“My team is hands-on. We like to build together, and we found in Codex the same. It was a great opportunity to work with Codex and share this common legacy with SISDIA."
How GIS Supported Brazil's First Standardized Public Environmental Database
Secretary of State for the Environment and Animal Protection of the Federal District
Codex, a Brazilian company that develops solutions using data intelligence with Esri technology for data-driven governance on environmental, climate change, and sustainability issues.
The Brazilian Federal District lacked a standardized process for accessing and disseminating environmental data generated by government authorities.
The Secretary of State for the Environment and Animal Protection of the Federal District worked with Codex to create a geographic information system-based environmental database as well as a public portal.
SISDIA is a central database that combines environmental data from public authorities into one accessible portal for better decision-making and public use.
When Brazil's capital moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília in 1960, the Federal District was formed to support sustainable infrastructure and serve as an administrative unit. Today, Brasília is home to over three million inhabitants and is known for its stunning modernist architecture. In 2019, the Federal District passed the Sustainability Act, a law mandating ecological-economic zoning and creating a district environmental information system.
Reacting to the act, staff at the Secretary of State for the Environment and Animal Protection of the Federal District (SEMA) were tasked with creating a web-based database to standardize and distribute environmental data from government agencies across the district. SEMA sets environmental and climate-related policies for the district, including those pertaining to water resources, solid waste management, wildlife reserves, climate projections, and social accountability for environmental welfare.
To meet the act's requirements, SEMA partnered with Esri partner Codex to create the database and web portal, known as the District System of Environmental Information (SISDIA). SISDIA aims to support sustainability policies by providing government entities and the public a resource for sharing spatial and environmental data.
"SISDIA was conceived to address the risk of loss to strategic ecosystemic services and center them in decision-making at the government level," said Maria Silvia Rossi, Secretariat of Environment, Brasília. "Bearing in mind that we have about 18 institutions working from the shared database in an IT ecosystem partnership, it had to be useful for everybody."
For years, individual public institutions within the Federal District administration collected spatial and geographic data regularly for their own use. However, having disparate data systems meant there was no standardized process for accessing and disseminating data. Data requesters had to visit each institution individually to make a request, then rely on manual cross-checking. As a result, disparate systems created legal risks, long permitting processes for urban development, and a lack of transparency behind public policy.
Understanding these challenges, Rossi and the SEMA team outlined their goals for SISDIA. Their vision for the resource was to consolidate the existing environmental data on water, air, soil, fauna, and flora generated by public authorities into one information database. This database would be built to include data organization workflows and interoperability to align the institutions collecting an array of geographic information. SISDIA would be a centralized geographic database for government and public use.
"Because these are crucial institutions that provide relevant spatial data regarding environmental aspects, urban aspects, territorial aspects, socioeconomic aspects, [and] infrastructure aspects, it was important to have this concentrated effort with the governmental institutions to function as the nucleus of the SISDIA ecosystem," said Rossi.
Before building SISDIA as a public tool, Codex staff needed to obtain the pertinent data from all participating entities and then clean and prepare it. "Gathering data was our first job and was a huge barrier at the beginning of the project," said Diego de Medeiros, a solutions specialist at Codex. "We needed to get data from every single institution and explain [that] this wasn't just a thing for SEMA but a resource for everyone to use."
Medeiros and the Codex team collected more than 700 shapefiles that were turned into 345 geoservices. The team also collected 57,000 climate-related files, which have been analyzed and integrated into the SISDIA platform. All the collected data was analyzed for duplicate information or checked against a final version to ensure that all was up-to-date. After completing the data collection, Medeiros and the team collaborated with Rossi's office to create the centralized database.
Codex staff recommended using ArcGIS technologies to build SISDIA. Products such as ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Data Interoperability help with data organization, and ArcGIS Enterprise provides a complete software system for storing and analyzing data, allowing access through a portal and sharing information on an external website.
From a technology standpoint, Rossi and her team knew that the website needed to be both readily accessible and easy to use. "Usually for a portal with geoprocessing tools, there is a barrier for users because it is difficult to use or they don't understand how they can use it for their needs," said Rossi. "The design was very crucial for people to be able to make full use of the available technical resources."
Rossi and the Codex team met frequently over the course of six months to collaborate on the design. In these meetings, they identified each type of end user and what their specific needs were. This led to including language options (Portuguese, Spanish, and English) and building an environmental glossary. SISDIA is designed to let users easily navigate between its environmental, socioeconomic, and territorial sections.
The user type determined which analyses, integrations, and layers could be accessed in the platform. The site supports multiple file types for downloading datasets. High-resolution imagery, orthomosaics, land-use maps, and infrastructure maps are available to users. User-friendly tools are also available for defining polygon features, measuring distances and areas, producing digital and print maps, and comparing satellite images. SISDIA is for beginners who want information as well as for experts who use advanced tools.
Visual design was equally important to Rossi; the portal needed to be engaging and representative of the people using it. The SEMA and Codex teams worked together to think about what colors and imagery would convey to the user a sense of belonging and reflect their home.
"Every color, every image, the three main sections, user functionalities—everything came from these meetings," said Medeiros. "It was important to both teams that the users saw themselves in the platform. Whether it's a tree or animal image from a state or a color choice, every single feature on the site was created for the user to see themselves."
SISDIA's creators needed to make sure government staff could keep the database updated in the long term. "There is no possibility for SISDIA to grow without reinforcing these institutions with spatial data and security training," said Rossi. So SEMA hosted onboarding training with government institution employees, shared a standardized process for the data, and taught them how to update the database. SEMA staff also created learning resources and tutorials for the public, which are accessible on the SISDIA site.
By integrating environmental and geographic information system (GIS) data, SEMA has achieved the goal of creating an open and centralized portal. SEMA also pioneered the use of environmental spatial data infrastructure in Brazil.
The site averages 49,000 unique visitors monthly from 50 countries and 436 Brazilian municipalities. SISDIA serves as both a model and a foundation for creating a national data infrastructure and can inspire initiatives around the world.
Looking ahead, Rossi and her team are working on phase two of SISDIA. This phase will have five specialized models to meet specific challenges they've encountered as they continue to grow SISDIA into a national environmental database.
"From the start, we had a strong idea that the state cannot be the whole authority; there is no sustainability without democracy," said Rossi. "There are many different solutions, so we must think innovatively. We want to reinforce the role of citizen and institutions at different levels and different territories to work together towards solutions. Hence, belonging is crucial."
Rossi added that the success of SISDIA is a direct result of having in Codex an exceptional partner to help realize her vision. "My team is hands-on. We like to build together, and we found in Codex the same. It was a great opportunity to work with Codex and share this common legacy with SISDIA."
Discover the full potential of ArcGIS
Connect with partners delivering GIS and location intelligence