving to the cloud, to this big network of computers that makes information available. One of the things that’s happening with Web GIS is that every layer has a URL—it’s got an address that’s findable and usable. You can reference a data layer and begin to use it, apply it, and bring it into your GIS work.
So GIS provides a kind of integration engine, and this is a profound idea. By all of us focusing and working on our own geographic information systems, we’re assembling this very promising, comprehensive GIS of the world. This is growing every day; it’s getting richer every day. The cloud systems for using Web GIS are becoming more capable, enabling all of us to have access to these rich collections of information. Now certainly, it’s not like everybody uses all the millions of layers. We still work with what’s relevant to us and what’s appropriate for us to use. But when you’re doing your work, you’re beginning to realize you have access to other people’s layers that are very important and very relevant to the work you’re doing.
Many GIS organizations are discovering compelling and useful ways to engage with their local communities. Geography and maps facilitate such civic engagement.
Citizens and constituents everywhere are beginning to embrace GIS and engage with local GIS organizations. Here are a few examples of community engagement.
Direct Relief, a global nonprofit providing medical assistance to people affected by poverty and emergency situations, works with Syrian refugees on a mission to treat and document skin disease among refugees. The NGO supplied each medical record scribe with a tablet equipped with the Survey123 app. Despite the remote nature of the refugee camps and limited time, the scribes were able to easily use the app as part of the triage process.
Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District is a California agency that works to protect the people in its jurisdiction from the harmful effects of air pollution. With the ongoing California drought, the problem of respiratory disease caused by dust storms is on the increase. This story map collects all the webcam feeds onto a single map to view the current dust storm conditions.
A storytelling app, currently in prototype, will enable authors to easily configure crowdsourced and citizen science projects. Participants will be able to sign in using their social media identities and upload photographs, descriptions, and quantitative data. Administrators will be able to vet submissions. Projects can range from local, classroom-based projects to global, public-facing initiatives.
From your web browser, visit the ArcGIS Trial page. Fill out your name and email address and click Start Trial.
Open your email and follow the instructions from the Esri email to activate your ArcGIS Online account. This account, for which you will be the administrator, will allow you and four others to use ArcGIS Online.
There is one more step before your account is activated. Think carefully about your or your organization’s short name because this will form the URL for you or your organization (and eventually all your content). Click Save and Continue.
To get the Desktop software or other apps, go to the Free Trial page which is always accessible under your account name in ArcGIS.
In response to President Barack Obama’s call to help strengthen STEM education through the ConnectED Initiative, Esri President Jack Dangermond announced that Esri will provide a grant to make the ArcGIS system available for free to the more than 100,000 elementary, middle, and high schools in the United States, including public, private, and home schools.
ConnectED is a US government education program developed to prepare K-12 students for digital learning opportunities and future employment. The Initiative sets four goals to establish digital learning in all K-12 schools in the United States during the next few years. These goals include high-speed connectivity to the Internet, access to affordable mobile devices to facilitate digital learning anytime, anywhere, high-quality software that provides multiple learning opportunities for students, and relevant teacher training to support this effort.Go to ConnectED
Whatever it is, we thank you for becoming engaged in the ArcGIS experience. We are humbled by the work of our users around the world. Our work is about serving them—and hopefully, you as well.
Esri is an exciting company doing important work. Our technology enables organizations to create responsible and sustainable solutions to problems at local and global scales.
At Esri, we believe that geography is at the heart of a more resilient and sustainable future. Governments, industry leaders, academics, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) trust us to connect them with the analytic knowledge they need to make these critical decisions that shape the planet.
We invite you to discover ways that you can leverage our technology and expertise in your own organization.