Seeing Clearly in 2020

Famed physicist Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

The same could be said today as society faces many crises, both global and local. New thinking, supported by methodologies such as geodesign and technologies such as GIS, represents a recalibrated approach to addressing a myriad of issues. Climate change, resource scarcity, mass migration, strained infrastructural resources, economic exclusionism, and problems with environmental quality are but a few of our communal challenges. Geodesign provides the retooled framework needed to turn the tide and find solutions to these types of issues and formulate a clear vision for creating a more sustainable, vibrant future.

What is Geodesign?

Geodesign combines the art of design with the science of geography. Using stakeholder input, creative design techniques, rigorous discipline, specific methodologies, and spatial analysis and mapping, a geodesign practitioner can find the most suitable, environmentally friendly, and sustainable options for solving problems and using space. This may be space for development, agriculture, wildlife conservation, marine protected areas, transportation systems, or green infrastructure, to name a few examples.

Using geodesign tools, you can model the effects of decisions in advance to prevent mistakes from occurring. Therefore, geodesign’s ability to digitally highlight potential mistakes, before they could be implemented in the real world, can help communities choose the best design options. The geodesign process also brings in subject matter experts and stakeholders to provide insight and feedback.


The ingrained ability to contextualize, analyze, and visualize helps stakeholders and decisionmakers better understand the performance and the consequences of alternatives. This means that success can be predicted, and failure can be avoided.

How geodesign is being put into practice to help overcome challenges will be the focus of the 11th annual Geodesign Summit. The summit will be held February 24–27, 2020, at Esri headquarters in Redlands, California.

The theme of the event will be Seeing Clearly in 2020. The summit typically draws more than 300 geodesign thought leaders and practitioners from fields such as environmental planning, municipal government, land use and urban planning, academia, architecture, landscape architecture, conservation, GIS, and building information modeling (BIM).The Geodesign Summit focuses on big ideas and offers an opportunity to observe and learn from geodesign pioneers who are using the methodology and GIS to revolutionize their work and solve problems.

The summit’s first day, February 24, will be mainly devoted to training. Geodesign workflows are supported by Esri technology, especially the new products that have been engineered specifically for geodesign. Four technical workshops will be offered on those products: ArcGIS Pro, GeoPlanner for ArcGIS, Esri CityEngine, and ArcGIS Urban.

In the late afternoon, the International Geodesign Collaboration (IGC) will give a presentation. This consortium, which consists of over 100 universities worldwide, has convened to systematically apply geodesign to a myriad of diverse projects, both real and conceptual. The IGC presentation will provide a meta-analysis that will distill the commonalities among and differences between these projects to help identify geodesign best practices.

Reporting mechanisms – like this dashboard in GeoPlanner for ArcGIS are used to understand the impacts of design scenarios. Visual and quantitative data displayed with charts and 3D technology can be used to clearly communicate with stakeholders.

On February 25, Esri president Jack Dangermond will give a talk entitled “Geospatial Infrastructure—A Foundation for Geodesign.” He will share Esri’s vision of how rapidly evolving technology will help catalyze the future of geodesign and better enable us to See What Others Can’t.

Other featured speakers at the summit include the following:

An additional 50 speakers will showcase how they are revolutionizing their work, advancing best practices, and tackling communal challenges by using geodesign.

Interest in geodesign has grown since the first summit was held in 2010.

See More Clearly with Geodesign

The 2020 Geodesign Summit’s theme, Seeing Clearly in 2020, illustrates how technology, innovation, and professional practice can be leveraged to devise, evaluate, and chart a clear path forward to meet a wide variety of challenges. The summit showcases world-class leaders and examples of geodesign in action and its application at many scales and in a wide spectrum of domains and disciplines.

Geodesign can be applied within many different fields, providing opportunities for new insights and innovation. For this to happen, the benefits of adopting a geodesign approach need to be clearly articulated.

Put simply, geodesign provides the framework for testing alternatives, understanding their impacts, and visualizing their outcomes. One of the most powerful elements of using geodesign methodology and tools is being able to predict and help articulate what the future will look like should certain decisions be made.

This is achieved by leveraging data and analysis to guide your choice of design alternatives, create impact simulations to test performance, and use reporting mechanisms to communicate how different design decisions affect the bigger picture. The ingrained ability to contextualize, analyze, and visualize data helps stakeholders and decision-makers better understand the performance—and consequences—of alternatives. This means that an alternative’s success can be predicted, and failure can be avoided.

Organizations that use the geodesign process arrive at more sustainable, defensible, and justifiable decisions. Stakeholders get involved early in the design process, not at the end. This helps ensure that participants are actively invested and involved in developing alternatives instead of merely reacting to them. This more meaningful participation results in better alternatives while also building consensus. Consensus building, as a workflow element, helps participants feel a sense of ownership, thus mobilizing them to support the project, share in its successes, and overcome any stagnation and opposition that may come from a lack of understanding.

Geodesign has been leveraged by professionals in planning, design, government, and nonprofit organizations to tackle a wide variety of projects. As a framework, geodesign can direct efforts to enhance the resiliency of environmental systems, develop carbon-neutral and smart cities, optimize networks, revitalize natural and urban areas, implement energy solutions, and manage ecological assets.

Geodesign can be used to address all these things and more; in so doing, a future can be built that balances the many needs placed on our planet and mitigates stressors in the areas that are most fragile.

About the authors

Dr. Perkl is Esri's green infrastructure lead, the ArcGIS GeoPlanner product lead, the industry practice lead for geodesign and planning, and a principal consultant in the Professional Services Division. He provides thought leadership throughout Esri and manages a wide portfolio of high-profile environmentally focused consulting projects.

Britain Ogle

Britain Ogle is a consultant and project manager on the geodesign practice team in the Professional Services Division at Esri. He focuses on technological innovation at the intersection of land development, building information modeling (BIM), and GIS technologies.

Daniel Martin

Daniel Martin is a consultant and project manager on the geodesign practice team in the Professional Services Division at Esri. He has a background in landscape architecture, ecological restoration, wildlife management, and environmental banking.

Eliza Gutierrez-Dewar

Eliza Gutierrez-Dewar is a consultant and project manager on the geodesign practice team in the Professional Services division at Esri. Her interests fall in the intersection of urban and natural systems and how data can better inform design.