The Geographic Approach for the Nation
Highlights of FedUC
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"GIS is changing things; it is changing—actually—everything," asserted Esri president Jack Dangermond in his address to the more than 3,000 attendees of the Esri Federal User Conference (FedUC), held February 17–19, 2010, in Washington, D.C.
The first FedUC was held 15 years ago. FedUC attendees represent a diverse group that forms one community drawn from civilian GIS users across many disciplines and interests as well as users in the military and intelligence communities.
The conference theme this year, The Geographic Approach for the Nation, underlined the message that a national GIS is emerging. This distributed network of systems and services supports national policies and priorities. A geography-based approach enables transparency and accountability in government processes, allows better performance measurement and place-based approaches to governance; and encourages citizen engagement.
"The first step in open government is showing where you're putting money," Dangermond said. "The second way GIS can help is overlaying maps of where there are problems. That's where you start to get into an information-driven government."
In a new era of open government, GIS is enabling transparency and accountability by making projects' status and expenditures more easily known. During the Plenary Session, Esri staff demonstrated GIS applications that are making government more accessible and decisions more information driven. Recovery.com has been a tremendously popular site that uses maps linked to charts that allow visitors to drill into information to discover which funds are being spent where. Another example shown was the U.S. Department of Transportation stimulus spending site which addresses accountability by answering why money was spent on particular projects. Esri has developed Web templates that streamline the process of building Web sites for tracking stimulus spending and projects. These templates are being used by many federal and state agencies.
ChesapeakeStat was cited as an example of how GIS is aiding performance management. This site provides far greater access to program information and interactive capabilities that complement existing paper processes.
GIS is quite naturally supporting the development of place-based policies so government can more easily target priority places, coordinate projects and programs, and support integrated decision making.
The enhanced mobile capabilities of GIS are also leading to increased citizen engagement with government. Through the use of Web and mobile technologies, volunteered geographic information (VGI) is emerging. VGI makes it possible for every citizen to be a "sensor." GIS could be used not only for gathering the observations of millions of people but also integrating them. Now citizens can help build a national GIS.
Another conference theme was Gov 2.0—an approach that views government as a platform for getting things done by bringing the advantages of Web 2.0 to government. GIS helps government make its data and information available to other organizations so they can more effectively do their jobs. The conference keynote speaker, Dr. John Holdren, noted that good decisions can't be made without good data. "That's why the Obama administration has placed such a priority on putting high-quality data in the center of the executive branch." Not just good data but the ability to visualize that data is crucial for decision makers in the government and the public. Data visualization is one of the strengths of GIS. Holdren is President Obama's science and technology advisor and the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
As Dangermond noted during the Plenary Session, GIS professionals are building authoritative data, high-quality maps, performing analysis, and developing models and applications that make information available in a much more timely manner. He contrasted the months it took to integrate and analyze data associated with the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with the minutes it took to acquire the same kind of common operational picture (COP) for the Los Angeles fires in 2009.
Many presentations at FedUC provided more information on the impending release of ArcGIS 10. This release focuses on GIS development on the Web. With ArcGIS 10, GIS is easier, accessible, and collaborative and uses cloud architecture, Web services, information integration, crowd sourcing, and open data sharing.
Esri also announced during the conference that it is collaborating with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and has joined the growing community of AWS Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) building services and solutions in the cloud computing environment.
Developments in organizational cooperation coupled with increased GIS software capabilities and pervasive data collection is building a body of knowledge that is quite extraordinary and will further enable the use of geography and GIS as an organizing principle for governance and society.
In accepting the Making a Difference award, Tim Trainor, chief of the Geography Division of the United States Census Bureau, noted, "We are at a very good time. It's at a convergence of lots of technology, lots of very rich software, rich datasets, and a highly skilled professional body that can actually use that data. This is our time."