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Daily Newspapers Are Key to GIS Success
By Christopher Thomas, Esri Government Industry Manager

It's funny how the simplest thing someone says to you in everyday conversation can have a profound impact on your life. As a young man, just getting started in GIS, I remember just such a conversation with Bob Parrott. At the time, he was a deputy director of the San Diego Association of Governments. Bob was someone I looked up to and whose program I only dreamed of emulating.

We were at a trade show. After trading compliments on each other's programs, Bob uttered the words that have stayed with me to this day. "Funny how you oftentimes have to travel 3,000 miles to have your work appreciated," he said. Although I nodded and chuckled in agreement at the time, I actually had no idea what he was talking about. He had expressed wisdom I had not yet learned to appreciate. His words stayed with me and by the time I left the conference, I realized what Bob was saying.

Both Bob and I were strong GIS advocates. As part of our mission to show the world the power of GIS, we gave presentations, participated in trade associations, and produced articles sharing our thoughts and describing our work. Although we both received accolades from peers across the nation when they learned of our work, neither of us felt nearly as appreciated by our coworkers.

However, when our coworkers read articles about our efforts in trade journals, often reading about how GIS was being deployed in their own department, they suddenly appreciated the value of GIS. This effect was intensified when a coworker or department executive attended a conference or other event held on the other side of the continent and fielded compliments on their city's innovative GIS use. It's difficult to ignore what others acknowledge as good work.

I soon reveled in Bob's wisdom and began reaching out to coworkers in departments in distant cities. I believe Bob's wisdom still holds true for GIS programs. But with age comes new revelations. As I began working less with division managers, department heads, city managers, and county administrators and more with elected officials and government executives, I realized that these individuals don't attend the same conferences or read the same trade publications I do.

The best way to reach officials and executives was through the daily newspaper. As part of their daily ritual, these individuals scoured the newspaper each day for information on scandals, complaints they should know about, or articles mentioning them. Why not engage executives and officials by using a medium they were already reading daily?

As a result of this revelation, I looked for opportunities to get articles placed in local and regional newspapers that showed the positive impact GIS was having on government projects. Of course, I did this with the knowledge of my coworkers and management. As part of this process, I always provided an opportunity for executives and officials to bask in the reflected glory of the GIS department. After all, a win for the GIS department or a city GIS project should be viewed as a win for the city.

While the city's GIS department wasn't mentioned on a weekly basis, the articles that did run positively impacted the GIS program. These pieces raised the awareness of co-workers and elected officials, and with this increased awareness came new questions on how the GIS could be used on other projects.

Stepping forward and presenting story ideas to the local newspaper editor can be a good thing. Whether you invite a writer to your GIS Day event, highlight how GIS will improve traffic flows, or announce a new GIS interface available on a public Web site, good can come of it. I hope I've encouraged you to bring visibility to your jurisdiction and highlight the work of others while you do so. And finally, thank you, Bob.

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