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New Tool for Analyzing Georeferenced Data in Chile
By Thomas Connelly, Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile and Gary Tengco, INCOM S.A.

A long, narrow strip of land perched along the Pacific, Chile stretches from the driest desert in the world in the north through famous wine and fruit producing valleys to the glaciers and storm wrecked coast of Cape Horn in the south. This nation of many climates and diverse cultures has long sought to resolve the tensions created by the need for both national unity and strong local government. Making relevant information readily available to all participants at both national and local levels has proved a major challenge.

As is true in most countries, many government agencies in Chile generate the statistical data that informs sound policy formulation and evaluation. These agencies make raw data available via the Internet. The National Congress helps unify a population that is spread thinly over great distances and provides a sounding board for local interests and needs. However, the congress discovered that not only congresspersons but also concerned citizens needed one-stop, rapid access to data from multiple sources. These groups also needed to combine and evaluate diverse variables and required tools for displaying data in ways that make complex social dynamics more easily understood.

In response to these diverse needs, the Library of the National Congress of Chile created a task force, the Sistema Integrado de Información Territorial (SIIT), which was tasked with responding to this challenge. The technical requirements for this task, as outlined by the SIIT team, include

  • Single-window access to information from multiple sources. A Web tool should make data from diverse agencies available to nonexpert, remote users.
  • Real-time creation of user-defined reports. The solution must provide prompt access to both cartographic and alphanumeric data, managed in open and distributed databases, that can be updated and expanded efficiently as more current data becomes available.
  • Simultaneous data display, both in statistical tables and on maps, should allow social indicators to be applied to map visualizations in classification, graph, and label displays in historical series when possible. This would ensure maximum comprehension of complex data combinations by nonexpert users.
  • After the initial project launch, SIIT staff should be able to manage the Web tool.
  • Flexibility in the types of end use reports generated. User-generated data reports created with the Web tool should be easily exported to other digital and print media.

Clearly, a GIS-based solution was needed and the library turned to INCOM S.A., the Esri distributor in Chile. INCOM engineered an integrated and versatile system based on a suite of Esri software. ArcGIS clients, such as ArcEditor 8 and ArcView 8, are employed for data maintenance and advanced analysis. ArcIMS with the Metadata Server for the Internet provides access to data. ArcSDE 8 running on a Microsoft SQL Server 2000 is the gateway for data storage and serving.

The six-month development process included ongoing assessments of user needs that ensured system design was responding fully to the project's technical requirements. The synergy generated between Esri software allowed INCOM to design an open architecture for spatial and statistical data that linked it to Web site work areas. In these work areas, users access data for multiple themes from many sources through a user-friendly interface.

When congresspersons encourage their constituents to become better informed, they encounter a major obstacle. The data needed for well-informed participation is typically available from numerous sources. Often it is presented as statistics in tables. This can cause user fatigue and discourage citizen participation.

While most sites provide users access to flat, predetermined pages that supply data in tables or densely argued articles, the SIIT Web site lets users interact with the data in real time and access databases maintained by library professionals. Grouped under five large headings—Population Census, Housing Census, Municipal Management, Socioeconomic Indicators, and Elections—statistical data can be classified, graphed, or labeled on the geographic display as desired by the user. Topographic information is also available to enhance the geographic display of the statistical data.

The out-of-the-box, flexible configuration designed by the INCOM team supplies unique reports for end users that are generated and served rapidly, using data that is constantly updated.

While the INCOM team modeled the system, SIIT Director Juan Carlos Utreras negotiated service interchange covenants with data generating agencies. "We are seeking to make the National Congress the premier source of easily accessed hard data to equip congresspersons with locally focused information and to empower citizens for enhanced participation in our democratic processes," said Utreras.

To date, the SIIT database is nurtured by online updates that include

  • Census results
  • Municipal administration indicators including budgetary figures
  • The Human Development Index, provided by the United Nations Development Programme
  • Public and private educational performance indicators
  • Survey data for socioeconomic variables
  • All election results
  • Prohibited substance control statistics
  • Housing survey results

Nonprivate data from the National Bureau of the Registry of Persons and the Ministry of Health will be incorporated into the SIIT database. With this broad range of data sources, the SIIT database is a unique access tool for creating maps that combine and analyze indicators and provide georeferenced and intuitively accessible visualizations of local social dynamics.

SIIT users have access to these multiple data sources georeferenced by the country's administrative levels—regional, provincial, and municipal. Further segmentation by Congressional Representative Districts and Senatorial Districts, both composed of contiguous municipalities, allows social indicators to be examined along with voting behavior. Users can select a geographic zone of interest and add or remove map layers for cities and towns, roads, parks and national reserves, elevation curves, rivers, and lakes using standard ArcIMS map display tools.

To map statistics, users enter a work area where they can choose the statistical data that will be displayed on the map. This level shows off the innovative excellence of this Esri-powered tool. Once a user selects a dataset, it can be thematically mapped by a selected variable. This data can also be graphed and labels created for specific values displayed on the map. This allows users to examine variables such as urban-rural population, government spending on education, or the United Nations Human Development Index for a selected municipality and its contiguous neighbors. Users can select from multiple variables by year. They can combine data from more than one dataset and create displays using the three available formats.

The online interchange with the data producing agencies ensures streamlined updates and data validation. ArcIMS supports this permanent interchange of information. Data reports can be displayed, copied into word processor files, exported to Microsoft FrontPage Editor, sent in e-mails, saved to disk, and printed as statistical tables or maps.

Prototype demonstration sessions with non-expert users validated the value of displaying complex socioeconomic variables on maps using the classification, statistical graphing, and labeling functions provided by INCOM's custom application based on Esri software.

The recently launched SIIT application has greatly improved user comprehension of data. Reference staff at the Library of the National Congress, government agencies' technical staff, and congresspersons readily accepted this new Web tool. Citizens can access a broad range of data displayed in easy-to-comprehend map-based formats. This enhances transparency in government affairs and empowers citizens to greater and better-informed participation in local government and policy formulation.

For more information, contact

Thomas Connelly
Sistema Integrado de Información Territorial
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile
E-mail: tconnelly@bcn.cl
Gary Tengco
Chief of Software Engineering Division
INCOM S.A., Chile
E-mail: gtengco@incom.cl
Web: siit.bcn.cl/website/bcn/inicio/index2.htm

About the Authors

Thomas Connelly received a master's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas, Austin, and is a researcher in the Library of the National Congress of Chile.

Gary Tengco holds a master's degree in economics and a master's of science degree in survey integration and GIS for natural resources management from the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), the Netherlands.

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